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Kristi Holmberg on Hope for Healing the Earth

Like many young adults, Kristi Holmberg is keenly aware of inheriting an earth damaged by previous generations. However, rather than despair or turn cynical, she began during college to connect with Christians who are working toward a just and sustainable future.

In this edited email conversation from April 2013, she explains how Christians can “act with a persevering hope” as partners with God in healing the earth.

During your junior year at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, the Lutheran World Federation sent you to Youth for Eco-Justice training in South Africa. What stands out from that experience?

In South Africa, I joined 25 youth from 22 different countries. I heard personal accounts about how climate change affects their home contexts. We received training on the connection between socio-economic and environmental justice, and we advocated for climate justice during the 2011 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. For example, we marched with 20,000 people on the Global Day of Action and listened to Desmond Tutu speak at an interfaith rally. But I was most impacted by participating in a Greenpeace event called “Africa Roars.” They gathered 2,000 schoolchildren in order to form the face of a lion as a human mosaic and captured the image via helicopter overhead.

Why did the “Africa Roars” human mosaic make such an impact on you?

The event demonstrated to me the power of collective action. It showed how our small actions on the ground contribute to a larger vision. I learned how our connection and collaboration—the networks and bridges we build among communities—can transform a vision for a sustainable and just future into a reality. I realized the Church is also a human mosaic, rich in diversity and transcending any nation or group. With global issues like climate change, this interconnectedness is essential to building a sustainable and just future.

What struck you most about the environmental issues facing your peers from other countries?

I realized that climate change has a disproportionate impact on developing countries and the world’s most vulnerable people—women, children, and ethnic minorities. I was inspired to hear how other churches have provided basic needs like clean water in Palestine or advocated against injustices in countries like South Korea, Kenya, or Indonesia.

As one of two people from the United States, I was confronted with how the United States has contributed to climate change and ignored our responsibility to it. I was encouraged to see that in most other countries, the reality of climate change is not in debate. The effects are already visible in droughts in Africa and rising sea levels in island nations. I was grateful to hear diverse perspectives and to learn from friends around the world.

What changes have you made in your life as a result of what you’ve learned about creation care?

I have become more aware and thoughtful about my daily actions. I have also developed a greater sense of agency and capacity for advocacy and leadership. For example, during my senior year, I lived in an intentional community called Luther College Sustainability House. We committed to environmental, fiscal, and social sustainability. Living there helped improve my relationships with energy, waste, and food.

As a follow-up to my Youth Eco-Justice training, I invited others from my college campus to join me in coordinating a three-week Climate Justice campaign, including an Earth Day Human Mosaic Advocacy event. In my journey, I seek faithfulness, not perfection, and recognize that my transformation is dependent on God’s grace, not my own striving. 

What are the most effective ways you’ve experienced creation care in church worship? How else could churches link worship and sustainability?

I had the privilege of working with nine congregations as a Greening Churches intern in the summer of 2012 and witnessed a wide spectrum of commitments to sustainability. I attended outdoor worship services and saw improvements in steps as small as insulation or dreams as big as solar panels. I was most excited about our Inter-Church Community Garden project, where we invited individuals from different congregations and backgrounds to grow food for local food pantries.

It is important for a church to collaborate, think outside the box, and start with small steps. I follow Jesus’ example of love and justice, and my faith is a way of life. I believe the Spirit is constantly guiding us on the path towards sustainable living.

Now that you’ve graduated, how are you pursuing sustainable living?

I currently live in St. Paul, Minnesota and work at Well Within, a holistic health nonprofit. That work has sparked my new passion for nutrition and food, another issue integral to sustainability. I worship at First Covenant Church in St. Paul, where my aunt is a pastor, and I mentor at-risk youth. I have learned so much about ministry and the church this year. I am trying to integrate my education into daily lifestyle habits and rhythms that provide greater health and personal satisfaction and reduce my impact on the earth.

What’s next in your journey of helping faith communities embody the visible presence of God’s Kingdom now?

My next step is to begin a Master’s of Divinity program at Princeton Theological Seminary in July 2013. I may do part of my field education in a faith-based environmental nonprofit and collaborate with other seminarians on these issues. I am excited that Princeton is committed to wellness and holistic health.

My engagement with climate change has been shaped by questions like What is the church? and What does it look like to follow Jesus in the context of global climate change? I believe sustainable leadership is integral to my vocation, and I hope my engagement with climate change will help me lead faith communities in many contexts. My main aspiration is to preach the news of climate change in a voice where people will not be paralyzed by despair, but feel empowered to act with a persevering hope. I would like to help communities of faith discover new ways of living that will heal the earth, vulnerable people, and each community itself.

Read Cultivating Hope: Greening Churches Guide, written by Kristi Holmberg and Callie Mabry. It has practical tips for greening churches and nine biblically based lessons on faith, justice, and environmental stewardship. Watch an 11-minute film by Kristi Holmberg about people making sustainable lifestyle choices in Decorah, Iowa.