Four Christian Reformed Church representatives plan to be in Paris, France later this month to provide a Christian witness at COP 21, the United Nations' international climate talks for the nations of the world.
Although they won’t have a hand in voting for changes aimed at impacting rising temperatures around the world, they will be there for the CRCNA observing the negotiations and speaking to COP 21 delegates on behalf of CRC congregations across North America.
They will address climate change especially as it affects people in such poverty-stricken areas of the world as Sub-Saharan Africa and Bangladesh, where shifts in the weather have already created a range of problems, including drought, floods, and rising water levels.
“Even though our numbers in Paris will be small, just the fact that we will be there will be a powerful witness to the reality that the church cares about what is happening to the poor around the world as a result of a changing climate,” said Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, creation care coordinator for the Office of Social Justice, which launched its Climate Witness Project earlier this year. Meyaard-Schaap is one of the four people from the CRC who will be going to Paris.
The project linked CRC congregations in preparation for COP 21.
Plans are for the CRC delegation to attend COP 21 despite the fact that Paris was the site recently of a series of terrorist attacks that killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds of others.
“We mourn for the victims of the Paris attacks, but the UN climate talks are still on as planned,” said Peter Vander Meulen, coordinator of OSJ.
“The talks take place in a large conference center some distance north of Paris. Security will be very tight at the venue and only those with credentials will be allowed in.”
The CRC delegation will be staying north of Paris in a large rented conference center with many other Christian observers from around the world.
“CRC staff will be monitoring the situation in the weeks before their departure, but we trust that acts of terror will not change the world's resolve to seize this moment to make historic climate decisions,” said Vander Meulen. “After all, this world belongs to God, and his providence surely extends to Paris.
Michelle Nieviadomy, a Cree woman who is currently assistant director and youth program coordinator of the CRCNA's Native Healing Centre in Edmonton, Alberta, is looking forward, despite her sadness over what occurred recently, to serving as a CRC representative in Paris.
She said she will attend COP 21 because she wants to add her voice as a Christian to the crucial gathering. “Our earth is sacred and she is in crisis,” said Nieviadomy. “As an Indigenous person, I have a role in protecting her. As a person who loves the gospel story, I have a role in pursuing justice for how climate change is profoundly affecting the poor.”
Myohan (Joe) Oh, who currently works with World Renew as a Church Relations associate, will also be going to Paris. He says he knows first-hand the devastating impact climate change can have.
“Growing up in Bangladesh as a missionary kid, the effects of climate change had an impact in my life,” he said.
“With climate change causing the sea level to rise in an already flat, low-lying country, Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, especially floods.”
Due to this, he had to travel to school by boat every monsoon season.
“I strongly believe that it is essential for us, Christians, to fully understand the nature of climate change. Unfortunately, many do not know enough about it.
“As Christians, we have the obligation to be good stewards of God's creation and we can demonstrate to the world that we do care about climate change.”
After this trip, he said, he plans to go back to World Renew and spread the information of what he has learned to his co-workers.
“I also plan to personally visit the churches I have connected with and spread the word about climate change, what has happened during COP 21 and then present what we are trying to do as Christian organizations.”
Rev. Richard Killmer, an ordained Presbyterian minister and co-coordinator of the Climate Witness Project for OSJ and another of those going to Paris, said the CRC hired nine organizers to work with CRC congregations in various regions across North America over the last several weeks.
The organizers spoke with churches about the significance of the Paris talks and have recruited Climate Witness Partners in 32 congregations as a part of the Climate Witness Project.
“Some real important decisions will be made in Paris that will influence the future of the world and obviously this is a place for the church to have a strong witness,” said Killmer.
While there, the CRC representatives will be sending back updates and information daily to more than 150 Climate Witness Partners from the churches with whom the regional organizers worked.
Killmer said it has become clear that many CRC members want to have a strong witness on this issue in their congregations, as well as at COP 21, “because they believe it is crucial that Christians work to protect God’s creation.”
One sign of the support is that about $30,000 has been raised through donations to fund the effort.
“This project has allowed us to find people in congregations that are already committed to this work and connecting them with one another as we determine the next steps to take after the meeting in Paris,” said Killmer.
After COP 21, several CRC members have committed to writing op-ed pieces for local newspapers about the results of the meeting.
In addition, members of churches will meet with their U.S. Congressional representatives and members of the Canadian Parliament to ask them to do what they can to make sure the COP 21 recommendations become reality. The Climate Witness Partners will also develop recommended steps that their congregations could take to support the agreements that the nations of the world develop at the Paris meeting.