Global Christian conservation organisation, A Rocha, has come to Australia. President Roger Jaensch talks about the group's heart to care for God's creation...

First up, can you tell us what the purpose of A Rocha is?
"A Rocha is an international conservation organisation working to show God’s love for all creation, committed to environmental action through community-based conservation projects. It has five 'core commitments' defined around the keywords Christian, conservation, community, cross-cultural and cooperation."

It’s an unusual name - what does it refer to?
“'A Rocha' is Portuguese for 'The Rock'. The name reflects the solid foundation of Jesus Christ on which our faith and organisation are built. Also, it recognises the important role that a field study centre on an estuary in Portugal played in the early development of A Rocha."

Roger Jaensch

 

IN SHORT - ROGER JAENSCH

A Bible verse that’s influenced me..."In the context of relationships, Colossians 3:12-17 has frequently guided my thinking and it can also apply to how we go about the business of creation care."

A place that’s special to me..."Among the many natural places that I enjoy and appreciate is the Channel Country in desert regions of the Lake Eyre Basin, in south-western Queensland extending into South Australia. Dry and seemingly without much life most of the time, an explosion of greenery and wildlife occurs when floods surge down the Diamantina and associated rivers. Millions of waterbirds arrive from afar, breed then disperse as all too soon the floodplains and lakes dry out. This incredible drama points me to God’s creative and sustaining power."

A Rocha was launched in the UK in the early 1980s. How did it come to be founded?
"In 1983, a charity was set up in the UK to support a Christian field study centre in Portugal. This move was designed to involve Christians in addressing the growing environmental crisis through on-ground, nature conservation activities. Two British families moved to the centre and gradually national participation and leadership grew and international visitors began arriving."

In how many countries is A Rocha now working?
"A Rocha is now active in more than 20 countries through national organisations and associated projects. The countries are as large as Canada and as small as Lebanon [and include] highly industrialised countries like France and newly emerging economies like Ghana. All have great need for creation care. The organisations and projects vary in scale and activity but all conform to the 'five commitments' of A Rocha."

You recently launched A Rocha in Australia. What prompted that?
"Faithful Christians had been seeking to establish A Rocha in Australia for more than a decade, encouraged in part by commencement of A Rocha Aotearoa New Zealand some years ago. Nature conservation had a substantial history and following in Australia but organised participation by Christians seemed disproportionately low. Environmental issues have been as pressing in Australia as anywhere else. Eventually, the band of supporters transformed into an incorporated association and registered charity in 2015-16, simply identified as A Rocha Australia. A board of directors with representatives from four states was appointed and has been busy guiding A Rocha to action on this continent."

What’s your own background - have you always had an interest in caring for the environment?
"Since childhood, with encouragement from my parents and others, I have held a strong interest in nature, especially birds. This was nurtured in my surrounds, growing up on the Murray River in South Australia. Having an interest in the bigger picture, I studied biogeography at university and in due course obtained employment in nature conservation. This has been my field of professional work for over 35 years and has taken me - and at times my family - to many regions of Australia, the Pacific Islands, Asia and farther afield. Probably, I would have been an avid explorer if born two centuries earlier, as I relish working in remote places and documenting biodiversity in ways that can lead to improved conservation outcomes."

How has your faith fuelled your interest in the environment?
"I see opportunities for Christians to bring hope to the scientific and wider communities that are in despair about the future of our nature and entire world. This is featured in the sub-title of our organisation: 'Conservation and Hope'. For me, the connection also runs deeply in the other direction. Experiencing so many natural wonders further convinces me of the creative and sustaining work of our infinite God: to me there is no other explanation."

Why should Christians care for the environment?
"From start to end, the Bible contains verses demonstrating that everything God made was good and that people are called to care for His creation. Psalm 24:1 states that 'The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it'. Accordingly, creation care is part of our worship of God (but not of creation). However, the church has commonly not seen caring for creation as a priority and many non-Christians find it difficult to see why Christians are not actively involved in some of the most pressing issues of our day. Being active in nature conservation follows our Creator’s instructions on stewardship and is a way to share the Gospel with those -including many secular conservationists - who see no hope for the future."

Is the attitude among Christians changing?
"It is encouraging to see the steady growth of groups and networks of Christians involved in creation care in Australia, both under denominational banners and more broadly. Apparently, it is not yet a mainstream issue. A Rocha has a particular focus on conduct of nature conservation projects as a practical demonstration of creation care; this is our distinctive approach. We hope A Rocha’s work will catalyse greater engagement of Christians with nature conservation."

What do you think are the key environmental issues facing the world today?
"I think the key environmental issues as perceived by Christians and by others are similar and well known. We cannot as individuals or one organisation resolve all of them; hence, the emphasis that A Rocha places on cooperation through partnerships. Worldwide, the activities of A Rocha collectively address many of the major issues. As a consequence of my professional work across Australia, I am personally very concerned at ongoing broad and small-scale destruction and degradation of habitats, notably forests and wetlands - including in urban areas."

How can people get involved with the work of A Rocha?
"In Australia, A Rocha has recently started as an organisation and is taking the first steps in its growth. People can visit our website and, as well as learning about us, can follow the tab for how to 'Get Involved'. We are developing hubs or networks of members and supporters in major cities and some regional areas and these are investigating projects to either lead or support. A Rocha Australia may formally recognise qualifying, creation care activities of like-minded Christian organisations as associated projects and direct inquirers to them as a starting point for practical engagement. An example is the Tahlee Centre for Creation Care at Port Stephens, NSW. There is potential for ARA to collaborate with Christian organisations around Australia, which own or manage natural areas."