I went into BVS last September not really sure about what project I should take on. I had a few favorites, but there was no guarantee I would be placed at one of those locations. At orientation, each volunteer spends a significant amount of their time exploring all of the different project options available to them. There are several large boxes full of files on each of the potential projects, which certainly felt overwhelming. It didn't take long before I started to feel frustrated- none of the projects I really liked were working out, and I couldn't seem to find one that was calling me. Days passed, and as others gradually came to find the right place for them, I was still struggling. Then, at lunch, one day, Dan McFadden, the director of BVS, presented us with two new files. One of them was for Creation Justice Ministries. I immediately snatched up the file and began reading as I ate my lunch. I was very excited because earlier that year, I had met the director of Creation Justice Ministries, Shantha Ready Alonso, at a presentation in DC as a part of the 2017 Christian Citizenship Seminar. I was inspired by the work that CJM was doing, and I wanted to get in on the action.
A few days later, I had an interview over the phone with Shantha. She let me know that my fate at CJM was resting on a grant proposal coming through and, in addition, her board approving taking on a second BVS member. This was not just any grant- it was an Appalachian regional organizing grant. Being from central Pennsylvania, I had a personal connection to Appalachian issues and was enthusiastic about advocating for a region that I knew and loved. At this point, people were starting to be officially accepted by their top choice. Meanwhile, I was anxiously awaiting my own confirmation. Days passed, and still, I had not heard back. There were ten people in my orientation group, and it came down to myself and one other person who didn't know where they would be serving. Finally, when our group was out for dinner in Des Moines, I found out that I was going to DC. I was relieved and overjoyed to be heading to work at CJM.
Fast forward to today- I have spent months learning about the mission of Creation Justice Ministries and the justice issues that we take on daily. On the CJM website, our mission statement is as follows: “Creation Justice Ministries educates, equips and mobilizes Christian communions or denominations, congregations, and individuals to protect, restore, and rightly share God's Creation. Based on the priorities of its members, with a particular concern for the vulnerable and marginalized, Creation Justice Ministries provides collaborative opportunities to build ecumenical community, guides people of faith and faith communities towards eco-justice transformations, and raises a collective witness in the public arena echoing Christ's call for just relationships among all of Creation." A side note: we have a board of directors that currently includes our own Nate Hosler as the representative for the Church of the Brethren, one of 38 member communions or denominations of Creation Justice Ministries. Our team at CJM works on a variety of creation care issues, ranging from protecting national monuments and wildlife refuges to seeking justice for communities affected by pollution and climate change. One Christian education tool that our members count on every year is our Earth Day Sunday resource. This year's theme was "Sense of Place." The idea of a sense of place stems from the connection each of us has with the natural surroundings that make up the space we call home. Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum once made this remark: "We won't save a place we don't love; we won't love a place we don't know, and we can't know a place we haven't learned." I am always in awe of the wondrous things God created for us to take care of and enjoy. Psalm 104, verse 24-25 is a perfect representation of my awe: "How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number- living things both large and small." The more time I've spent advocating for creation at CJM, the more connected I feel to God.
As per my opportunity to work at CJM coming from an Appalachian grant, I have dedicated most of my time here to Appalachian-related work. I helped organize the second State of Appalachia Conference, a regional gathering of faith leaders passionate about bringing justice to Appalachia. I drafted opinion pieces on the RECLAIM Act, a piece of federal, bipartisan legislation that aims to clean up abandoned mines and create new economic opportunities for coal communities across the country. One article even caught the attention of its target, Mitch McConnell- I must say, I'm pretty proud of that. I had the opportunity to travel to Charleston, WV to testify in front of the EPA in support of the Clean Power Plan. These are all amazing things I never imagined I would be doing in my time in BVS, and maybe not after that either. I'm not sure what I expected to come out of all of this, but I was surprised to find that I had created a renewed connection with my home in Appalachia and strengthened my own sense of place. Before coming to CJM, Appalachian issues were something that was part of my normal surroundings. Now, I had the chance to help change things for people from my own community. It has been a powerful and humbling experience, to say the least.
I am truly grateful for this challenging journey of discovery and growth that I embarked on through Brethren Volunteer Service. I feel like I've been able to share God's love through acts of service- advocating justice, working for peace, serving human need, and caring for creation along the way. I can say with absolute confidence that I believe every day should be earth day, and that creation care is so important to life. That includes caring for our neighbors, especially those who are vulnerable and marginalized like Jesus did. This experience has certainly tested me and hasn't always been easy, but I am glad that I chose Brethren Volunteer Service at this time in my life, and more specifically, Creation Justice Ministries. They have helped me to travel a little farther down the winding road to discerning my calling. And I think that, in itself, makes it all worth it.