Scripture pictures believers as proactive ministers. Why then, do some Christians appear to be passive recipients?
“In the course of history there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness.” These are some of the words of Wangari Maathai when she received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace. She went on to say that there comes a time “when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. And that time,” she concluded, “is now.”
Born in 1940 in Nyeri, Kenya, Wangari Maathai was able to pursue higher education, a rarity for girls in rural areas of Kenya. She earned her biology degree from Mount St. Scholastica College in Kansas and a master’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh. When she returned to Kenya, Maathai worked in veterinary medicine research at the University of Nairobi, and eventually, despite the skepticism and even opposition of the male students and faculty, was able to earn a Ph.D. She worked her way up through the academic ranks, becoming head of the veterinary medicine faculty, a first for a woman at any department at that university.
When she heard rural women in her native Kenya worry about the lack of fresh water, and troubles with the land, she started planting trees. She introduced her tree-planting concept to ordinary citizens in 1976. Professor Maathai went on to develop it into the Green Belt Movement, a broad-based, grassroots organization whose main focus is helping women’s groups plant trees to conserve the environment and improve quality of life. Through the Green Belt Movement, she now has helped women plant more than 30 million trees on their farms, on schools, and on church compounds. It is the connection between the value of the land, and the dignity of people that best marks the work of Wangari Maathai.
The program had been carried out primarily by women in the villages of Kenya, who through protecting their environment and through the paid employment for planting the trees are able to better care for their children and their children’s future. In 1986 the Movement established a Pan African Green Belt Network, which has taught people from other African countries the Green Belt Movement’s approach to environmental conservation and community building. Some of these people have established similar tree-planting initiatives in their own countries throughout Africa. It sounds a lot like letting your light shine, doesn’t it? (read Matthew 5:16)
If you ever had an aquarium, you learn that the growth of most fish is limited by the size of the tank they are placed in. Similarly, all of us are affected by our environment. That is why it is critical to create an atmosphere of growth around you and those you care about.
Wangari Maathai is an influencer because she took responsibility for her own growth and then continued to create an environment of growth for others to follow. She created a place where it’s okay to fail, you are still challenged, the focus is forward, the atmosphere is affirming, the comfort zone needs to be broken, others are growing, those ahead will help those behind, there is willingness to change, and growth is modeled and expected.
Serve globally. Let’s make a dent in the universe regardless of the obstacles.
Love is a verb,