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Doing Climate Good without Giving Up

Rev Dr Ben Lowe wrote the book on doing good without giving up. (Literally.) He works as Deputy Executive Director of A Rocha International. Ben shares the practices that sustain his work and an inspiring example of grassroots Christian communities in Ghana uniting to protect creation. Ben gives encouragement for those feeling climate anxiety and how to join the work God is already doing.

The following is a transcript of Season 6 Episode 2 of the Do Justice podcast.  It has been lightly edited for clarity.  Listen and subscribe on your favourite listening app.  

We are grateful to the Micah Center for sponsoring this season of the podcast.

Chris: Well, hello, friends, and welcome back to another episode of Do Justice on your host, Chris Orme, and today I’m joined by Reverend Dr. Ben Lowe. Ben, thanks for joining us today.

Ben: It's good to be with you, Chris.

Chris: I'm excited for today's conversation. I always say that, but I am! I get excited for these conversations because we are all learners on the journey, and I'm excited to hear your perspectives in a field of work that I think is super, super important, and it touches everybody. It touches everyone on the planet. So, we'll get into that. But, Ben, tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do. We're excited to dive into this conversation.

Ben: I was born in Singapore, grew up in Singapore and Malaysia. My family moved to the United States when I was a teenager, so I'm a bit—my identity is a little confused across different borders, but I've been in the U.S. since then. I currently work for Arocha International, which is a network of—it's an organization that helps manage a network of Christian conservation organizations in over 20 countries around the world.

Chris: Yeah, super important work. I'll do a little humble brag for you here, too, because I mean, you're an author, you've authored the book Doing Good Without Giving Up. Tell us a little bit about that, too.

Ben: Sure. That was my second book, so hopefully a little more grounded. I wrote it after just about 10 years of being involved in environmental activism and advocacy and social justice engagement more broadly. And over those 10 years I struggled a lot in different seasons. You know, I had lots of highs and lows, and also saw a lot of my friends and colleagues who started out on fire with me as undergrads struggle, too. Some burned out, some transitioned onto other other callings or areas of vocation and some persisted and I was, really interested, as I was thinking about the next season, looking ahead to what would come, I was really interested in thinking about: what are some of the lessons we've been learning and experiencing for how we can remain faithful over the long haul? So it was really a book written for myself to process everything that we had been experiencing and learning, and then trying to offer that up, too, for anyone who would find it helpful.

Chris: That's awesome. Yeah. And I think what fascinates me about folks like you, because I get the opportunity to talk to people who you know, from all different backgrounds and I think, well, I was really excited for our conversations because your approach—you're coming at this in a way where you have a background—you have a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Biology, you have a PhD in Interdisciplinary Ecology from the University of Florida, but you're a person of faith, too, who brings the science and the spiritual aspect all together. And so I'm really excited to dive into this. But you're in Florida, and before we get into the meat of the conversation, I've heard that you kayak. Where's your favorite place to kayak? If you want to give it away, just realize that people, you know—I'm a mountain biker, and people say, “Hey, what's a really great trail around where you live, Chris?”  And I'm like, “Yeah, it's near here,” because I don't want everybody there. But I'm in a sharing mood. So, is there isn't a great spot that you love to go kayaking?

Ben: Yeah, as long as you don't ask me for my fishing spots I can.

Chris: No, no, those are sacrosanct. We have limits here..

Ben: I can share the kayak—or you can come with me. We'll blindfold you, we’lll take you to the spot, and then you can fish [laughs]. No, I love kayaking and Florida has so many wonderful places to Kayak. If I had to pick one, that's a really hard question. I would stick with Florida, and I’d probably have to go with the Indian River Lagoon. It's the most biodiverse estuary system in the United States. It spans a lot of the east coast of Florida from about Stewart in the south to Titusville area in the north, and it's just a beautiful estuary system, which is where the salt water and the freshwater mix, so there's all sorts of animals that live in both or live in either that come through there. You can see—any day on the water you can see all sorts of things. Some of my favorite things to see out there are the manatees, the alligators, or, really special, when you come across a blue spotted eagle ray. I've had them jump straight out of the water in front of my kayak, this 100 pound ray just flying straight out of the water. And you think, “That was right in front of me?” It's just really a beautiful place.

Chris: Awesome. Yes, okay after this, I want to just maybe get a little Google Earth view of that spot and I'd love to check it out.

Ben: Yeah, well, it's very big. So I gave you a very general answer. So I haven’t given up too much, yet.

Chris: Okay, yeah, well, that's cool. I mean, I'll need a guide, right?

Ben: There you go! There you go!

Chris: So the work that you do, I mean there's so many names we could call it, but let's talk about environmental justice, creation care, advocacy, in that line of work. And we know the scope and scale of the challenges. I think many of us have heard where we're headed and what's going on. But what we really wanna talk about in these conversations is the idea that getting into this work, whatever sort of justice issue you're focusing on, we live in a society, that is a quick fix society. We want instant gratification. I mean, there's Tiktok culture. We take sound bytes with 15 seconds of consuming media. You know, we like things to be quick, but we know that discipleship and working toward God’s shalom, that it requires this little quote: “a long obedience in the same direction.” So you've been involved in climate work, you've written two  books, you've talked about doing good without giving up. What has “long obedience in the same direction” meant for you as you've engaged this topic?

Ben: I believe you're referencing a Eugene Peterson title there, which is a great book. He was one of our strongest champions for Arocha in the United States, so we're really grateful to him and his legacy. Sort of building off of that, really one thing I’ve found absolutely foundational is how I define success and defining it very carefully, because I think, this is a bit countercultural, where often we define or we want to define success by effectiveness, by the results, right? I think biblically, we're called to define success, not primarily by effectiveness, but by faithfulness. Faithfulness doesn't preclude seeing results sometimes, but faithfulness leads to fruitfulness, which means it leads to the actual results that are really gonna be the good results that we want. And, you know, we're very limited. We see such a small scope of what's going on and what's to come. And I think that should—at least for me, it really humbles me, and it really points me toward God. And so when we think about what faithfulness means and how it differs from effectiveness, I think it means—it’s not just about what we do or what we fight for, but how we work toward it or how we fight for it. And then it is, of course, about trusting ultimately the outcomes to God, because it is God's mission and it is God's vision. And to do otherwise ends up idolizing ourselves, which sort of is the whole reason we got into this mess in the first place, isn't it? It was because we wanted to be God, and we wanted to put ourselves and our vision and mission ahead, and our interests ahead of God. So that's where I would start.

Chris: Hmm. Okay, I wanna pick up on something a little, go a little more into specifics. So in the journey, you know, you come to a point where you hit that wall. You hit that—and whether it's from within, and I talk about doing this kind of work with lots of different people, and sometimes we find opposition to what we're doing, even from within our own ranks. Sometimes we find it from the outside. Wherever that barrier is, you come to the barrier, and what happens in that moment? You find maybe a lost momentum, a discouraging outcome—we can expect some good outcomes along the way, but maybe it's not happening. So what happens in that moment? Take us through that.

Ben: Yeah, that's hard. Because I think a lot of it depends on how we arrive at that moment and why, and the particular shape of the knot, what are the challenges that we're grappling with. I think of a lot of the time what I end up doing is stopping or pausing and remembering. Remembering some of the really key underlying things that got me to that point. So who God is, what God is doing in the world, who God has created and called me and us to do. How God has invited and empowered us to be part of what God's doing. Just remembering that. So maybe what I'm trying to say here, to answer that very big and complicated, nuanced question— I think it's hard to find a single answer, too—is that my relationship, I have found my relationship with God is absolutely at the core—It's not incidental to the work that I do—which I suppose means being grounded in God's revelation and grounding myself regularly in God's revelation, whether that's Scripture or creation. It means belonging to God's people, so being in Christian community. Oftentimes that's the local church, but also having mentors and supporters and friends who are helping to encourage and hold us accountable, things like that. It means that prayer and the spiritual disciplines like Sabbath are not things that we do to help the work that we care about, they are part of the work that we are called to do. And then, finally, giving ourselves grace. And I remind myself all the time, especially in climate or creation care work, which is so big, you know, we hear, “The planet is dying! Now go, change your light bulb,” and I think, “You gotta be kidding! The planet is dying! What are we supposed to do?” But to step back and to remember that everything that I do in this life is in response to what God is doing and has done. It's a response to how God is calling me and inviting me and us to participate in what he's doing. So we're not initiating—ultimately, we're not initiating anything. We're responding to the God who is leading. And when we do that, what we ultimately do is worship. And that I think at its most basic level is what we're all doing. We're offering worship to God, and that has great value and meaning, even if things seem extremely discouraging and bleak.

Chris: Right, yeah. The single most pressing existential threat to humanity, yes, “Go change a lightbulb.” 

Ben: Like, I've changed all my light bulbs and I'm constantly coming up with things to do! But I also know that the problem is so much greater than me.

Thanks to the The Micah Centre at the King’s University for sponsoring this season.  The Micah Centre helps students and the wider community grow a global vision of justice and renewal. Through classes, workshops, internships, lectures, global learning experience, and community initiatives, the Micah Centre brings the ancient Hebrew prophet Micah’s call to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” to bear on our contemporary world of global hunger, injustice, systemic poverty, war, and violence.

Chris: Let's talk about God at work, because I think I'm loving this because you touched on so much there. Ultimately, we're in a posture of worship. And being in that posture of worship and being in community, because then there's the accountability as well. Like, you know, when my head is being hit against the wall someone else can come along and sort of, “Hey, look at that!

Remember, this is where we're going.” But what's a story in the work that you've been doing,  working with Arocha, working in creation care and in climate justice, climate advocacy. What's a story of God at work that you've been able to see over the years that you've been involved in climate action? You know a story where maybe, like, you've been surprised by God doing something in this space.

Ben: Hmm, again, very hard to narrow down here. Is it okay if I give you more than one?

Chris: Absolutely. Yes.

Ben: Okay, well, because initially, I thought, “Well, my own life is a testimony of God at work,” and I see that, but I didn't want to stop there. The fact that I'm doing this work and the journey that it's taken me to get here is totally unexpected for me. It blows my mind to think of the things I've gotten to see and join in and be part of, and the people I've gotten to meet, the places I've gotten to invest in, just fills my heart with gratitude. And I would never have guessed it when I was a kid. Neither would my parents.  But thinking beyond that, you know, Arocha has just—we're celebrating our fortieth year. We have been around for forty years, and we're in over twenty countries and as I—there's so many stories from across those forty years of unexpected answers to prayers. A lot of the field study centers—we have these field centers located in different countries, like Portugal, Kenya, India, and a lot of these locations were not locations that we had the funds to go out and purchase ourselves. They were gifts, or they otherwise came to Arocha to care for in very unexpected ways. Sometimes even sitting next to the right person on a plane and starting a conversation. And so you see God moving through all of these things, the good things and the hard things. Maybe I'll dig into one example a little bit further, which is, our work in Ghana, currently. Arocha Ghana, not that long ago, was a pretty modest sized Arocha organization that was trying to gain its footing and build out its operations and all. But now you look at them, and they're one of our strongest, most active organizations providing leadership for the country, for the environmental community in Ghana and protecting the Atewa Forest. It's a campaign that Arocha Ghana had helped to spearhead. It's a really important forest that was being threatened by deforestation for bauxite mining. And not only did that put a number of threatened and indigenous species at risk, the loss of a lot of habitat, but also it threatened the drinking water supply. This forest provides drinking water for millions of people in a major city, and we have examples from across Ghana of where bauxite mining has happened and has caused local devastation both in the natural and human communities around the sites. And so Arocha Ghana stepped up, little and humble as it was, and started raising its voice. And over time more and more people joined in. And then these large international environmental organizations started to take notice and some celebrities started to take notice, and they started to spread the word. And when everybody shows up to figure out how to get involved, it's this little, humble, Arocha Ghana organization that's the ones leading the charge. It's the Christians that are leading the charge to protect the human and natural communities in that part of Ghana. It's such an encouraging testimony for how God can use His people when we choose to be faithful, even with relatively humble resources and beginnings.

Chris: Yeah, well, and that there's something, I mean, the Biblical narrative is, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” The great reversal, the kingdom of God, the least shall be the greatest, the first shall be last,  like this is the way God works! And bauxite, it's amazing that you mentioned that because bauxite, if I’m right, is principally used in aluminum production, right?

Ben: Right, yeah.

Chris: Which is everywhere, right. We all have it. I have it in my drawer, you know, we use it. And so the interconnectedness of it all, Ben, when you reflect back on those stories, when you reflect back on on God's movement, on God's faithfulness working through Arocha Ghana to bring an issue like that to the forefront and having people come alongside when you may still feel like you're in the backwoods, though, like what—

Ben: [laughs] I like the backwood sometimes, you know. 

Chris: I mean, yeah. And actually, as I said that I was like, “You know, there's actually nothing wrong with the backwards. I would prefer to spend a lot of my time there if I could.” But okay, maybe on the days where it's constantly an uphill, it's a struggle like on the daily. How do you find hope on the daily to enter into the depth of the work that you do? Because I would imagine that there are times it's heavy, it’s hard, it's frustrating. But is there a little thing that happens in you where you get that hope? What, what does that look like on sort of the daily level?

Ben: Sure. Well, when I'm strong or clear thinking enough to orient myself to hope, then it often has to do with remembering. I think I said that word earlier, remembering. Remembering stories like Arocha Ghana, remembering God's provision and very unexpected, unpredicted circumstances in the past. Remembering how God has helped grow me over this journey, and provide over these many years, now. So it is a lot about remembering and remembering that I don't have to be God and that I shouldn't try. But then, to be frank, there are days I think many of us face, where we're so bogged down in it that we can't orient ourselves to hope and what we really need. We can't point ourselves to God, and sometimes we're feeling like we're throwing a tantrum. We don't want to point ourselves to God. And that's where it takes people around me, too, who are able to see what's going on and to remind me and to help hold me up through those seasons when my eyes are down on the ground and in the muck. But you can't find those—it's hard to find those people at that time. It's really important, I’ve found, to build those relationships of trust and solidarity and vulnerability from the very beginning. Because you know, they're gonna need it. You're gonna need it. And if you wait until you do, it's gonna not be there. It's gonna be too late. But then the other thing, though, is to remember that we are all on a journey. And this is just now. This is just today. There will be tomorrow. There'll be another step. At some point, I won't be here to take the next step. I won't be here for the tomorrow, but others will. God has many people. And so, remembering that it's a journey, and I just have to be ready to take the next step when God invites me to. And be paying attention so that I can discern what that is, and then to keep taking those next steps. So never to think that, “Okay, I've changed all my light bulbs. I've done all these other fifty things on the list that I’ve googled so I'm done. I'm good. I'm as green as I'm gonna get.” No, but it's just to remember. I think it both lets us off the hook from feeling like we gotta do it all now and fix it all now. But it also keeps us moving forward on this journey of faith, where we're always pursuing Christ and always allowing the Spirit to form us more into the likeness of God that we were created in.

Chris: Wow, I think, yeah,  that resonates huge. I had a prof, he used to say, “Yeah, Jesus said, “my yoke is easy, my burden is light,” but there’s still a yoke, and there’s still a burden and sometimes you need help carrying it, even if it is easy and light,” and I think sometimes we get into where God is calling us into, and the the yoke and the burden become a little more specific, and we might feel the gravity of it a little more, and I can imagine that that's the case with the work that you dp. A big part of our listenership comes from the Christian Reformed Church in North America and many will be familiar with the Climate Witness Project and we've done a lot of that kind of work. But for someone who wants to dive in and sort of take a deeper look at the work that you do, where is a good place to start?

Ben: Yeah, well, you could start at and that will take you to the website of A Rocha International and that will point you to all the national websites of A Rocha in the different countries where we work, and that'd be a great place to start. We just dropped a new, very short, I think brilliant video titled “I am a Conservationist,” which is about—is asking the question, Am I a conservationist? And what does it mean to be a conservationist? I love it. Folks should definitely check that out. I just wanna say I really value and admire the Christian Reformed Church and that community. I've gotten a chance to work with many CRC pastors over the years in churches and have visited a number of the college campuses and things, so it has a very warm place in my heart, for you all.

Chris: Yeah. Oh, well, we appreciate that. And I can attest, I did check out the video. It's phenomenal. It's great.  It's perfect, and it's a great place to—

Ben: Good, because it has some people I love dearly, and the danger of these videos is that you're so, like you love the people so much who are in it that you're just really passionate about the video and other people who don't know the people are like, “Okay, that was fine.” But I think it really is good, even if you don't know the people.

Chris: Yeah, no, it really is good. And so, we encourage folks to check that out. The book, too, the book that we mentioned, Doing Good Without Giving Up, I would encourage folks to check that out. It really encapsulates everything that we're talking about with this series of podcasts and staying in it for the long haul and I really appreciate you sharing with us. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us. Folks, you can, again, please check out Ben’s stuff, even if you just Google “Reverend Doctor” or “Dr. Ben Lowe,” you will find a whole host of good stuff to go even a little bit deeper, and we'll put a lot of this stuff in the description for this episode so we'll have links to all this good stuff. Ben, thanks for joining us. Next time I'm in Florida— Kayaking. We'll go to the secret spots. That would be amazing.

Ben: Yes, sounds good. Thanks so much for having me Chris, it's been great to be with you all

Chris: We appreciate it so much. Take care. 


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