God loves people, who are made in God’s image. In what ways does the rest of Creation – the planet, the universe, plants and animals – reveal about God?
When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor… When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression…
So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me… Then you shall say before the Lord your God…
I have obeyed the Lord my God, doing just as you commanded me. Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our ancestors – a land flowing with milk and honey.’
The goats roaming around the village look happy enough, but Saw Stylo, Bishop of Hpa-an, is not impressed.
‘This is no way to keep goats,’ he says, a little exasperated. ‘You don’t let them roam around. There is a proper way to keep and fatten up your animals.’
In 2002, Bishop Stylo – then a priest – underwent training at the Asian Rural Institute (ARI), in Japan, supported by USPG. He is now passing on the skills he learned to communities in Myanmar.
The ARI, founded in 1973 by the church in Japan, has trained over 1,000 community leaders – men and women, of all ages and religions, from over 50 developing countries. A concern to respect Creation underpins the ARI curriculum, which includes organic farming techniques, animal husbandry, fish farming, food processing, and much more.
Bishop Stylo said of his year at the ARI: ‘The institute is an amazing place. The students are different in many different ways – different cultures, different countries, different languages – yet they live together under God and together they learn about development and agriculture.’
In Myanmar, Bishop Stylo has used his training to set up many community initiatives, including fisheries and agricultural training programmes.
He says: ‘I hope that what I am doing is helpful because most people are subsistence farmers and the training is very useful for them. Adopting these new techniques is making a difference to people’s lives.’
One project set up by Bishop Stylo is helping to tackle both poverty and care for the environment. Communities in Hpa-an are growing rubber trees, a species of tree carefully selected because they are resistant to insect infestation and can generate a good income. As well as providing an income through the sale of rubber, the trees are helping to replenish nutrients in the soil and offset carbon production.
Since 2010, the church has planted over 2,000 rubber saplings. However, the people need to be patient. It takes seven years for the trees to grow big enough so they can be tapped for rubber. When the trees are ready, the local farmers will earn a good income.
Bishop Stylo has a vision to see each parish in his diocese with a rubber plantation that will generate enough income to support a priest.
The church in Hpa-an is also involved in other environmental initiatives, including one to fence off areas of forest and scrubland to preserve and protect it.
God of all energy and life
Give us such a love for all your Creation
That we may delight in it with our eyes
Nurture it with our hands
And enrich it with our love
For our world is not our world, but yours.