Stewards of Stuff

O LORD, protect your people with your shepherd’s staff;
lead your flock, your special possession.
Though they live alone in a thicket
on the heights of Mount Carmel,
let them graze in the fertile pastures of Bashan and Gilead
as they did long ago. (Micah 7:14 NLT)

Each Saturday during Lent, we will explore a story or profile of peace in action: people who are acting as shalom-bearers in a world increasingly in need of God’s peace.
When A Rocha (in Portuguese: “the Rock”) began operating in Canada in 2000, many Christians still viewed conservationists of any sort with some suspicion, even conservationists who professed to be followers of Jesus. But Leah and Markku Kostamo, the co-founders, believe caring for God’s creation is an important part of authentic Christian living. As Leah Kostamo writes, “Matter matters to God, who created the stuff and even became the stuff and calls us to steward the stuff on his behalf.”

When they were first starting out, A Rocha Canada wanted to establish a Field Study Center, a place that would serve as a base of operations, strategically located so they could be actively working to protect a specific environmentally sensitive habitat even as they partnered with other organizations and groups on other projects. After they landed on the habitat of Little Campbell Watershed – part of Boundary Bay in southern British Columbia – they still needed to find somewhere to house their environmental center.

Enter, Heritage Acres, a ten-acre property with two houses, a log cabin, two ponds, a cedar forest, pasture lands, and a barn, as well as a tree house. From the start of A Rocha’s interest in the property, the sellers, Harriet and Irwin Leitz, understood the importance of their work and how crucial this new property would be for it. They also understood how few financial resources A Rocha currently had, being a new nonprofit that was still building up a base of support. Thankfully, the property owners were fellow believers who had been praying about whom to sell to, so both the Leitzes and A Rocha found the entire process to be one of faith: in God and in the other party. After three months of negotiations, and a lot of give and take on both sides, as well as much generosity from the Leitzes, A Rocha had four months to come up with a $250,000 down payment.

The first half of it came from a small Baptist church in Vancouver that agreed to give them an interest-free loan, but they only had six weeks to come up with the rest. Through a mutual friend, and with the clock ticking on their deadline, Markku was introduced to a philanthropist who visited the new property and heard all about A Rocha’s plan. And despite neither Leah or Markku asking for money – after all, they were still new to fundraising and hadn’t gotten used to the idea of asking someone for a $125,000 donation – their new friend asked what they needed. God had provided.

In the years since, this first A Rocha Field Study Center in Canada has welcomed thousands of visitors and volunteers and allowed them space to conduct conservation research on numerous species. They have also been able to expand into northern British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario, all in the name of caring for creation as an act of worship and shalom-making. John Wesley once said, “Faith in Jesus Christ can and will lead us beyond an exclusive concern for the well-being of other human beings to the broader concern for the well-being of the birds in our backyard, the fish in our rivers, and every living creature on the face of the earth.”

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the ocean depths” (Psalm 24:1–2).

(You can find more about the early days of A Rocha Canada in Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community by Leah Kostamo, where this story is told in greater detail.)
Michael Benson is the NAB communications director.