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Kiwi eco Christians link to global network

By Marie Sherry

Local conservation groups throughout New Zealand now have the chance to become part of the international Christian ecological organisation A Rocha, which was established in New Zealand last year.

A Rocha began in Portugal, and its name is from the Portuguese for “the rock”. A Rocha is now of a family of projects working in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, North and South America, Asia and Australasia.

New Zealand A Rocha committee chairman Richard Storey says while the New Zealand group is still fairly new, it was accepted by A Rocha International in April.

“We’re starting to do practical things, like planting trees, clearing weeds and trying to establish satellite groups around the country,” he says.

“We’re quite active – we have about 150 people on our email list and the committee involves 12 or 13 people. There are groups starting up in Christchurch and Palmerston North and we’re working towards affiliating them.”

Richard worked as a scientific officer for A Rocha in Lebanon for two years, returning to New Zealand in 2004. He has been speaking on the work of the group ever since and is expecting the New Zealand organisation to grow in popularity.

“We keep coming across people in various parts of the country who are thinking along those lines. Part of what we’re doing is bringing people together. Some of the growth is quite easy because people are already there, they just don’t have a name for what they’re doing,” he says.

One of the New Zealand group’s long-term goals is to establish one or two field study centres, which would employ full-time staff. People could visit the centre and focus on particular habitats.

“In the meantime, we want to connect Christians with environmental programmes and get people connected with nature. We want to spread our message through outdoor activities, tree planting, tramps and children’s camps,” Richard says.

He also hopes the New Zealand A Rocha group will be multi cultural and will recognise the important place of Maori.

The cross-cultural strength of the international A Rocha group’s Christian community has been making a unique contribution to natural habitats throughout the world, as communities struggle to reconcile the need to protect biodiversity with their hopes for sustainable development.

“We’re not focusing on any particular practical project at the moment. What we’re thinking of doing is trying to connect churches with existing projects that are operating locally. There are a huge number of environmental care groups out there but what they are lacking is people power,” Richard says.

“We’re really keen to get church people out in God’s creation and making a positive contribution to caring for it and restoring it. That’s the model we’re looking at at the moment. It’s a chance to show New Zealand that the church does care about the environment.

A Rocha is open to all Christians and non-Christians who wish to be involved, and is not affiliated with any particular church.

“We’re really excited about it, particularly those who have seen A Rocha working in other countries. We’ve heard of many people whose lives have been transformed by working with A Rocha,” Richard says.