By: Autumn Ayers
This year, we are celebrating A Rocha’s 40th birthday!
In 1983, Miranda and Peter Harris and their four children moved to southern Portugal to establish Cruzinha: the very first A Rocha field center near the Alvor marshes. The region was on a major migratory route for migratory birds, held remarkable biodiversity, and received a similarly abundant influx of tourists–the perfect blend for a bird observatory with an international flavor and a strong sense of ecological mission.
Environmental challenges quickly emerged. Shortly after the Harrises’ arrival, a beautiful marsh near their first home in Armação da Pera which provided vital habitat for many species of migrant birds was drained to build a golf course. Such destructive threats of development for the sake of profit were repeated time and again along the coastline, making the work at Cruzinha all the more essential.
In the 1960s, scientists had begun sounding the alarm of the dangers of environmental destruction, but with a few notable exceptions Christians were largely silent on the matter. A Rocha’s work was a firm declaration that “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” (Psalm 24:1) If we truly love God, we will also love and care for what he has called “very good.”
“Intuitively a deepening relationship with God seemed to make all we saw in the world around us more vivid, more striking and more beautiful. More consciously, understanding the value that God himself gave to his world meant it was harder to stand by and do nothing about the growing number of ways in which the world was being damaged,” writes Peter Harris in Under the Bright Wings.
Forty years on, A Rocha has observed many changes in climate, biodiversity, air, soil and water—some encouraging, and some painful. Now, the estuary is protected by the EU as a Natura 2000 area, in large part due to the scientific research A Rocha has provided. But the Alvor still faces significant challenges, as ongoing droughts are exacerbated by imprudent agricultural policies and ongoing threats from illegal urbanization.
From the beginning, Cruzinha has not only been a model of creation care, but of life in community. Emblematic of this is the magnificent, 100-year-old wooden dining table purchased by Miranda Harris. In her journals, Miranda quipped, “I don’t regret spending half the furnishing budget on this one item!” The meals served here have offered a priceless place for connection, where people can cultivate joyful and intentional relationships with each other and creation.
Every sort of conservationist has gathered around the iconic Cruzinha table: botanists, ornithologists, entomologists and ecologists, but also doctors, actors, farmers, musicians, photographers and more! This colorful community shows the many ways we can care for God’s creation.
A Rocha’s new short film, “I am a Conservationist,” shows the inspiring variety of conservationists from across our worldwide family, and reveals that we can ALL be conservationists:
Forty years ago, A Rocha was founded on the conviction that creation care is not a unique calling for those with a particularly scientific bent, but an imperative for all Christians. “We are doing it already—badly or well, living our relationship with God’s world like his children who love him, or like people who don’t know that it was made with infinite care, love and delight,” explains Miranda Harris in A Place at the Table.
From a bird observatory on the edge of a small Portuguese village, A Rocha has expanded to projects in over twenty countries on six continents. Around the world, the A Rocha family is united by our love for God’s creation and our conviction that everyone has a part to play. We would love for you to join us in the work of restoring people and places! Show us what you’re doing for nature by using the hashtag #IAmAConservationist and tagging @arochausa on social media.