As a Christian and an environmental writer, I have been excited that the passion for creation care is growing among other believers. I value the resources and the wild things God has made because He values them, and also because they reveal so much of His character. When I doubt, all I need to do is look in my backyard to remember that God makes lush and vibrant gardens out of tiny seeds. The first time I visited a butterfly exhibit my faith was completely restored by the sight of such beautiful and intricately painted creatures. Referring to the handiwork of God, the poet Wendell Berry once said, “Why should the butterfly be so extravagant?” And yet, of all the “extravagant” creatures God has made, He has given His heart to man, to His children, and He has appointed us stewards of his glorious creation.
I recently volunteered to help lead Creation Care Camp at my church. For many of us, traditional Vacation Bible School conjures images of cutting, pasting, coloring and crafting within the confines of a church basement. Living in Nashville, there are thousands of programs to choose from in any one summer. I believe there is room for fostering spiritual growth in little ones in all kinds of settings and I’m grateful for the choices there are in my town alone. When the opportunity came at my own church to help lead an outdoor program that centered around God’s glory through His creation, I knew immediately that I wanted to be part of it; I wanted to help lead the little ones into that Glory.
A family in our church graciously hosted the group, and our day campers spent four days exploring the woods and the creek that runs through the beautiful property. We opened each morning with scripture and prayer, and we sang together the true story that “God Made Everything”. We studied the water cycle, met a screech owl, a turtle, and an opossum, observed hundreds of preserved insects up close and even made “animal scat” out of brown play dough. Our little ones sat enraptured as an entomologist explained that there are more bugs in a single back yard than there are people on the planet. A biologist led the children on a hike through the woods learning all the names of the trees. Each biological lesson revealed a spiritual truth and pointed to God as the Creator and sustainer of life.
As I led various stations throughout the week I prayed for patience and wisdom. I tried to practice Matthew 19:14, “Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (NIV). Because Jesus has ascended and is no longer with us physically, our conversations about bringing children to Him often revolve around the spiritual, the intangible. However, as the children extracted and held strawberry DNA in their little hands it was as though the glory of God was made tangible. The evidence of God’s creativity, his power and his complexity can be found in a little blob inside of a strawberry, and they got to touch it.
As the children hiked through the trees, they could look up and see branches that spanned the very sky the Psalmist describes as he writes, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1, NIV). Our little ones explored that glory with curiosity and joy. They were coming to Jesus in His creation.
The truths my own children learned during camp are priceless, and l can already see the fruit of the little seeds that were planted. Nevertheless, I was hoping for a bigger reaction from my daughter when I enthusiastically asked, “Wasn’t the DNA awesome?” As if it was no big deal, she answered, “Yeah, it felt like boogers”. Maybe not the response I was looking for, but it humbled me as I realized that little ones do not need their faith restored by the extravagant, because as children, they expect it.
That is not to say that children are apathetic, in fact, it is their matter-of-fact acceptance that allows them to enter into God’s creation, into his Kingdom with free and insurmountable joy. Creation Care Camp was full of laughter and each discovery of a wiggly worm and every splash in the water brought shrieks of delight. I am convinced that one of the greatest lessons was reserved for those of us who have outgrown the desire to wade in the creek or to pick up a crawdad: I may have taught the children facts, but they showed me wonder. I had hoped to teach the children, by the grace of God, to be good stewards of His creation, to bring them to Jesus, and to lead them into His glory. By the grace of God, they led me.
“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17, NIV).