Written by Connie Larkman
Mission 4/1 Earth is an incredibly personal project for members of a Southern California church. Gina Low, a long-time member of the Woodland Hills Community Church congregation has just returned from the Amazon Jungle, where she spent months working to save the rainforest in remote river villages in the Loreto Region of Peru.
"The only thing you can do to help these people is educate them — teach them that the rest of the world needs them," said Low. "Once they have awareness that other people need them to plant these trees and care for the forest, it happens. They learn reforestation is important to the rest of the world."
Gina Low should know. As the founder and president of the Association Promoting Education and Conservation in Amazonia (APECA), Low has dedicated the past 20 years to teaching the villagers in Peru about reforestation.
"Planting a tree comes with education," Low stressed. "The education component is life-saving in these villages. We're planting trees, but we're also addressing health and education. These people are conservators of the rain forest — we need them healthy."
As part of Mission 4/1 Earth, 50 days of environmental advocacy from April 1 through Pentecost on May 19, APECA's mission — to address conservation of global resources of the Amazon Rainforest by training youth foresters to plant trees and become mentors in their own communities — is gaining a valuable partner in UCC churches like Woodland Hills.
WHCC, very intentional in creating a local, national and global component of its approach to 50 days of earth care, is embracing the personal connection the congregation has with APECA — pledging to plant 500 trees, 450 of which will be planted in Peru.
"Mission 4/1 Earth, I'm pleased to say, has ignited the interest of the church on several levels," said Sam Pullen, a ministry assistant at Woodland Hills UCC and a member in discernment at Claremont School of Theology. "One of the reasons that we are so passionate about it is that it provides us with an opportunity to support the reforestation efforts of APECA Peru, a mission run by Gina Low. Several members of our congregation have traveled with Gina to the Amazon Rainforest to help promote reforestation efforts, provide access to clean water, and bring medical care to the indigenous community in Peru. We recognize that the trees of the Amazon Rainforest are the lungs of the planet, and we have seen what a difference we can make by training youth foresters to engage in sustainable practices. We hope that other UCC churches will choose APECA Peru as their global partner so that APECA youth foresters can plant one tree for every dollar donated!"
The trees provide families with building materials, cooking fuel and lumber to sustain their own stable positions as responsible caretakers of the Amazon Rainforest. But APECA also works to teach community, which Low says is an up and coming idea in the Amazon Jungle.
"Survival is the focus of the family unit. First we addressed health. Now they are asking for help with their need for building materials. Reforestation will provide their housing needs but it will also stabilize their economy," said Low. Now is a critical time to support the reforestation efforts of APECA, Pullen said, because several villages in the Amazon region where APECA operates were recently devastated by massive flooding.
"This is the church," Low said. "The villagers are our family in the church. They are already here, in this rainforest, working, caretaking for us, just by being who and where they are! The least that we can do is assist them as best we can. Every breath we take is filled with the oxygen that flows from these forests to the rest of the world."
"Environmental issues are a top priority with our congregation," Pullen said, "and a whole team of people has stepped up to make our 4/1 Earth projects a success. Our Sunday school kids launched Mission 4/1 Earth by planting a children's garden. Members of the congregation and local businesses have donated soil, seedlings, and labor to get the garden started." This week the church is potting trees to give away. "We are excited to invite members of the local community to attend our Earth Day Worship Service [April 21] and receive a free seedling for their garden."
The mornings of April 26 and 27 provide another opportunity to plant trees in the fire-damaged areas of the Angeles National Forest with Tree People, a group mustering up a massive volunteer effort to replant and restore the forest with 20,000 seedlings in 2013. In addition, the congregation is pledging at least 100 advocacy letters, and over 500 collective Earth Care hours.
To count your efforts on the Mission 4/1 Earth tally board, report your earth care hours, trees planting and letters written, report in as often as you like here.
You can plant trees with APECA in Peru, by donating on the the Mission 4/1 Earth Purchase a Global Tree page.
If you want to know more about counting earth care hours, watch this.
Share the goals of Mission 4/1 Earth with your family and friends and invite them to join the movement:
For more information on Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days, visit ucc.org/earth, read these stories, or join the movement on Facebook.
Woodland Hills Community Church prepared and gave away oak tree seedlings for planting Sunday April 14. One of the church's members saved the paper coffee cups used at the church coffee hours, and planted seedlings he gathered in his yard in those cups. The congregation potted those seedlings after worship, shared them with families in their community, and reported 34 trees and 167 earth care hours for that project. As of April 15 WHCC has planted 359 trees, written 18 advocacy letters, and recorded 257 earth care hours 4/1 Earth.