An Eden Vigil edition of The Liberator Today
“What has changed in the land since you were a child?” We were sitting together with a chief, two or three elders, and a group of other men and women, on the edge of a village some ten kilometers distant from N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. On the near horizon, just across a seasonal floodplain was the silver glint of the Chari River. Across the river was the Republic of Cameroon.
It took a moment for my question to get translated into French. It was a premeditated question on my part, one I had packed in my mental luggage to bring with me to this country on the dry plains of Africa, the sub-Saharan region known as the Sahel. It was a question I had heard asked before in numerous documentaries and books. I had heard it asked of weathered Inuit seal hunters in the Arctic. I had heard it asked of Polynesian fishermen on the beaches of islands in the Pacific. For that matter, I had heard old Kansan farmers discuss the same question. It’s a great question to bring to any place where meetings take place outside on straw mats, or standing above the icepack, or on raised wooden planks up above the beach, or in where the kitchen curtains are always kept open out unto the back forty. It’s a great question because it taps into what can only be called expertise.
Not the chief, but a man sitting cross-legged on the mat spoke up as soon as the translation was complete. “So much has changed,” he said. “We used to have more trees, more animals, more food. We used to have enough food.”
“So what happened?” I asked.
“The rains have changed. They don’t come like they used to.”
Chad’s rainy season has traditionally run from August through September and on into mid October. It was late October during our visit and there was still some standing water in the flood plain and at various waterholes we had passed in coming. Evaporation in the 100 degree F temperatures, and the daily visitation of herds of camels, cattle, and goats would soon render these holes dry.
The day following our visit to this village, we travelled out to the central Gehra region and got our first real glimpse of the landscape of the Sahel: gravelly sand, acacia trees, low scrub bushes that sprout territorially apart from each other. Here we talked to a different type of expert, one with statistics at his disposal. Emmanuel is from Kenya, and among the huge number of NGOs operating across the Sahel, he is one of the most sought-over of all well-diggers. He knows where to find water. (“See that tall tamarind tree there? I look for those. They grow near fractures in the bedrock.”)
“In this region, we used to reach the water table at 20-30 meters,” Emmanuel explained. “Now we need to go down 40-50 meters.” His crew only has the capacity to drill 60-70 meter bore holes, and anything beyond that can’t be easily brought to the surface with the hand pumps that they install, plus there’s no electricity to run submersible pumps. Even if you sink a sixty meter bore hole into a fifty meter water table, that only gives you ten meters of reservoir. In such cases the women and young girls who do the daily pumping have to take turns and wait for the flow of water to recharge.
“Emmanuel, why the change?"
“The rains. The rainy season used to be August, September, October. It used to rain every day. Now maybe we get one rain a week, a few during a month. The water table never recharges.”
Emmanuel works for a wonderful NGO called International Aid Services. IAS had sponsored our visas to Chad and had arranged our visit out to the villages. Their water work primarily deals with proximity and purity. A bore well brings water closer to the village. Our last site visit was to a repair job at a village north of Mongo. During the time while the pump was unusable, the people had to travel two kilometers to the nearest water source during the long dry season. Purity refers to protection from waterborne diseases. Standing water--what might remain around a village immediately after the rainy season--is quickly befouled by the livestock. To drill down below the meters of sand is to tap into water that has been naturally filtered. IAS conducts extensive testing. IAS didn’t drill a well in that first village that I mentioned, though the women of the village asked our visiting group to do so. A well that close to the river would only bring up contaminated river water. In that village instead, IAS was installing bio-sand filters, locally-sourced concrete units, to purify the drinking water. Proximity and purity are crucially important issues for Chad, the eighth poorest country in the world, but we have two days left in our visit here, and we have yet to find anyone who knows of work being done on other issues of water retention—the rains, the water table, in French: changement.
Or more precisely: changement climatique.
There is a direct flight on Thursday at 11:55 pm from N’djamena, Chad to Paris, France. I am scheduled to be on it. Two years ago this same month, I was in Paris. I was with my intern Sammi Grieger and colleagues from the American and Canadian Church along with other global evangelicals from the Lausanne Movement to participate in our small, but prayer-ridden way with COP 21, the UN sponsored climate summit that would result in the world’s first good-will cooperative (though still voluntary) effort on climate change known as the Paris Agreement. This year I will simply be a transit visitor in Paris on my way to the climate summit in Bonn, Germany. Nonetheless, I think I will take a day in Paris, return to the steps of the Sacré Coeur, replicate our prayer meeting, and take some time to reflect on all that has transpired in two short years. These climate summits are annual affairs and the really big ones happen on a five-year basis, but COP 23 is important in a few unique ways. First, it will be the first climate summit after Donald Trump’s election and after he has “pulled the US out” of the Paris Agreement, something which legally won’t go into effect until 2020. Secondly, the presiding nation for COP 23 will be Fiji. (Fiji didn’t have the facilities to host the summit, so Bonn is acting as the host.) Fiji is a member of the Coalition of 42 Vulnerable Nations, those countries which are already being hit the hardest by sea-level rise, desertification, typhoons, and other effects of a changing average global temperature. Fiji is also a majority Christian nation. These are our brothers and sisters.
In late 2015, Thomas Kemper, general secretary of Global Ministries, visited Fiji, an island state where the Methodist Church of Fiji is the largest religious group in the country (34.6 percent of the population). “I learned from our Methodist church partners,” Kemper said, that “the rising sea levels are forcing people to resettle farther inland. Two communities have already been forced to move and another 30 communities will be resettled. The positive effects of the Climate Change agreement [COP21, Paris] simply can’t come soon enough for our Fijian brothers and sisters.”
Thirdly, COP 23 will be important, for me at least, because I am coming directly from Chad where I have been helping our conservative mission agency scout out an environmental approach to a new church-planting effort among unreached and unengaged people groups. A study was done this year of 186 nations to list them in order of “vulnerability” to climate change. Vulnerability is not only a function of how adverse weather patterns, like a sporadic rainy season, will harm a country but also whether a country has the material resources and the conflict-free opportunity to adapt to inevitable changes. According to the study, Chad is the most vulnerable of all nations in the world. (Chad is the Country Most Vulnerable to Climate Change—Where’s Why). Participating in COP 23 is not an “add on” to my missions trip to Chad, as if I fortuitously had to fly through Europe anyway. In my opinion, based on what I’ve seen and heard here in Chad, and based on my sense of the Lord's voice in prayer, the best way I can immediately love Chadians is to go to Bonn and do my part alongside my Fijian brothers and sisters in Christ to fight for the Paris Agreement.