Introducing the Matthew Sleeth Seminary Stewardship Alliance Award

Matthew Sleeth just got back from the annual gathering of the Seminary Stewardship Alliance (SSA), which was held this year in Portland, OR.  While there, he was given a surprise by the leadership of the SSA: they inaugurated an annual prize in his honor!  Each year, the Matthew Sleeth Seminary Stewardship Alliance Award will be given to the school that has made the greatest impact in creation care theology and practice.

“I was pleased for Matthew,” said Nancy Sleeth. “He had put five years of hard work into launching the SSA.  But I was even more pleased for the SSA, a project of Blessed Earth that has now become an independent nonprofit.”

In just a few years, the SSA has grown from twelve founding institutions to nearly fifty schools. Last week, about seventy representatives from member schools participated in our annual gathering. These schools are now training thousands of pastors around the world to teach, preach, model, and hold each other accountable for good stewardship practices.

Why is this important? Today, the Church is so often seen as part of the problem.  The SSA reminds us how we can become part of the solution. From Genesis to Revelation, there is no greener book than the Bible.

Instead of being known for what we are against, the SSA shows what we are for: caring for God’s beautiful gift of creation until the return of Jesus, when leaves from the Tree of Life, watered by an unpolluted river, will heal all the nations.

Nancy Sleeth praised the work of the SSA saying, “The SSA gives me hope–hope for the planet God created. Hope that the good work God has given Blessed Earth to do will continue to flourish far beyond our personal reach. Hope that the Church can make a positive impact. Hope that Jesus, our Savior, can use each and every one of us to help heal an ailing world!”

Serving God and Saving the Planet one bottle at a time

More than a decade ago, when Matthew and I first moved to Wilmore, Kentucky, we prayed that God would give us an opportunity to make a difference in our new hometown.  The very next day a neighbor, Andy Bathje, knocked on our door.  Andy told us about Ichthus, one of the largest Christian music festivals in the country, which was happening in Wilmore the following week.  Knowing our passion for creation care, he mentioned that none of the waste had ever been recycled during the event, which drew 15,000-20,000 attendees each year. Would we be interested in partnering with him to change that?
“Yes! We’d love to help!”  We purchased 50 durable bins, recruited local youth volunteers, and went to work. Those were some of the loudest, hottest, most gratifying three days I’ve ever experienced!  We recycled 50,000 bottles and cans in that first year alone.
With Andy’s help, Blessed Earth continued to increase the recycling at Ichthus.  We distributed free water to attendees who wanted to use reusable water bottles, encouraged recycling with prize drawings, and educated interested attendees about recycling and creation care.  More and more people came to volunteer; some band members even pitched in!

When Andy became the executive director of AdventureServe Ministries, he incorporated recycling into his mission experience for youth.  We gave the recycling bins to AdventureServe so they could continue the work we’d begun together.

recycleSeveral years ago, AdventureServe hosted the youth of Shepherd of the Prairie Lutheran Church from Huntley, Illinois, who participated in the recycling efforts at Ichthus as part of their learning about creation care.  They were so inspired that they contacted another festival closer to home, Lifest.  The organizers had no objection to free help reducing their trash! They have now been recycling at Lifest for three years.
After a decade of use, the recycling bins we purchased were still going strong, but the lids needed to be replaced. Blessed Earth donated new bin lids and an eye-catching cage for Lifest 2016 attendees to deposit bottles in; participants wrote their names and phone numbers on their bottles, which served as “entries” into prize drawings.
This year, AdventureServe staff members joined 35 volunteers from Shepherd of the Prairie to manage the recycling campaign at Lifest. Over the 3-day event, they filled two 20-foot long dumpsters with plastic bottles and collected fifty pounds of aluminum. According to the local Solid Waste Department, the youth have collected 4.92 tons of recyclables over the last three summers. This is equal to saving 10,000 pounds of oil!
A decade ago, Matthew and I never would have guessed that a prayer to help our community would turn into an opportunity to help recycle bottles and cans at events throughout the country. We are especially grateful for people like Andy who model how our faith is connected with everything we do–including the fate of a pop bottle!
sea of recycle

Faith Radio Interviewed Matthew on the Topic of Caring for God’s Creation

Recently, Faith Radio interviewed Matthew about caring for God’s creation. You can listen to the entire interview at myfaithradio.com.

Faith Radio offers the following summary of the interview:

Dr. Matthew Sleeth provides biblical examples and helpful insight from his book Serving God, Saving the Planet.

God’s initial call for humans to care for His creation can be found in the book of Genesis.

“And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” – Genesis 2:15

Dr. Sleeth elaborates on the reality of our sinful human nature,

“As Adam and Eve sinned, the first thing they were going to do was to go and undress the garden, tear a leaf off and cover their shame.”

Scripture tells us very clearly what not to do while stewarding God’s resources, but it’s up to us to honor His instruction. Dr. Sleeth provides a few examples from Leviticus 23:22 and Deuteronomy 24:20.

“The scripture has many, many things that tell us not to cut to the edge of the field. Meaning don’t try to get every ounce that you can out of a field, leave some for poor people, leave some poor animals.”

“It tells us not to beat the olive tree twice. It tells us not to muddy the water with our cattle.”

We are instructed to care for the earth, but in the end it is Christ who will save the world from sin, decay and destruction. Dr. Sleeth elaborates,

“Ultimately it’s not you or I that save this planet, it is Christ. Christ has come back as the new Adam and unlike the first Adam, he actually is able to tend, to keep and dress the garden.”

Dr. Sleeth encourages us all to plant a tree with a young child and help them care for it. Similar to the growth of a tree from childhood, we learn about the importance of spiritual growth throughout our lives.

“There’s two things that you want to be bigger when that child comes back later and that’s the tree. The other thing that’s supposed to grow like a tree is our faith. We’re told that in the first Psalm God uses that metaphor and analogy of the tree of the same thing; that our faith should always be growing.”

Caring for the planet and for our soul is our responsibility as Christians. It will help us grow closer to God’s heart and gives us a glimpse into His eternal plans.

“The centerpiece of Heaven in front of God’s throne is the tree of life. So we’re going for a pretty green eternity from what the bible says if we believe in the Lord.”

 

 

 

Matthew Receives an Honorary Doctorate

It was like a scene out of a movie:  A few Saturdays ago, I was washing my hands in the ladies’ room when I overheard a woman exclaim to a gaggle of her friends, “Oh my, that doctor speaker!  Usually I hate sitting through graduation ceremonies, but…”
My ears perked up. I held my breath to hear what she would say next.  “…that was the best speech I’ve ever heard!”

“Thank you!” I said. “That was my husband!” I could not have been more proud.  Matthew had just given the commencement address at Hood Seminary, an African Methodist Episcopal Zion school based in Salisbury, North Carolina. During Hood’s graduation ceremonies, Matthew was also honored with a doctorate degree.

We first met the president of Hood Seminary several years ago through Blessed Earth’s Seminary Stewardship Alliance(SSA), a network of seminaries committed to teaching, preaching, and model biblical stewardship of God’s creation.  Since its launch at the Washington National Cathedral four years ago, the SSA has grown to nearly 50 partner schools. Last year, the SSA spun off from Blessed Earth as an independent 501c3.
At Hood Seminary’s commencement, Matthew compared the lessons he learned as an emergency room physician with the challenges that these graduating church leaders will face in the coming years.  His simple, Gospel-driven advice applies to all of us:

#1 Keep the faith.
When you’re having a tough week, think of Jesus in the exam room before beginning his ministry: he really was tested by the devil.  And the the reaction to his first week of ministry? They took him to the cliff and tried to throw him off! Beginnings and transition are almost always difficult, but Christ helps us persevere.

#2 Be generous.
God loves a cheerful giver.  Buy the pizza, leave change in the soda machine, maybe even send a gift to the alma mater (“other mother”) that helped raise you.

#3 Invest in friends.
Friends are like trees:  the best time to plant is fifty years ago; the next best time to plant one is today.  In an increasingly “connected” world, true friendship is becoming rarer and rarer.

#4 Let the Bible teach you.
So many of us want to instruct God instead of letting Him teach us.  God left us a book to believe in: believe in it!

#5 Be thankful.
Keep a gratitude journal and list all the things that make your day better: dental floss, hugs, shoes, literacy, sunshine. These seem like little things, but writing them down helps us appreciate bigger things, like God’s love for us, friendship, the Bible, and the forgiveness of sins.
#6 Remember the Sabbath.
Sabbath-keeping is not a condition of getting into heaven; it just happens to be the condition of heaven when you get in. Taking our hands off the steering wheel one day a week reminds us that God is ultimately in control.
#7 Pray
When we work, we work; when we pray, God works.  Pray unceasingly for Thy will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Finding Paradise in Paradise

HIM Conference 2016Matthew wearing a traditional Hawaiian leis during his plenary talk for the Hawaiian Islands Ministries’ GREATER Conference

I love Maine. We raised our children there. I practiced medicine there. I found Jesus there. I’d love to go back and live there, but not in the winter. During the long shifts in the ER when the snow drifted and the sun set before four, I’d console myself by looking at a picture on the office wall of Hawaii.  I dreamed of one day going to those tropical islands. But Hawaii is a long way from Maine. The trip wasn’t practical with young kids.

When we entered ministry, a trip to Hawaii was out of our economic reach. But as a new Christian, I noticed a pattern.  People often ended up serving in the one place they prayed not to go. It’s biblical. Jonah wanted to go to Joppa, but God and the whale sent him to Nineveh. When a pastor friend of mine entered ministry, he prayed for God to send him anywhere other than a Spanish-speaking community; he’s now the head of a seminary in Venezuela and he’s fluent in Spanish.  Another friend began his career telling God that he wanted to serve anywhere but Africa. He told me this at the end of thirty years in Nigeria. So, I prayed (tongue-in-cheek): Lord, send me anywhere but Hawaii. Guess what? The pattern actually holds! I just got back from Oahu and preaching at the Hawaiian Island Ministries (HIM) conference. Don’t feel sorry for me. It wasn’t all work. Before the conference started, Nancy and I took several days to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary on the less populated northern end of the island.   We took some great hikes, including a little-used trail to a stunning lookout over Sunset Beach.

But it wasn’t until we returned to Honolulu and were in the presence a few thousand brothers and sisters in Christ that we truly experienced paradise. The hospitality at the HIM conference was extraordinary: People we had never met asked us out to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  A girl gave me a drawing inspired by one of my talks.  And everywhere there was a palpable, deep hunger to hear God’s Word.

We all need to thank God for putting us in ministry wherever we are. So regardless of where you are reading this, ask yourself, How is my ministry going? Use these questions to assess and reflect:

  • Have you asked someone new home to dinner in the last month?
  • Have you given a Bible away yet this year?
  • Are you praying regularly for someone at your workplace?
  • Have you used what you gave up this Lent as an opportunity to witness about what Jesus sacrificed for our salvation?

It’s nice to go places and meet new brothers and sisters, but God is everywhere. Jesus told us to go out in the world and spread the Gospel.  Wherever you are, you’re out in the world. Spread the Good News!  I’ll be praying for you.

“Mahalo!” to our new friends in the Pacific Ocean.

The Blessing of Visiting College Campuses

If you have been watching too much news and are anxious about the future, I have a suggestion: visit some young Christians at college. Fall is when we here at Blessed Earth spend our time visiting colleges, schools, and seminaries. This past fall semester we spent time at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, Wheaton College, Indiana Wesleyan University (with Ron Blue), Emory University, Lindsay Wilson College, North Carolina Wesleyan College, and Asbury Seminary.

I could especially feel the Lord at work as I stood in front of thousands of young people at Wheaton College. I appreciated the kind notes I received from students after these campus visits.

One of the countercultural aspects of Christianity is its intergenerational nature. This is modeled in the relationship between Elijah and Elisha and the passing of the mantle from the elder to the younger.

We see it modeled again in the New Testament. Paul encourages the younger Timothy, and Timothy’s growth in the faith is an encouragement to Paul. Paul recounts the intergenerational faith passed from Timothy’s grandmother, Lois; to Timothy’s mother, Eunice; and down to Timothy.

The book of 2 Timothy was perhaps Paul’s last letter. How tired he must have felt. Paul had been thrown from boats, beaten, stoned, and chained in prison for months on end. Yet we never hear him saying, “Young people today aren’t as tough as I was.” Instead he encourages Timothy to preach the word of the Lord “in season and out”. In other words, don’t focus on the problems of the world but on the solutions of God.

We at Blessed Earth thank the Lord for the work He has given us: to inspire faithful stewardship of all creation. As I enter my sixth decade of life, I am grateful beyond measure that I am able to work with young people just beginning their adventures. I hope someday to say as Paul did that “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

Blessed Earth Tennessee Plants Literal and Spiritual Trees in Haiti

As many of you know, Matthew is writing a book that shares the Gospel by following the trail of trees through the Bible. So when Ryan Bennett, our Blessed Earth Tennessee director, took a group to Haiti in December, we were thrilled to learn that they would be planting trees.
Ryan took a team of eleven to Gressier, Haiti, about 20 miles west of Port au Prince.  In the 2010 earthquake, ninety percent of structures in Gressier were leveled and most trees were either uprooted or snapped off.
The team focused on three primary jobs.  In the mornings, they worked on constructing a kitchen, guesthouse, and maintenance building on the church grounds.  In the afternoons, they spent time with the school children, playing games and sharing gifts while explaining the gift of hope we have in Jesus.
Evenings were reserved for tree planting. At dusk, the team visited neighborhoods surrounding the church, bringing Bibles and fruit trees: mango, breadfruit, citrus, cherry, and apricot.  They knocked on doors and asked if they could plant a tree in the homeowner’s yard. If the villager said yes, they discussed the importance of finding a place where the soil was rich, where sunlight hit it, and where it could receive water.  These conditions would help the tree grow big and strong and produce fruit.
While preparing the site, Ryan explained how our lives are like trees.  If we want to produce fruit, we need to make sure our soil is fertile, we have good exposure to the sun/Son, and that we are nourished with living water.  The team offered the homeowners a Bible, since the Word is to our souls what water is to the trees.  Many times, Ryan was asked into the house to pray with the family and share the gospel.
Development experts believe that the cycle of poverty in Haiti–the poorest country in the western hemisphere–will not be broken until the land is reforested.  Without trees, topsoil erodes, crops fail, and children die from hunger and disease.  Trees, literally, give life.
Similarly, the cycle of impoverished spirits–in Haiti and our own neighborhoods–will not be broken until our hearts are watered with the living Word of God. It is no accident that the Bible begins with the Tree of Life in Eden and ends with the Tree of Life in heaven, which bears fruit in every season and has leaves that heal the nations. At the center of our faith is Jesus, the new Adam, who died on a tree to give us life.
Ryan’s team planted about 100 fruit trees in Haiti–and many more seeds of faith. This spring, we hope you will join us in planting trees of hope (physical as well as spiritual), wherever God has placed you!

Ten Schools in the Pacific Northwest Joining the Seminary Stewardship Alliance

Since becoming Blessed Earth’s Northwest Director of Operations in the summer of 2015, Dr. A.J. Swoboda has been meeting with Christian colleges and seminaries throughout the northwest region. In the last few months, ten schools have joined or are in the process of joining the Seminary Stewardship Alliance (SSA), a consortium of schools committed to reconnecting Christians with the biblical call to care for God’s creation.

Four years ago, George Fox Evangelical Seminary became the first Northwest school to make this public, institutional commitment. In the last four months, every school that Dr. Swoboda visited has responded positively to joining the SSA. The ground has proven fertile as Christians across denominations work alongside one another for a common goal, namely, the care of creation.

This movement amongst Christian educational institutions is also opening doors to non-religious neighbors all across the Northwest. Environmental stewardship is part of faithful witness in the twenty-first century. As environmental stewardship becomes a central tenet at the institutional level, it becomes more than an area of study, but an integral part of Christian life and witness. Students are being filled with the desire, and equipped with the ability, to nurture the earth. In turn, doors are opened to witness to people in our communities who already care about creation, but who do not yet know the God who created it all.

An encouraging outcome can be seen at the most recent school to join, New Hope Christian College in Eugene, Oregon. New Hope has started a campus garden where students can grow food and learn to care for the land together.

The SSA was started as a project of Blessed Earth, with a signing ceremony of twelve flagship schools at the Washington National Cathedral in April 2012. In 2015, the SSA spun off as an independent nonprofit, where Matthew and Nancy Sleeth continue to provide leadership as members of the SSA board. The SSA now has grown to nearly fifty schools. For more information, visit seminaryalliance.org.

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye to a Friend

 

IMG_0603This past Thursday, Dr. Ellsworth Kalas went to be with the Lord he loved and served for over ninety-two years. He was a faithful supporter of our ministry, and served on the Blessed Earth board for the past five years.

Many people knew Ellsworth as a homiletics teacher and the President of Asbury Seminary. Many more had the privilege of having him as their pastor during his four decades as a minister. Others knew him through his published works; he was the author of three dozen books and recorded the Bible on tape. David and Taddy knew him as a proud father. Janet knew him as a loving and supportive spouse. To me, he was a close and cherished friend.

I visited with Ellsworth on Sunday before his passing, and I felt as if we didn’t get enough time together. I cancelled work on Monday to go and see him again, as Nancy and I were leaving for the Asbury Seminary Board meeting the next day and would be working and traveling in Florida for a week. I’m glad that I made the change. We spent a beautiful time together. We held hands and prayed.  I read the Bible aloud, and Ellsworth sang a hymn.  We both thanked God for the special friendship that we have shared for years. Oddly, neither of us could ever remember how our friendship really began, but seven years ago we started meeting for a two-hour lunch every month. He presided at my daughter and son-in-law’s wedding.  Over the last two years, we saw a great deal of each other. He told me that he thought the gift of such friendship as ours was a taste of the fellowship between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. We were not ashamed to say “I love you” when we parted.

Ellsworth was an example of the first Psalm:  a tree planted by God, who put down his roots in the Word of the God. He avoided silliness and scorners and sought the company of others who loved the Lord. He taught us what it was to live as a Christian and to die as one. I will miss him until I see him again.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Thank you, God, for giving us John Ellsworth Kalas.

J. Matthew Sleeth

 

Announcement from Matthew About New Book

IMG_4140My son-in-law, Zach, gave me my Father’s Day present a little early this year. Before we moved into our townhouse, a large tree had died along the fence line dividing us from the neighboring apartment building. We got permission from our homeowner’s association to replant a tree. There was only one problem: a humongous stump–about three feet in diameter–was in the way.

That’s when it comes in handy to have a son-in-law. Zach went to a tree farm and picked out a beautiful sugar maple. Before heading out of town on a work trip, I suggested that Zach plant the maple beside the old stump, even though it was a less desirable position. But Zach wanted to do it right. He dug and dug and dug. Several neighbors came by to watch and encourage. It took all morning and half the afternoon to fully remove the remains of the old tree.

When planting time finally arrived, Zach backed up the pickup truck as close to the hole as possible. The root ball must have weighed a couple hundred pounds. Zach recruited Nancy to position the trunk while he backfilled. One of our neighbors gave us a water gaiter so we could keep the roots moist throughout summer. Zach returned later with a load of mulch to reduce evaporation and competition from weeds.

Every time I walk by that tree, I marvel. And every evening when I admire the tree from our bedroom window, I thank God for sharing His love of trees with me (and giving me a son-in-law with a strong back).

Last year, I read through the Bible underlining everything that scripture says about trees. From the Tree of Life in Genesis to the Tree of Life in Revelation, I discovered a forest with deep roots in faith. The first psalm says that a righteous person is like a tree. Abraham welcomes the angels under the oaks of Mamre; Deborah holds court under the palms; Zacchaeus shinnies up a sycamore-fig to see the Savior.

Most importantly, Jesus, the new Adam, plants a tree–the cross–on Calvary and waters it with his blood, sweat, and tears. The Apostle Paul tells us that in heaven the leaves of the Tree of Life will heal the nations and bear fruit in every season.

This summer, I have begun writing a book about trees and faith. Writing does not come easily for me. I rely on the Holy Spirit and the prayers of friends like you to help me.

It’s been a wet summer so far, and Zach’s tree is flourishing. I hope that in days to come, my writing will help the faith of others flourish as well.

–Matthew Sleeth

Sleeths Commission One Hundred Stewardship Advocates

3bfc63e9-f2d2-4180-a60a-207f2aad8d8aToday we hear so much in the news about what’s wrong with today’s young people: they’re selfish, apathetic, and easily distracted. They spend all their time on their phones, and little of it in nature.

Recently, Matthew and I had the privilege of spending a few days in Colorado with several hundred college and seminary students who give the coming generation a good name. These students are part of A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP). This summer, they will be leading worship services on Sundays in national parks, serving as chaplains to visitors and staff while also working for the park concessioners.

Blessed Earth’s partnership with ACMNP began seven years ago when our friend, Spencer Lundgaard, became their executive director. A Christian Ministry in the National Parks is a grassroots, student-led ministry that started in Yellowstone National Park in 1951 with the dream of providing Christian community for the people working in, living in, and visiting the first national park in the world.

Today, ACMNP lives its mission by sending 200 ministry team members into 75 locations in 25 national parks from Alaska to the Virgin Islands. Over 30,000 people worship together in ACMNP services every year, experiencing the glory of God by seeing it firsthand.

Several years ago, Spencer invited us to meet with his trustees and advisors. Specifically, Spencer wanted us to help cast a vision for intentionally integrating creation care with their ministry. Our hope was to help ACMNP share a Christian interpretation of the awe and grandeur of God’s creation.

In April, Matthew and I had the honor of formally commissioning nearly 100 first-ever stewardship advocates. These young people are tasked with connecting the Creator with his creation as a foundation of all they do. It was a moving ceremony, full of the Holy Spirit’s presence, as well as a clear affirmation of Blessed Earth’s capacity to multiply through synergistic partnerships.

If you visit a National Park this summer, I hope you will make it a point to attend the Sunday worship service and encourage these young ACMNP volunteers. They are the future of our church. And from everything we experienced in Colorado, that future looks bright!

–Nancy Sleeth

Blessed Earth Launches First State Chapter

Ryan and Heather of Blessed Earth TN speaking at Belmont University
Ryan and Heather of Blessed Earth TN speaking at Belmont University

Many years ago, when we were just beginning our ministry, Nancy and I were invited to speak at a clergy luncheon at Asbury Seminary. When I asked one of the attendees to tell me why he was there, the pastor was very honest. His wife had read my first book, Serve God, Save the Planet, and had been nagging him for months to read it, too.

Rev. Ryan Bennett thought that attending the luncheon would make his wife happy and get him off the hook for reading the book. He confessed that he didn’t really see the connection between his faith and creation care, so I sent this skeptical pastor home with a case of books to share with his congregation.

From Genesis to Revelation, what Ryan discovered was a biblical call to care for God’s creation. He asked me to come speak to his church and meet his wife, Heather. That was nearly ten years ago.

Since then, Ryan has been a member of our Blessed Earth board and advisory team, and Heather has written articles for our website. They have started creation care teams in two churches and worked to share a Christian voice in earth stewardship throughout their state. Along the way, the Bennetts and their son, Tyler, have become dear family friends and loyal ministry partners. We have stayed many times in each other’s homes, broken bread at each other’s tables, and shared both the hardships and celebrations of ministry together.

In 2014, Ryan and Heather approached us about starting Blessed Earth Tennessee as a pilot program. Heather had recently completed a master’s degree in sustainability at Lipscomb University, and they wanted to help Blessed Earth discern if a state chapter program was viable.

With their official launch just last month, Blessed Earth Tennessee is already exceeding our wildest dreams. In March, Heather and Ryan spoke at Martin Methodist College and in April led chapel for Earth Week at Belmont University. Blessed Earth Tennessee has already developed a partnership with a Middle Tennessee organization to do a year-long creation care focus in 2016 that will be announced soon. In addition, the UMC’s conference camping program has offered to host quarterly creation care retreats. Heather and Ryan also have been asked to meet with a Christian university’s leadership team to share the biblical foundation for creation care as well as to help develop a minor in sustainability at another Christian college in Tennessee.

Nancy and I are excited about this opportunity for Blessed Earth Tennessee to inspire and equip people of faith to be better stewards of the earth. If you are interested in learning more, please check out their website.

A decade ago, we never would have guessed that a creation care skeptic and his wife would be launching our first state affiliate. But God’s plans are often bigger than our dreams. Those of you who have expressed an interest in starting a Blessed Earth affiliate in your state, stay tuned: Blessed Earth Tennessee is off to a great start, and we will learn much together in the coming months!

–Nancy Sleeth

Dr. Sleeth Gives Keynote at Kentucky Governor’s Prayer Breakfast

Dr. Sleeth giving the keynote at the 2015 Kentucky Governor's Prayer Breakfast

Frankfort, KY, March 17, 2015

Dr. Sleeth recently gave the keynote address to a packed Frankfort Convention Center at the 2015 Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. The theme of his talk was “Be Still,” and Dr. Sleeth shared his personal story while connecting it with a call to keep the Sabbath to those in attendance. A variety of other prominent speakers also shared, such as Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, former UK basketball player Jarrod Polston, Nancy Sleeth of Blessed Earth, and crowd-raising singing by Grammy award-winner Larnelle Harris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew visits with Students in Chapel Hill, NC

Matthew with Chapel Hill college students Feb 2015One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is, “How many days a year are you on the road?” I don’t really know the answer. When I ask those responsible for my schedule, I get evasive answers such as, “Quite a lot,” or, “You don’t want to know.”

My guess is that I’m away from home somewhere between one hundred and fifty and two hundred days in any given year. “That must be hard,” people often remark. Well, sometimes it is; being stuck in O’Hare Airport overnight, for example, is not one of my favorite things in the world. Ninety-nine percent of the time, however, my travels are wonderful. My wife, Nancy, often travels with me, and we get to interact with the nicest people in the world.

A couple of weeks ago, I was traveling in North Carolina. After leading a pastors’ retreat at the shore, we swung by Chapel Hill to preach Sunday services. We led a day-long Sabbath workshop on Monday and met with a student group on Tuesday evening. Nothing recharges my batteries like getting to spend time with students who are seeking the Lord’s will in their lives.

Media and reality TV would have us believe that the world is fueled by narcissism, greed, and lust. While these characteristics exist in abundance, many of the young people I encounter are guided by a very different paradigm.

The students were intelligent, polite and engaged. They asked great questions:

How does one spread the Gospel without appearing judgmental?
How does one honor a Sabbath in a family where the parents are nonbelievers?
How do you reconcile the Bible and science?

These are the kind of questions that keep me alert and focused. In a world that sometimes seems to run on relativism and situational truth, Blessed Earth’s message is simple: Christ comes first. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to God except through Him.

I’m grateful for these University of North Carolina students who spent a couple of hours talking and fellowshipping with me. We are part of a cloud of witnesses stretching backwards for generations. Thank God it goes forward as well.

–Matthew Sleeth

 

A Visit to Polyface Farm

unnamedThere is nothing as lovely as a road trip with someone you love. Just before Christmas, I went on a road trip with my son-in-law, Zach. We headed east to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley. Joel recently asked me to write the foreword to his upcoming book, and I wanted to see his farming methods first-hand.

Also, I was taking a young farmer just starting out to see another farmer who has become the world’s best-known spokesperson for sustainable agriculture. Smart is when you learn from your own mistakes; wise is when you learn from others.  I was hoping to help Zach gain wisdom.

For those unfamiliar with where your food comes from, I highly recommend a fieldtrip to a farm. Many of us have a vision of farms gained from children’s board books and singing Old MacDonald. We envision a farmer tending a few pigs, chicken, cows, and sheep, with an oink, oink here and a cluck, cluck there. But what the typical farm has is soybeans here–period, or Black Angus there–period. Diversity is not the hallmark of the modern agricultural system: monoculture is.

The first thing that strikes the visitor to Joel’s farm is the diversity of the operation. There are cattle, sheep, chickens, rabbits, pigs, and people. Four generation of Salatins work and play along with numerous young people doing internships. Which brings me to the first rule of agriculture: a farm should be a place where people are welcome. It should be a place of community.

The Christmas story we recently celebrated reinforces this lesson. There may not have been room for Jesus upstairs in the crowded tourist town of Bethlehem, but the manger was a place of safety and warmth. In the typical Jewish house of the first century, the barn was the first floor of the home. It was a place of community. Which brings me to the second rule of agriculture: a well-run farm should not stink.

Joel took Zach and me all over Polyface.  He walked with us through the fields and hoop houses. He took us to where hundreds of cattle were munching contentedly under cover, standing on thick beds of fodder. Nowhere did it smell.  Animal stench is a sign of waste mismanagement and, too often, inhumane living conditions for the animals.

In my first creation care book, I wrote about being in a chicken house with 15,000 hens. I couldn’t wait to get out of it mainly because of the stench. More recently, I visited a feeding lot in the Midwest that could be smelled from a mile away. These confined feeding operations bear no resemblance to the barn in which I learned to milk cows as a youth, nor do they resemble Joel’s operation. They are inexcusable. Joel and other farmers like him have demonstrated that farming can be scaled up without becoming an olfactory–and, for the animals, living–hell.

Which brings me to the third rule of agriculture: don’t eat food that has ingredients with names you can’t pronounce. Because of the attention to hygiene at Joel’s farm, neither human nor livestock must be pumped full of antibiotics and chemicals.

The kind of farming my son-in-law and Joel do isn’t as cheap as factory farming. The food costs more than mass-produced agriculture. But I wonder what the real cost of our mass-produced food would be if we included the cost of treating the diseases correlated with chemical-laden diets?

If you need an incentive to spend a little more on food now and a lot less on medical treatments later, go on a road trip to two farms–one industrial and one like Joel’s. Then spend the money to support the one you’d want your Savior to have spent his first night in–the kind of farm where you would be proud to see your own son or daughter work.

–Matthew Sleeth

Green Christmas Boxes

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by Emma Sleeth Davis
 
It’s November, which, at least to me (and I’m sure to a lot of you, too!), means Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  I love packing shoeboxes every year with my best friend, Jenny, taking great care over each present that goes into the boxes—Which toy would we have liked more as a child? What hygiene items would be the most useful? And, for Jenny, who is a packing genius, How can I fit one more gift in this box? We even have a special cabinet devoted solely to Christmas boxes, where we store items for the children we pick up on sale throughout the year.

This year, I set myself a new challenge. How could I make my boxes not only fun and useful, but also better for the environment?

Instead of buying wrapping paper, I decoupaged my shoeboxes with bits of old magazines. It did take a long time, but I wasn’t using new resources, and I hope the children who receive them will appreciate a box to store their goodies in that will stay looking nice a lot longer than a wrapped one probably would.

I tried to find as many of the items I usually include in my boxes made out of recycled or renewable materials, and paid attention to where they were made and how much packaging they were in. Here are a few of my favorite finds:

Green Toys Eco Saucers made of 100% recycled plastic

Fuzz that Wuzz stuffed animals made of 100% recycled plastic bottles (the lion is so cute!)

Sustainable Earth notebooks made from 80% sugarcane by-products

-Bic Ecolutions mechanical pencils (65% pre-consumer recycled content) and ballpoint pens (74% recycled plastic)

-Westcott Kleen Earth safety scissors with handles made of 70% recycled, 30% post-consumer content

Decomposition notebooks by Michael Rogers Press (the name makes me smile!)

-Blue Q pencil pouches made from 95% post-consumer material

-Bamboo solar calculators from Onyx + Green

-Tom’s of Maine all-natural toothpaste

-Preserve toothbrushes with 100% recycled plastic handles

Happy packing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SSA News: Asbury Community Garden Feeds Both Students and Knowledge

Terry Smith and Garden Workshop

The Community Garden/Eco-Seminary at Asbury Theological Seminary is a fast-growing component of their creation care plan. We talked with Ryan Smith, manager for the Global Community Formation, about this exciting project:

“The Asbury Seminary Community Garden is a space where students and their families, staff, faculty and Wilmore community members can grow fresh, organic food and have opportunities for relationship, recreation, education and formation. There are now 20 community (4’ by 24’) and 35 individual (4’ by 8’) garden plots. All of the individual plots have been rented, and there 4 families on the waiting list. Every individual plot also has to have a back-up buddy gardener. This means that there are at least 70+ people now involved with the Community Garden Individual Plots. There are currently 5 plots being worked by residents of Wilmore not affiliated with the Seminary.”

The food from the garden is not being used to turn a profit; instead, it is donated to worthy causes:

” The food being grown in the Community Garden is 100% organic, and a portion of the harvest is delivered weekly to our Seminary dining services.  Students are being made aware of the fresh organic produce they are eating. It will also be given away to 5 different organizations/churches: Embrace Church, First United Methodist Church of Nicholasville, Wilmore-High Bridge Community Service Center, God’s Pantry in Lexington, and Lexington Rescue Mission.”

Lettuce from Garden in Dining Hall

Although still a work in progress, the garden has already offered learning opportunities for locals:

“The Community Garden Park elements (stone fence entrance, fire-pit, 1-mile nature path, prayer garden, preaching amphitheater, seating areas, etc) will be completed by the end of the summer and a Grand Opening will take place on Thursday, August 28th at 4:30pm with a Low Country Boil dinner to follow.

Asbury Seminary Community Garden Sketch 1

“Eight garden workshops were offered by local gardening experts to the seminary and Wilmore community members this spring in the months of March and April. Topics included: Early Season Gardening Best Practices, Starting Seeds, Soil Preparation, Planting and Transplanting, Everyday Composting Practices, Basics of Beekeeping and Setting Up a Hive, Organic Gardening Methods, and Reflections on Growing Food and a Family on a Farm. Average attendance was 10-12 people at each workshop, with a total of around 120 people involved.”

Saturday Morning Garden Workshops

One especially exciting element of the community garden is the opportunity it affords those who work in it:

“About 40% of the individual garden plots are being worked by International Students. By law most International Students are allowed to work only in on-campus jobs and these jobs are often very limited. Finances are the major concern for most International Students while studying in the U.S. Having an opportunity to grow food in the Community Garden helps provide for the financial needs of our International Students. The community garden has become a place where people from many different cultures gather, show hospitality, and celebrate with each other. By cooperating and working together, cross-cultural friendships are be formed as well as a growing sense of interdependence.  People are realizing how much there is to learn from each other.”

Community Garden Lettuce

Photos courtesy of Asbury Seminary

SSA News: AMBS Students Harvest Maple Syrup from Campus Trees

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Photo: Annika Krause and Katerina Friesen share their maple syrup for morning break. The lighter-colored syrup is from earlier in the season; darker syrup is from later, and the darkest is the result of the outdoor boiling at the fire pit.

On her recent visit to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, SSA program manager Laura Leavell was deeply impressed by AMBS students’ harvesting maple syrup from campus trees. All over campus, small buckets hang waist-level from trees, signifying to the seminary community that the trees are both beautiful and useful. The Seminary Stewardship Alliance took the opportunity to interview the AMBS students who spearheaded this unique expression of campus creation care practices.

What process did you go through to begin tapping campus trees for maple syrup? Were any seminary faculty/staff members involved with the project?

Katerina Friesen: We really didn’t have any hoops to jump through at all. Everyone we asked was on board and very supportive. The idea began when I asked Janeen (Bertsche Johnson, SSA liaison) in her office one day last fall if we could tap Norway Maples, and she did a little research online to find out that it was possible. Then, we asked maintenance and they even gave us the tubing to use as connectors between the taps and the buckets, as well as a drill to borrow for the tapping. In terms of staff involvement, one of the librarians, Karl Stutzman, helped to boil down buckets of sap into syrup along with three other students and two campus volunteers, Adolfo and Betty.

Annika Krause: I think it is also worth noting that this was an experiment. As far as I know, this hasn’t been done on campus before. The intention was for this to be a test year and hopefully more people will be involved in the coming years.

About how much syrup did you harvest?

Katerina Friesen: Annika and I tapped one maple tree in early March to see how it would go, and because of the success, invited other students to join us to tap four more trees in late March. It’s hard to say how much syrup we got, since boiling was a community effort and volunteers kept some of the syrup they boiled. I would estimate that we ended up with about 2.5 gallons of syrup (which would have originally been conservatively 125 gallons of sap if the ratio was about 50:1).

Annika Krause: I would agree with how much sap we boiled down. Each 5 gallon bucket gave us 1-2 cups of syrup, depending on when in the season we boiled it. That means that at the beginning of the season we were at about an 80:1 ratio, and towards the end of the season we were at about a 40:1 ratio. I would say that 2.5 gallons of syrup made is an appropriate estimate.

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Annika Krause, AMBS student who initiated the syrup-making effort, told the seminary community that she was so excited about tapping the maple trees to make syrup that she bought the equipment months ago.

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The snow was still covering the campus when Katerina Friesen started taps on the Norway maple trees that line the lane into the campus.

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Syrup making became an opportunity for community, Katerina Friesen explained. She and Annika Krause started cooking down one batch of liquid and soon others joined them, including Gabe Pennington, AMBS student; Christa Pennington, an elementary school teacher; and children of Chaiya and Aranya Hadtasunsern. A total of 15 people were involved in some way in the season’s harvest and creation of syrup.

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Students and staff enjoy sampling the harvested syrup.

Photos by Mary Klassen

Dr Matthew Sleeth Spends Earth Day at Campbellsville University

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by Linda Waggener

Campbellsville University celebrated Earth Day April 22 at the Turner Log Cabin Park where CU students, guests, faculty and staff were joined by students from Campbellsville Independent Schools for the traditional planting of trees and flowers.

 

President Michael V. Carter said, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s grace.” He thanked each participant, from the young visiting elementary students to platform guests and CU students, faculty, staff and guests who contribute to the continuation university work of environmental stewardship.

 

Carter introduced LG&E KU energy guest Rhonda Rose who spoke of the corporation’s environmental mission and their support of Clay Hill Memorial Forest.

 

Dr. John Chowning, vice president for church and external relations and executive assistant to the president, and his wife, Cathy Pence Chowning, made a donation to Green Minds. He said, “Earth Day has special a meaning with an emphasis on stewardship from a Christian perspective.”

 

Chowning introduced guest Dr. Matthew Sleeth, noted creation care/earth stewardship speaker, writer and head of the Blessed Earth organization. Sleeth made brief comments and was also the speaker at the Kentucky Heartland Institute on Public Policy (KHIPP) event that evening.

 

Tony Young, mayor of Campbellsville, and Eddie Rogers, Taylor County judge/executive, participated with the reading of an Earth Day proclamation from the city and county.

 

International education students (getting names) spoke on CU’s Green Minds organization which has doubled in membership and activity in the past year.

 

Dr. Richard Kessler, associate professor of biology and environmental studies Program Coordinator at Campbellsville University, organized two additional earth stewardship activities announced at the event. On Wednesday evening the first Earth Week movie night was held in Mobley Theater, “Life of Pi,” with free popcorn; and Friday, April 25, an inaugural Earth Week Hike was scheduled at Clay Hill Memorial Forest.

 

The events were co-sponsored by Campbellsville University’s Green Minds, the Environmental Ethics class and Student Government (SGA).

 

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The planting kicked off at CU’s Earth Day 2014 celebration April 22. From left, standing, are Campbellsville Mayor Tony Young, CU president Dr. Michael V. Carter, Taylor County Judge Eddie Rogers, guest speaker Dr. Matthew Sleeth, SGA president Jacqueline Nelson, LG&E KU representatives Rhonda Rose, Gidget Stubbs and Tiffany Cox, and Green Minds student representatives Constanze Sophie Mälzer and Ana Gonzalez. In the front row, from left, are visitors Yoonseo Nam; Yunisha Richerson, Kaylynn Smith, Sarah Adkins, Blake Settle behind Sarah, and Caiden Yocom. (CU Photo by Vicky Wei).

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Paul Osborne, CU trustee and head of grounds and landscape development, rode his Trek to the Earth Day celebration on April 22. He is an avid biker and among the leaders of the Campbellsville-Taylor County Trail Town development. (CU Photo by Linda Waggener).

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John Chowning, at the podium, a leader in development of Earth Day activities on CU’s campus, announced a support donation he and his wife Cathy were making for use by Green Minds. There to accept the gift for the organization were Green Minds student representatives Constanze Sophie Mälzer and Ana Gonzalez, at left, and Gabriel de Freitas at right. (CU Photo by Vicky Wei).

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The view from the Turner Log Cabin front porch as Earth Day 2014 attendees began to gather. (CU Photo by Linda Waggener).

 

Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community

planted-by-leah-kostamo“Leah Kostamo’s elegant memoir shares the story of A Rocha, an organization that lives out the principles of Christian stewardship and community. With humility, grace, and candor, Leah takes her readers along the creation-care journey, sharing how many small acts can and do make a difference.”
Matthew and Nancy Sleeth

Using personal stories of a lifetime’s journey of learning to care for creation, Leah Kostamo shares the tale of A Rocha, an organization dedicated to earth keeping. If you enjoyed reading Dr. Matthew Sleeth’s account of his own journey, Serve God, Save the Planet, you will also find much to love about Planted. Buy your copy from Amazon today!