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Christian College Students Show Environmental Concern

Integrating creation care with academics is a growing emphasis on Christian campuses around the country. According to Paul Cortes, president of the interdenominational Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), about 40 of 105 North American members' schools have adopted significant green initiatives. These vary considerably, from multimillion-dollar sustainable "villages" and student volunteer educational programs to majors in environmental studies and recycling pop cans in school cafeterias.

There is also national action. Last November, 30 Christian college students met in Washington, D.C., to present elected officials with the Evangelical Youth Climate Initiative (EYCI), signed by 1,500 Christian students. EYCI is an independent effort of young evangelicals to follow up on last February's Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), signed by 86 Christian leaders (including 39 Christian college presidents).

Amanda Benavides, a sophomore at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, says, "Going to Washington was just another step toward discovering new aspects of my faith in God and ways to serve him."

Network building is gaining momentum. In January, an environmental summit on the Wheaton College campus brought together Christian college students from all over the United States. "We need to cultivate younger leadership," says Wheaton College senior and environmental studies major Ben Lowe. "Rather than reinventing the wheel, we can share ideas, offer feedback, and cooperate with each other."

Many students come to college believing environmentalism has little to do with their faith. College is often the first time they are challenged to think differently.

"I grew up thinking: 'environment, liberal, bad,'" says Benavides. Her freshman year was a turning point. "When I read the Evangelical Youth Climate Initiative, I was encouraged by its message and challenged to act as a Christian for environmental justice issues."

Daryn Dockter, a senior biology major, has already changed his consumption patterns. As president of the ecology club Terra Nova at Iowa's Northwestern College, Dockter helps manage campus recycling. "Now I try to recycle every piece of paper that passes through my hands," he says. The Terra Nova club has also made a video about Northwestern environmental science professor Todd Tracy's study on wasted cafeteria food to show at new student orientations and other campus functions. "The findings were so shocking, I rarely waste a scrap of food anymore," Dockter says.

Connecting the environment with other issues, such as poverty and evangelism, has helped environmental initiatives gain support.

[Ben] Lowe notes that some of the 40 members of Wheaton's student chapter of A Rocha, an international conservation organization, volunteer at the county's forest preserves each week. "People who are not in contact with a church or who are frustrated with Christians and don't view Christians as caring about the environment see us caring for creation," he says.

For many students, creation care is grounded in soul care. When people ask [Yuri Semenyuk, a 2005 graduate of Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington] if he is a "tree hugger," he replies, "I'm a people hugger."

He explains, "By taking care of the environment, I am taking care of people. I feel called to missionary work in preaching and evangelizing, but if people will not live to hear my message by the time I arrive because of my poor environmental decisions, the Word is preached in vain."

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