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Maas turns stewardly passion into environmental internship

By Julie Ooms

Ours is a community where faith and life and learning are not separate...they’re one.”

That’s the first sentence you read when you visit Dordt’s website. Elsewhere on the website, you’ll find Dordt’s mission statement, which states that the college tries “to equip students, alumni, and the broader community to work effectively toward Christ-centered renewal in all aspects of contemporary life.”

The work Senior Teresa Maas did this summer demonstrates how some students are striving to integrate faith and learning and lifestyle in their discipline while at the same time preparing themselves for service in the broader community. It began last spring when Maas and her fellow environmental studies students, Clyde Prosper and Shannon Wright, tried to come up with ways to encourage stewardly life on campus as part of their work for the “Seminar on Creation Stewardship” class.

“The outcome of this course is something that should be useful to the campus and the community,” says Dr. Robert DeHaan, a professor of environmental studies and Maas’s supervisor this summer during her internship. Students in past classes, for example, have written proposals on how materials from the East Campus Apartments could be recycled if the apartments were torn down and on how to restore a wet prairie ecosystem on the old Kuhl Farm, property Dordt College purchased directly to the south of the campus.

Maas and her classmates, however, took an even more concrete approach. “We were exploring ways in which Dordt students could become more environmentally aware,” Maas says, “and we decided we wanted to focus on raising awareness among students about the environment. We want things like recycling and energy conservation to become a part of students’ lifestyle.”

Many might ask why creation stewardship isn’t already a part of Christian students’ lives. “I think people often don’t think about their relationship with creation to be as much a part of their Christian lifestyle as stewardship of gifts and possessions is,” Maas says. “A lot of Christians are more geared toward spreading the gospel and personal spirituality. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we also need to realize that creation is going to be redeemed, too, not just burned up or something. When we read Genesis, we should realize that we were entrusted with caring for creation at Creation!”

DeHaan supports Maas’s statements in describing his take on the role of the Christian in relation to creation stewardship. “We need to see ourselves as the caretakers of this world God has made. That involves fellow human beings, plants and animals, mountains and oceans.”

In order to help Dordt students start to “see themselves as caretakers,” Maas and her classmates began with research. They looked into ways students could conserve and properly use water and energy as well as ways they could recycle in and around Dordt’s campus. The students compiled their research on a website, which Maas continued working on over the summer. Maas and her fellow students open the still-in-process website with a quote by twentieth-century Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer: “Man was given dominion over creation.  This is true. But since the Fall, man has exercised this dominion wrongly....Surely then, Christians who have returned through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, to fellowship with God and have a proper place of reference to the God who is there should demonstrate a proper use of nature. We are to have dominion over it, but...we are not going to act as though it were nothing in itself or as though we will do to nature everything we can do.”

The website, homepages.dordt.edu/ccare, is available on campus and off, making it accessible to students and those on the campus network such as parents, alumni, prospective students, community members, and potential donors. That way, according to Maas, everyone in contact with Dordt has a way to access the research and the possibilities for environmental stewardship the class came up with.

However, in order to make environmental stewardship a more central part of the Christian ethic towards life, Maas and her classmates wanted to do more than conduct research and create an informative website.

“The students were focused on moving from thought and classwork to actually doing something,” says DeHaan. Over the summer in her internship, Maas made many phone calls to compare Dordt’s on-campus recycling program with that of other schools. She talked with people at Northwestern College in Orange City and Central College in Pella, two Iowa Christian colleges. It was also an opportunity, according to DeHaan, for people at Dordt to make connections to other colleges who share a dedication to stewardly living.

Maas also researched options Dordt might have for recycling in the future and worked with Dordt’s maintenance department. Over the past few years, the maintenance staff has done many seemingly small things to further Dordt’s environmental stewardship: installing more energy-efficient lighting in Dordt’s buildings and helping to manage the recycling program. In fact, it was the maintenance department who proposed that the work Maas and her classmates did last spring be continued in a summer internship.

“Maintenance has done a lot to help,” says Maas. “Now, it’s the students’ turn to become more aware of how Christians should take care of creation.”

One of the ways Maas decided to use to increase student awareness was to film three-minute informative commercials, which she and Vern Eekhoff, a member of the maintenance department as well as a budding, wannabe film director, made this summer.

“These commercials can be shown before events like the Freshmen Talent Show, NC/DC (the Northwestern/Dordt talent competition), and the Talent Extravaganza, to increase awareness and give students more knowledge about environmental stewardship,” Maas says. Along with her research, telephoning, and commercial-making, Maas also spoke with students about starting a Conservation Club on campus. “It would be more like a ‘lifestyle club,’” she says. “Members would wear a badge or something like it on their backpacks, and that way they would know who the others were and keep each other accountable.”

Throughout the summer, Maas and DeHaan met weekly to discuss their progress, map out their next steps, and brainstorm about how to get around roadblocks. (“And I signed her timecards,” says DeHaan, chuckling.)

“Most of what we’ve been doing is still a work in progress,” says Maas, “but then again, so is raising any kind of awareness to effect change.”

When asked what she would like to see happen at Dordt as a result of her work, Maas says, “I hope people at Dordt start to make stewardly living a priority. It wouldn’t take much—we can take shorter showers, for example, and turn out the lights when we leave rooms, and recycle—we just need to do it!”

DeHaan agrees. “We need to put our ideas about what it means to be stewards of the earth into practice,” he says. “As Christians, we have a better reason to care for the environment than anyone else.” They believe it’s part of living Soli Deo Gloria–to the glory of God.