Letter written by Jonathan Barnett for Common Grace's Season of Creation 2023 'Letters to our Future Children' series
To the future children of the I-Kiribati, Bunong, and Darug people,
I write to you during the Season of Creation, September 2023, which, in my tradition, invites us to celebrate the good world our Creator made, and repent of the ways we diminish that goodness.
I write following the hottest month in one hundred thousand years, and a culture gravitating away from creation and Creator towards the god of consumption.
I write to you out of gratitude for your people’s stewardship, and what they shared with my family and I.
I also write out of despair, contrition, and the quiet hope of a gentle whisper that says, “I am making everything new”.
In 2016, my friends, my future wife, and I sat in your maneabas as your Old Men welcomed us to your islands and opened botaki feasts featuring Creation’s bounty of fish, lobster, taro, and coconut.
Your communities shared the atolls’ stories through song and dance. They invited us to dance together, which we did with full bellies and deep laughs. What hospitality!
When we asked about the islands’ strange changes, some told of the sun getting hotter. Others said the ocean now comes where it doesn’t belong. We recorded interviews and footage to aid our efforts to convince our people’s leaders of your people’s stories. I fear they weren’t enough, and wonder if the carbon footprint of our trip was justified.
I hope that, if you read this letter, you do so on those same islands.
In 2018, my family and I walked through your lush Cambodian rainforest. We marvelled at waterfalls, ate rainforest fruits, and had dinner cooked inside a freshly harvested bamboo tube. Your people’s mastery of the rainforest’s resources is astonishing.
Our hearts dropped each time we ascended from a valley, inevitably breaching a tree line to smell smoke, hear chainsaws, and see cashew crops and tree stumps. On nearby roads, huge log-bearing trucks lumbered towards Vietnam.
We later listened to Cambodian coordinators of mustard-seed-scale community reforestation efforts, and were encouraged by Aussies partnering with them.
I was raised on, raised by, your ngurra. My family all live here. Even though on paper a patch of it belongs to us, growing, playing, and learning with/on this country gave us Barnetts a taste of belonging to it - and we’ve only been here 30 years! Riding my bike through the mottled green and brown bush is my favourite activity. I try to remind myself that this is your land as I ride, although I often forget.
Tragically, that Cumberland Plain bush is endangered now, cleared for houses like mine. I hope we don’t raise already-huge dam walls, destroying more bush and sacred places, even as we chop down and concrete over the Yandhai/Dyarubbin floodplain below. My emails and phone calls to my representatives about this can seem futile, but I remind myself that they count.
Your people’s lands, waters and socio-ecosystems speak for themselves about justice and peace. If only we would listen. Thank you for stewarding them and sharing them so hospitably with my family! We tried to help protect them, faithfully I hope, if not successfully. I am sorry for the damage, which I fear cannot be undone by human hands, and my complicity. I ask for your forgiveness, and hope that our faithfulness, not our (lack of) success, defines us. I hope that you, too, can define yourselves not by whether you succeed in saving your traditions and sacred places, but by your faithfulness to them.
I commit myself to doing justice, and pray that it may roll on like the mighty Pacific tides, like the gushing Tonle Srepok tributaries in wet season, like the steady Yandhai. Despite the loss, I choose to believe that you will yet see them flow in their full glory again… even if that takes nothing short of resurrection.
Yours in action and prayer for justice and peace,
Jono is Sarita’s husband, neighbour to the Lalor Park community in western Sydney, follower on the Way with Crossway - Oak City Church in Blacktown, and lawyer with Horizons Family Law Centre, a charitable expression of Christian faith helping families in crisis remake themselves.
We invite you to engage further this week by reflecting on, or taking photos of a special place of connection you experience in God’s creation. As Jono has expressed and shown through the photographs shared with his letter, these places of connection with others and in God’s beautiful, precious, and diverse creation are so important for grounding us in our call to care for, protect, and steward God’s good creation (Genesis 2:15).
Commit these places to God in prayer today, with thanks and prayers for justice and peace to flow in these lands for the flourishing of all.
If you are a budding photographer you may also be keen to submit a nature photograph in this year's Nature Conservancy Global Photography Contest, taking submissions from 30 Aug - 29 September. This annual photography exhibition aims to help give voice to nature and make protecting and restoring it a priority.