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“Cries from the heart:” Rural churches focus on creation care


A delegation from Tonga sang for the International Rural Church Association gathering in Brandon, Manitoba.

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October 12, 2007
-Deborah Froese

WINNIPEG, Man. — Eighty-one rural Christians from 14 countries around the world have issued group statements on the state of rural resource stewardship and care for humankind.

“We are concerned by the way economic colonization is engineering society for the benefit of corporations and impinging on individual choice for the sake of monetary gain,” one of the statements reads.  Another called on “… all people to live carefully and respectfully on the earth, reducing waste and pollution.”

As urban economies intensify their focus upon technology and mass production, rural areas are increasingly plundered by a corporate culture which values profit over equity and sustainability, participants heard at the “Cries from the Heart” conference in Brandon, Man. this past July 3-9.

Unrestrained use of land and resources directly contrasts with the statement of faith of the International Rural Churches Association (IRCA), which convened the gathering. “We believe the whole creation belongs to God – the land, the waters and all creatures. We believe that God seeks all creation to be cherished.”  

A keynote address by Dr. John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus at University of Missouri, Columbus, likened rural economic development to colonization.  Because rural areas are often viewed as “empty”, there is a sense that they are readily available for consumption.  Ikerd called upon the church to redirect attention to resource management.   

But resources involve more than land, water and livestock. IRCA’s affirmation statement also includes extensive references to the people of God’s Creation whose lives and livelihood are threatened by economic “development.” 

Eric Olfert, Missional Formation & Partnerships Facilitator in Saskatchewan for Mennonite Church Canada Witness, is on the executive board of the Canadian Rural Church Network, the national arm of IRCA.  He reported that the conference did offer participants some coping tools, but more importantly it developed connections and inspired hope. 

“By the 4th day of the conference there was a palpable sense of trust, camaraderie and group cohesion, as we all brought our experiences, our concerns, our resources and our questions to the common agenda of being the church in a rural setting around the world.  Those of us from the developed countries were amazed at the many similarities of our experiences and struggles.  Our brothers and sisters from developing countries recognized many of our issues as their own, as well as adding others, including finances and communication as key problems.”

“I have been getting about an email every two weeks, mostly from the IRCA executive or from members who keep us informed of issues and events in their area.,” Olfert reports. “The ongoing Australian drought, for instance is an ongoing request for prayer.”

On behalf of the Canadian Rural Church Network and the International Rural Church Association, Catherine Christie, convener of the 2007 event, sent a letter of appreciation for Mennonite Church Canada’s financial support.

“Your gift assisted us to cover the costs (including medical insurance coverage) of 20 folk who came from countries of the global south, ranging from Tonga in the South Pacific, to the mountains of northeast India,” she wrote. MC Canada choose to support the event in part because “becoming a global church” is one of the denomination’s three primary directives.

South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, Romania, Germany, England, Tonga, Indonesia, India, the Czech Republic, Iceland, the USA and Canada were represented at the event. For more information visit


Sidebar: The Spirit soars down under


Gary Hardingham, incoming Secretary of IRCA, in his hallway “office.”

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Eric Olfert, Mennonite Church Canada representative at “Cries from the Heart,” drew inspiration from Gary Hardingham, the incoming Secretary of the International Rural Church Association,

Hardingham, didn’t always serve God, Olfert heard. 

As a young man Hardingham was in and out of prison – until he heard a voice that said, “This is a waste of time.”  As he began to listen to that voice, it grew stronger and Hardingham rose above his troubled youth, eventually becoming a Christian.

Now Hardingham serves God as an itinerant pastor for a number of parishes in out-back Australia.  The parishes are several hundred kilometers apart.  With a strong sense of the isolation, the independence, and the struggle of his rural congregations, Hardingham obtained his pilot’s license so that he could fly between them to serve more efficiently, said Olfert.