Peace & Global Witness

Exposing the moral and migrational implications of climate change

September 26, 2023 by by Emily Enders Odom

Peace & Global Witness Offering contributes toward mitigating the trauma of global, geopolitical neighbors

LOUISVILLE — Of the many tools a farmer can usually rely on to help ensure a successful crop yield — resources to control weeds, fight pests or build healthy soil — Kotema Lanto found nothing in his toolkit to counteract the devastating impact of climate change on the family farm.

And there was certainly nothing within his grasp to prevent him from having to uproot his family from the place they once called home.

As residents of Nui Island — one of a group of low-lying Islands and atolls in the South Pacific Ocean that make up the small nation of Tuvalu — Lanto and his young family have been battered over time by the destructive effects of climate change, eventually culminating in their forced migration inland.

“Not only did they have to move further inland,” said Maina Talia, a former International Peacemaker for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, “but they have been unable to return to the place where they grew up. For people who have no choice other than to leave their homes, there aren’t just financial, agricultural and practical implications, but moral implications as well because they’ve been living in a place for their entire lives. This is where they’re attached to; and, when they move on a small island, they are also intruding into other people’s space, creating internal conflicts.”

Because Tuvalu is especially vulnerable to tropical cyclones, rising sea levels and global pollution, after Tropical Cyclone Pam struck the small island nation in 2015, some 45% of its residents — just like Kotema — were displaced.

“Climate change is unpredictable, especially when it comes to shifting weather patterns,” he said. “It’s difficult to predict when there will be a cyclone.”

Talia, who regularly works and engages with various nongovernmental organizations, including the Pacific Conference of Churches and Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu (the Tuvalu Christian Church), on a variety of environmental issues, was instrumental in securing funding from the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives for an early warning system to communicate during cyclones and a 15kva solar system to power the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu head office.

He has also just completed his Ph.D. on the concept of neighbor in Luke 10, the “Good Samaritan,” as viewed through the lens of geopolitics and climate change, which he sees as intimately related to his pursuit of peace and justice.

“In context of climate change and geopolitics, our neighbor is no longer someone living next door to us, but rather someone who is impacted by our actions,” he said.

Talia’s call to peacemaking — including addressing the escalating economic, moral, food security and safety issues that result from the impact of climate change — is made possible, in part, by gifts to the Peace & Global Witness Offering, traditionally received on World Communion Sunday, which this year falls on Oct. 1.

The Peace & Global Witness Offering is unique in that half of it is directed to peacemaking and global witness efforts at the national church level to address critical issues around the world. Twenty-five percent is retained by congregations for local peace and reconciliation work, and 25% goes to mid councils for similar ministries on the regional level.

Talia’s peacemaking work not only involves research and teaching, but also advocacy on behalf of his neighbors, who live in constant fear.

“Although the government can provide food and shelter, we have to ensure that our neighbors are in a good state of mind to continue with the work that they do,” he said. “Pre- and post-trauma counseling is important for us. The Church in Tuvalu is looking into the issue very seriously.”

During his itineration as an International Peacemaker last year — especially in coastal North Carolina — Talia was uniquely able to relate Tuvalu’s climate crisis to what is happening in the U.S.

“In addition to speaking with congregations and mid councils, one of the most meaningful parts of Maina’s visit to the U.S. was his engagement with students in university classrooms,” said Amy Lewis, mission specialist for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. “He challenged them with such questions as ‘What are the legal challenges of a literally sinking nation? What if someone’s home literally vanishes? Where is there to go?’”

For Talia, peacemaking is grounded in the biblical question “Who is my neighbor?”

“We can only find peace if we know for sure that someone living next door to you will come in and help you when you’re in trouble,” he said. “For example, when your neighbor’s house is on fire, will you bring more petrol to add to the fire or will you bring something to mitigate and help your neighbor? With the concept of neighbor, we should do what can be done to ensure that peace. We should do what can be done to provide the support that is needed.”

Talia said that he greatly respects what the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has done in the past and is doing now when it comes to peace. He hopes to continue to build a network with the PC(USA) and its members toward both mutual understanding and working for climate justice.

“I can’t help but wonder if Maina’s experience won’t be a more shared experience in the near future, if it’s not already,” added Lewis. “One powerful point he made is that we don’t need scientists to tell us about climate change because we’re already experiencing it firsthand.”

As Talia continues to highlight Tuvalu and the Pacific on the issue of climate change — whether in the U.S. as an International Peacemaker or elsewhere across the globe — he embodies Christ’s call to peace, love and justice as it is exemplified by the Matthew 25 movement.

“Maina’s witness through the International Peacemakers Program is just what gifts to the Peace & Global Witness Offering help to facilitate,” Lewis said. “It’s an incarnational ministry!”

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The Peace & Global Witness Offering draws Presbyterians together and provides exposure to active peacemakers as well as education and resources to empower congregations and individuals to become peacemakers, themselves.  These collective efforts support resources in dealing with conflict, provide nurturing reconciliation, and stand in support of our global siblings, because the peace of Christ belongs to people everywhere.