My Voice: Purpose

Date Posted: 
Monday, June 23, 2014

By Matt Vander Molen

Welcome to verdant Bocas del Toro, one of the nine provinces of Panama. Commercialized and touristy in accessible areas, at its heart it’s rainforest—a nutrient-rich, diverse eco-supersystem.

In impoverished Panama, it’s an ecosystem endangered by deforestation as villagers cut down ancient trees to sell for firewood. It’s troubling. But with little land to grow food and hungry kids at home, I would be the first to pick up a chainsaw and hew a few trees to sell for a little income.

Not long ago, hearing about environmental degradation like the deforestation in Panama left me in despair. But today I have confidence that God’s kingdom is concerned with all of his creation, and that creation’s transformation starts with me. 

So, with a few other Peace Corps volunteers, I’ve helped introduce a way to use firewood more efficiently in Boca del Toro. We spent a week in a village that is a two-hour walk away from electricity and road access, leading an eco-stove training. An eco-stove doesn’t consume wood as fast as a ground fire and produces significantly less greenhouse gasses. With these environment benefits, the impact on nearby forests is diminished. The training was a big success.

I was raised in the “first world,” where most of us live disconnected from the reality of how much we rely on the gifts of soil, water sources, and trees. Now I live with people who eat, drink, sleep, work, and play exclusively with harvested local natural resources. It’s a powerful reminder that we and our communities are deeply connected to the health of our natural resources.

The community where we introduced eco-stoves is just one small example of the depletion and destruction of natural resources under way throughout the world. In 1900 we were a little more than one billion; today we are seven billion. I am confident that our biosphere is just beginning to precipitate changes that will make it a lot harder to satisfy our hunger, quench our thirst, and maintain healthy communities. 

Through my Peace Corps experience, my despair has been redirected into hopeful action. It has taught me that changing the world is God’s work; my responsibility, my purpose, is to discipline myself in order to be shaped and used by God.

Matt Vander Molen served two years in Panama with the Peace Corps and returned to the U.S. in March 2014. He is a member of Christ Memorial Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan. My Voice shares the views and experiences of RCA women and men between the ages of 18 and 29.


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