'The impacts are quite severe on the ground'

FOR MANY IN the global South, climate change is not an abstract theory. Victor Mughogho, executive director of the Eagles Relief and Development Programme in the southeast African country of Malawi, has experienced firsthand the toll of global warming and extreme weather. He works with local churches to develop practical and faithful solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change. Sojourners assistant editor Elaina Ramsey interviewed Mughogho early last year when he visited Washington, D.C.

Elaina Ramsey: How has climate change affected the people of Malawi?

Victor Mughogho: The impacts are quite severe on the ground. Rural people in Malawi constitute about 85 percent of the population. These people are subsistence farmers. For them, rainfall is everything. Without the rain, there's no agriculture, no livelihood.

The weather patterns have changed and are so unpredictable now. In the past 20 years, official records from the government show that we've had five severe droughts. Because of the cycles of drought, there is less and less water in the ground. The water table is sinking. Trees and grass are stunting and rivers are drying up.

If you asked a person "What will happen in the next 10 or 20 years?" they'd say that what's bad now, in retrospect, is going to look like a good time. It looks like worse times are coming ahead.

How is your program responding to these extreme weather changes?

There's a story in the Bible where Jesus Christ asks his disciples and the people who are following him, "What do you have to feed those who are hungry?" There was a little boy with five loaves and two fish. Jesus did not just create a miracle out of nowhere. It started with what the people had. Thus, we are helping our communities and local churches to focus on what resources are currently available.

Out of that, the churches have risen up. From our denomination alone, we have more than 100 local churches that are taking social action in different ways. The Bible tells us that true religion supports the orphans and widows. In villages impacted by food insecurity, local pastors are raising church crops to feed the elderly, the physically challenged, or the orphans. They raise contributions to buy uniforms so orphans can still go to school. Sometimes they will rehabilitate houses for the elderly. We are also encouraging them to use their church pulpits to raise awareness.

While we are saying that people need to do something, the situation I've described is like saying we have a level-five challenge against level-two capacity and resources. It's not that efforts aren't being applied. It's just that the best efforts on the ground are not good enough against the changing environment.

Malawi does not need climate change. We can't afford it.

You recently participated in the Global Day of Prayer for Creation Care and the Poor. Why is prayer important to the work that you do?

Through prayer we are trying to access resources that are beyond the human realm. We believe in holistic ministry. That is what's helping us give resilience to people—their faith that God loves them, that God is with them, and that God created something good and wishes them good.

Aside from joining you in prayer, what can Christians in the United States do to support your work and the people of Malawi?

Those who can give should give whatever they can. We tell our people not to just sit and wait, but to start using what you have. To help cover the adaptation gap, we need resources.

People can lobby their government, because climate change is a global issue and it needs global minds put together. Who is better suited for that task than the Christians? We were put in the garden not only to cultivate it and benefit from it, but also to keep it.

Part of stewardship is to look at future generations. The Word of God tells me that a good person leaves an inheritance for his or her children. The question is, "What inheritance am I leaving for my children?" So the mission is our children's children. They are supposed to find this planet in a better state than it is now.

Every person needs to be part of the solution because we are part of the problem. It's a defining moment, and so everything has to be more—we must pray more; those who can write must write more on these issues; those who can research need to do that more.

What gives you hope?

What gives me hope is to see a smile on the face of someone who was in a deprived condition saying, "I never used to have this kind of food before. Because of the work you're doing, I can now eat more than I used to." Those stories excite me. They give me hope that the little effort that we do for someone—you have no idea what impact it will have on their life.

Also, what gives me hope is the love, encouragement, and support we have received in the past 10 years as an organization. This allows me to see that there are people outside Malawi who are concerned about the welfare of our people. We have had some people from the Western world who have stayed with us to see how life is here. That has moved my heart to see someone who is in a wealthy environment choosing to stay in a grass-thatched house for two weeks just to feel what others are feeling. That is like Christ coming on earth to live with us in the very conditions we are facing.

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"'The impacts are quite severe on the ground'"
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