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Ecology and Social Responsibility Conference First of Its Kind in Serbia

10/6/23, 10:00 AM

The 2023 Ecology and Social Responsibility Conference, which gathered Christians from Serbia and neighboring countries to proclaim their faith-based responsibility to care for creation, was the first of its kind in Serbia.

The event began on Friday evening with a public panel discussion at  Media Centar SPENS in Novi Sad. Dusan Beredi (Bera), pastor at  Protestantska Hrišćanska Zajednica, a local church, spoke about  ecological damage in Serbia, particularly the region of Vojvodina. One  significant problem is a general apathy toward environmental issues,  especially among young people. Without significant social action, it is  impossible to create systemic change, which the country desperately  needs. Steve Michmerhuizen, from Resonate Global Mission and Creation  Care Balkans, reminded listeners that events that impact the natural  world affect people around the globe, regardless of their current  location. He encouraged participants to make connections with others in  order to inspire more active protection of natural resources. Gergő  Pásztor Kicsi from the Evangelical Union of Students concluded by noting  that while younger people do tend to care about the environment, it is  difficult to get them involved, and it is vital to make such efforts.

On Saturday morning, conference participants joined Hanina Nada, an  NGO helping families and children with disabilities, as well as the  Royal Rangers, a church-based ministry for students, for a nature walk  in Sremska Kamenica. The town is located on the edge of the Fruška gora,  the country’s oldest national park, and guides provided short history  and ecology lessons during breaks. One focus was a grove of chestnut  trees, where the group was meant to gather chestnuts to roast after the  walk. With few to be found, it was a hands-on lesson in why the trees  were dying. On the walk back, participants gathered trash from the path,  noting the difference between areas used primarily by hikers dedicated  to protecting the ecology of the park, and viewpoints where larger  numbers of the public stopped. Both activities helped to reinforce the  need to commit to taking action in support of the environment, and how  even small contributions can have a big impact.

The afternoon was dedicated to short presentations from community  leaders and activists. Bojan and Rachel Ruvarac welcomed attendees by  outlining the connection between peacebuilding and ecological  responsibility. By addressing topics such as caring for creation,  Christians can move closer to God’s vision of the world, a just place in  which all are able to flourish. In addition, caring for the environment  is crucial to establishing lasting peace, given that climate change  affects marginalized populations far more harshly, and diminishing  resources can lead to armed conflict. Pastor Bera built on the theme,  explaining how the conference speakers would inform participants about  tangible ways they could address their calling to protect the  environment.

After spending time in the park, it was fascinating to hear from  Dragana Arsic, leader of the OSFG Movement (Protect the Forests of  Fruska Gora). Her storytelling was a great example of how personal  connections can motivate individuals to help care for the environment,  and inspire others to do the same. She also spoke about how  environmental activism is a means to stand up to oppression and reclaim  your voice, bringing people together as they advocate for justice at  multiple levels of society.

Architect Ivana Rakaric provided a detailed presentation on  sustainable architecture, an excellent reminder that all aspects of our  lives can harm the environment if we do not make the conscious decision  to act in a socially responsible manner. She also pointed out that  creating sustainable living spaces tends to be a community event, which  helps reduce costs, spread awareness—and makes things more fun.

Pastor Bera took to the stage again to speak about why Christians in  particular should care about biodiversity, mentioning problems occuring  in Serbia, but also offering positive examples of creation care  resulting from people taking action to reverse ecological damage. The  day ended with Steve Michmerhuizen outlining the theological reasons  Christians should care about the environment, a particularly helpful  tool for attendees who wanted to encourage their communities to take  action by showing how their faith encourages them to do so.

On Sunday, during a special worship service at PHZ Church, where  Pastor Bera delivered a special message on the beauty and importance of  nature. The weekend conference wrapped up with a visit to Petrovaradin  Fortress, an iconic landmark in Novi Sad. With a history rooted in  diplomatic negotiations between the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian  Empires, the visit was a way to help participants remember the  connection between peacebuilding and ecology.

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