Juanita smiles as she relates how excited she was when she saw an advert for a position at SAFCEI. She had no idea that a multi-faith organisation like SAFCEI existed until she read the advert. After a bit of Googling and asking around, she was determined to join the team. Her opportunity came when she was offered the post of PA to Bishop Geoff in 2012. Juanita had a Master’s Degree in Divinity and 3 additional years of research, but no experience as a PA! Two years later she is SAFCEI’s new Eco-Congregation Co-ordinator (South). Many of you will have met Juanita. Now, as she embarks on her new role, is a good time to talk to her about the person behind the portfolio.
Earth Keeper: Tell us about your journey with SAFCEI and what you believe you bring to the role of Eco-congregation co-ordinator (ECC)?
Juanita: Juanita related how exciting, challenging and also deeply moving her journey with SAFCEI has been the last two years. She recounted how working as Bishop Geoff’s PA was a fast learning curve and how it served her to get a deep understanding of SAFCEI’s guiding vision.” Geoff is such a unique and visionary leader. I was surprised at the pace he got things done while he was frustrated that things were not getting done fast enough!” As she found her feet, Juanita took on more responsibility including liaising with the community she had grown up in, the Dutch/Uniting Reformed Church. She also served on their Ecology Task Team in the Western Cape. Then earlier this year she applied to be the ECC. “Working as the ECC gives me the chance to engage with eco-justice issues as they are experienced on the ground. I can now help communities take action and drive the transformation we are all longing for. Working with diverse grassroots communities is deeply meaningful to me and seeing the opportunities for collaboration is very exciting.”
“I wish to bring home to every faith community that caring for the Earth is central to our being as people of faith. It is not about adding another responsibility. We already have so many. It is about acknowledging our interdependent connection with all of Creation and helping to restore harmony within the community of life.”
Earth Keeper: What about your personal touch as the new ECC and how do you meet new faith communities?
Juanita: “I suppose that one of my strengths,” she answered with a thoughtful pause, “is my strong sense of compassion for people and the living world. Working with other people’s stories requires openness and respect for their journeys. I am also inquisitive by nature and being immersed in diversity, which is part and parcel of what SAFCEI is, opens up many opportunities for people from different backgrounds to work together in building a better world. I am a member of the Dutch Reformed Church and the struggle for reconciliation within this community has had a profound impact on me, moving me to work for reconciliation in the deepest sense of the word, between all cultures, and between all living things. “
Thanks to the ground breaking work of Bishop Geoff and Kate, who initiated the vision of SAFCEI our (my) work can really fly. Bishop Geoff’s example of ethical, honest and compassionate leadership has left a legacy of trust and mutual respect shared by many and diverse faith communities. I hope to keep building this legacy, offering trust and support to all who choose to take hands in this movement of earth keeping.
Today, people are much more aware of environmental issues and Climate Change, although societal structures and behaviours often reflect the contrary. It is a matter of looking through the blinding smoke of consumerism and seeing the living being longing for deeper connection and harmony. I look for nodes, in all communities, where environment awareness is alive and I offer to walk the path of transformation with them.
Earth Keeper: You chose to study Divinity. Does that mean you have always been a deeply spiritual person?
Juanita: Yes, but my decision to study divinity was not an easy one. I had been accepted at Stellenbosch University to study engineering, with a scholarship. “Do I follow my heart or do I opt for a professional career path with financial security!” I did not have a conversion experience, rather some special moments of connection and understanding. Nature has always been a place of profound peace for me where I enjoy a deep sense of freedom so perhaps it was appropriate that I had my own “mountain top” experience. Juanita laughs as we both recognise the pun. She explained that early in her first year she and a group of friends hiked up one of the mountains overlooking Stellenbosch and spent the night there. The others were still asleep when Juanita woke up to a misty morning that completely covered the town. She was alone on a mountain top island. It was as if the mist had buried all the voices and distractions in her head, along with the town. She finally felt at peace with her decision to study theology.
Earth Keeper: Do you sometimes get disheartened?
Juanita: “The amount of corruption and greed in the world can get very discouraging, but there are always stories of hope. I guess that having faith and being receptive to the positive stories of change is what keeps me motivated. I am trying my best with the light I have at my disposal every day. We all share the vision of a restored community of life, but how we get there is not always clear. At the core of my belief, and also I believe at the core of SAFCEI, is trust that we are being held – by God, the Sacredness of life, the bigger “Story of the Universe”. I believe that this power for good is far stronger than all the forces of destruction that discourage us from day to day.
Thank-you Juanita! It is a special privilege to be allowed to share someone’s inner journey. Your wisdom and spirituality enriches us all as we journey with you.
Kim Kruyshaar for SAFCEI December 2014