Ecology and Social Responsibility Conference First of Its Kind in Serbia

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.