By Michael Furber
What an exciting privilege it has been to join the team at A Rocha in Ontario as a volunteer. So far it has been quite a “ride.” As a recently retired elementary school teacher, I had no intentions of putting my feet up and watch the world go by, or to “ring my hands” and beg the Lord to take us out of the mess, that we have made of this world (Hosea 4:3).
I continued to seek God and what He wanted me to do in this new stage of my life’s journey. “Get involved with A Rocha.” Was this from God? I believe so.
I had heard of A Rocha about five years ago from an acquaintance, Peter Scholtens, who encouraged me to read Peter Harris’s books, Under the Bright Wings (1993) and Kingfisher’s Fire (2008). I was provoked spiritually in a positive way; a seed had been planted and continued to grow despite the busyness of life. Along with teaching full time, and as a husband and father, it’s easy to get preoccupied, as many of you know.
At any rate, I got right on the A Rocha website, filled out the volunteer application online. I heard from Luke Wilson that afternoon. He explained that the staff and he had been hoping and praying for someone with my background. Wow!
What a confirmation of God’s direction in my life. On meeting with Luke, we had so much to talk about. Although we had never met, we found out that we knew so many of the same people, including friends and family. It didn’t take long for us to develop a close acquaintance which has continued to develop into a great working relationship as well as a growing friendship – all this in a matter of a few months. It is so exciting to be working with someone who has the same love and passion for God and His creation. It has also been a blessing to meet and work with Diana Scholtens, Peter Scholtens, Carrie Van Dorp, and Ben McCullough.
My education was grounded in science. Graduating from the University of Guelph in 1986, with a B.Sc. in Environmental and Wildlife Biology was enhanced by some amazing contract work with birds: the Owl Foundation, field work for the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, and then eventually community relations and conservation education with Ontario Conservation Authorities.
Although my heart was in environmental interpretation, there seemed to be no full time opportunities available – at least not with a reasonable salary. Having married recently and hoping to have a family, the writing was on the wall: teaching. The pay, the benefits, the hours and job security were all good, especially while raising a family. And, I actually did enjoy working with kids. It seemed to be God’s plan at the time. So I was off to Brock University in 1990 to get my B. Ed. with a specialization in Environmental Science.
Not long after that, I was hired by the Norfolk Board of Education, which was later a part of an amalgamation that led to the Grand Erie District School Board. I did, however, feel quite a painful withdrawal from working mostly away from nature over the next 25 years; but, that’s another story. Suffice it to say, I think God was able to use me as a good influence toward others and I was definitely transformed and molded by Christ such that I would be ready for something else later in life.
I had always had a passion for nature with a love of birds (especially owls), a deep fondness for the Canadian Shield Country in central Ontario and an addiction to canoes and canoeing. The latter was fuelled in part by the passion of the late Bill Mason, who insisted that you could still hear “the song of creation” – especially while canoeing in the wilderness.
I had been blessed to be brought up in a Christian family – one that respected creation and was very supportive of my interests. It was that kind of parental support and my interest in birds that led me into fostering injured and disabled owls and then later studying and banding birds (in which I’m still involved today with a master permit). I have always taken these interests seriously and have connected with and been a part of organized nature clubs and associations.
All that being said, there was always an emptiness that needed to be filled by an acknowledgement of God as the Creator and a strong desire to serve Him as a steward of this incredible natural world. It seemed as though my involvement in nature was compartmentalized away from my spiritual life. Bill Mason’s message (Job 12:7-10) in the 1980s resonated with me and I don’t remember getting the same spiritual restitution until later when I read Peter Harris’s books. Finally, here was no more compartmentalizing or separating nature from the Creator. It was possible to know God and be involved in natural science, nature interpretation, and environmental stewardship. It could even be an act of worship to God!
Steven Bouma-Prediger’s book, For the Beauty of the Earth (2001) helped to solidify that in my mind. I read it and re-read it, all the while making notes and searching the scriptures to get my head around this personal discovery.
Coming back to my encounter with A Rocha was like coming home. I can’t even begin to explain what God has done to me over the past two years, but a lot of it has been spiritual healing and a recommitment to Him. With my desire for genuine science on the one hand and excellence in environmental interpretation on the other, I’m hoping to contribute and invest in the future of A Rocha as much as I possibly can for as long as I can. I feel God’s approval concerning this.
To be a part of the expansion of A Rocha in Ontario and maybe other places around the world fills me with an excited contentment that words can hardly express. In fact, my love of music and worship has molded with this desire and passion in recent months.
Last fall, I was charmed by Leah Kostamo’s book, Planted (2013), and from this felt that I knew Leah, even though I had never met her. Well, that was all to change as I had the joy of meeting Leah, Markku, and so many of you at the A Rocha 2017 retreat back in February. And, I must say, I was so privileged to be invited to the retreat: I was overwhelmed with meeting so many warm, wonderful people, who instantly felt like friends and family. It was certainly another confirmation of my involvement and commitment to A Rocha as a volunteer.
I strongly believe the ministry and work of A Rocha is helping to fill a missing ingredient in both the world, and in the Christian church today. I think this lack of an awareness of creation and stewardship is a large part of what is keeping spiritual revival from occurring as fast as it otherwise could be. I am optimistic and I do believe that A Rocha will play a huge role in the Lord’s prayer being answered, “on earth as it is in heaven.” I can’t think of anything more exciting and that thought makes my heart sing.
So where are we going from here? With ongoing involvement, much focus has been on Cedar Haven Farm, which is becoming a field centre of sorts, in Ontario. I’m hoping to be able to help with any natural science or history research and citizen science developments. In fact, I’m presently looking into which citizen science projects would be best suited to Cedar Haven.
Although I have an overall interest and knowledge base of the flora and fauna of Ontario, Luke is encouraging me to focus on birds – my specialty. At this time I’m not sure what exactly will take flight (pun intended), but a bird monitoring and banding program may quite likely be in the works soon.
Isn’t it great to know we are playing a role in the renewal of creation? Someday it will indeed be “on earth as it is in heaven” and all of creation will worship God the Creator (Revelation 5:13).