Towards an emerging "coconut tree missiological imagination" : an enquiry into climate change and its relevance for ministerial formation at Tangintebu Theological College
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This study examines the ways in which the phenomenon of climate change is affecting the people, indigenous culture, and environment of the Micronesian island nation of Kiribati, in the South Pacific. Even though climate change impact is a global issue, this study focusses on the mission of the Kiribati Uniting Church in Kiribati in the context of global warming and sea level rise. It utilised the emerging indigenous missional concept of coconut tree theology to interface with the realities of climate change within the context of Kiribati. A missiological lens is therefore employed to interrogate the relevance of the ministerial formation curriculum at Tangintebu Theological College that is used to equip local ministerial students of the Kiribati Uniting Church and how they can respond to the life-threatening challenges of climate change. The study argues that when the church fails in its mission in developing a proactive and indigenously-informed approach to addressing environmental issues, then the fullness of life that is embedded within its missio-ecclesial identity and vocation that is bequeath by Jesus (John 10:10) will not be realised. In the context of climate change where people’s future on this planet is being negatively compromised, Christians, especially within the vast Pacific Region,1 must focus more on developing a theology of creation to respond to the contemporary environment threats to life rather than giving a very narrow evangelising focus to classical theological themes such as sin, redemption and judgment. Serious attention must therefore be given to addressing the wider environmental concerns, and to developing a vision of justice and human equality that needs to be embedded, in the wider theological educational curriculum (Conradie, 2009:42-43). The significance of this study is that it brings into conversation indigenous knowledge perspectives that have evolved through an emerging coconut tree missional and the 1 Pacific is a foreign prescribed name and not one given by the local people. According to the National Oceanic Service, the term Pacific was coined by Portuguese navigator Ferdinan Magellan who in 1519 on a journey across the Atlantic Ocean seeking a western route to the Spice Island via South America came across the ocean and its calm and peaceful nature, leading him to designate the name (National Ocean Service 2017). viii local narratives of the Kiribati people through a qualitative study which included questionnaires, in-depth interviews, observation and a collection of songs in which indigenous express their eco-relationality and interpretation of the environmental challenges of climate change. This study therefore necessitated an in-depth examination of the role that the church and the Tangintebu Theological College plays in equipping clergy leadership to respond to environmental and human challenges of climate change, and the extent to which the environmental and ecological issues are integrated into the development of the overall theological curriculum (PCC Report, 2007:107-108).