Traverse City News and Events

A Sacred Mission To Save The Earth

By Beth Milligan | Oct. 14, 2019

Located on 200 acres on a pond in the woods between Kalkaska and Mancelona, the Au Sable Institute still looks like the small summer boys camp it once was, since its founding in the 1950s.

But it’s much more than a camp today, as Patrick Sullivan writes in this week's Northern Express, sister publication of The Ticker. Throughout the school year, Au Sable hosts hundreds of students from around northern Michigan for field trips exploring the natural world. Each summer, the institute hosts 30 to 40 college students from around the country to teach them how to be Christian environmentalists.

Au Sable is the headquarters for an institute that runs environmental studies campuses in Washington State, Costa Rica, India, and, beginning next year, Chicago. Fred Van Dyke, Au Sable’s executive director, is a formally trained wildlife biologist and self-taught theologian, and he’s passionate about expressing his faith through environmental work. That might make Van Dyke unusual among evangelicals, but Van Dyke hopes to change that, one student and a time.

"We have a lot of similarities and shared goals and aspirations, and sometimes, when we work together, some shared achievements," says Van Dyke of Au Sable and secular environmental groups. "We have differences in what we think are the key foundational pillars of what we are doing." One of the biggest differences, Van Dyke says, is "we are willing to ask a question that a lot of conservation organizations aren’t willing to ask, and that’s the 'So, what?' question. So, what if we accomplish this and maybe it turns out badly in 10 years or 20? We answer that by saying there is significance to our work because it’s cooperative with and congruent with a long-term eternal destiny for creation. It’s not work that’s done in vain."

Does it frustrate Van Dyke that more Christians don't think the same way about climate change and the environment as the Au Sable Institute does? "I guess I don’t dwell on it to think of it as a frustration. It’s one more problem to solve," says Van Dyke. "There are many Christians who are active and quite eloquent. There are whole Christian organizations dedicated entirely to conservation, some dedicated entirely to climate change. I think that the larger body of evangelicals in the United States will have to at some point decide we’re going to be more discerning about individual issues and less tribal. Because there’s always a tendency of people to gravitate together to someone who holds out the promise that they will increase your influence — especially when you’re feeling your influence in society is being taken away by other sources."

Read more about the unique mission of the Au Sable Institute in this week's Northern Express, available to read online and on newsstands at nearly 700 spots in 14 counties across northern Michigan. 

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