On a crisp Melbourne morning in the not-too-distant past, I had the joy of sitting down with mother-daughter duo, Janelle and Ruby Brooks, at our shared church home in Melbourne’s east. The pair connected with TEAR earlier this year at an event designed to equip Christians to address injustice together with their local faith communities.
We have many a thing in common, the three of us: hearts that yearn for real social justice, minds that carefully question the sustainability of the status quo and souls anchored in the promises and truths of God. With these in common, it was perhaps a happy inevitability that our paths would cross.
Let me share some of their story with you.
Ruby is 16 years old, gentle-spirited, and soft yet deliberate in speech. There is golden wisdom in her words. Her mum, Janelle, is full of fire and passion, a local change-maker participating in and advocating for just changes in our world.
During the last year, both have made key changes in their everyday to live more sustainably. The drivers for these changes can be encapsulated in two things: concern for others near and far, and care for God’s creation.
Whilst on a missions trip to Cambodia last year, Janelle was confronted with the growing problem of plastic waste and its impact on the health of both people and planet within the developing context. Upon returning to Australia, it disturbed her to learn that much of our recycled waste was being exported to such countries. “We’re basically just taking our problem and giving it to a developing country that is already struggling enough. I really feel like the developing world is bearing the brunt of our choices and our apathy and that’s wrong. That’s not just.”
“Loving God is loving other people. God demonstrates His love to us by sending His son, so we need to make sacrifices in our lives to show our love for God and our love for others. So I make sacrifices in my own life so that others and the future generations can live a better life,” Ruby says.
For Ruby, these sacrifices include rejecting fast fashion, ceasing her meat and dairy consumption, and, together with her mum, packing plastic-free lunches for school.
For Janelle, since visiting Cambodia, her long-time focus on minimising electricity use has now grown to include cutting down single-use plastic: “This year I’ve been doing much more of a push. The biggest change I’ve made is in my shopping, trying to buy stuff that doesn’t have packaging. When I go to the deli or bulk food place, I take my own containers. I also bought a bread-maker second-hand the other day, so that will be one less plastic item that I bring home from the supermarket.”
Loving God is loving other people. God demonstrates His love to us by sending His son, so we need to make sacrifices in our lives to show our love for God and our love for others. So I make sacrifices in my own life so that others and the future generations can live a better life.
These changes have also prompted a bigger rethinking about our contemporary way of life and a shift in focus from consuming to creating. “Everytime I think of the plastic we use and how I can get rid of it, the answer is always to make it myself... [It’s] going back to the way things were a long time ago,” Janelle says.
The Brooks’ connection to creation runs deep, both as evidence of God’s wondrous creativity and as an opportunity to joyfully participate in His renewal of all things.
“Creation is where I experience God the most. When I look at the leaves, I look at each individual one and think about God making that leaf and how perfect it all is and how it all works together. It’s kind of like the Trinity; it all works together in perfect harmony. Nature is kind of like a connection between us and God because it’s like a part of Him down here.
This Earth is God’s creation. Our first job was to take care of it, and we’re kind of abusing it. Just like people, it’s God’s handiwork and you wouldn’t mistreat another person, so why mistreat the Earth?”
While there is a deep sense of call and conviction to act as good stewards, the lifestyle changes the Brooks are taking do not always seem easy. Janelle recognises that plastic in particular is pervasive, and avoiding it can seem impossible: “I’m attempting to go for a plastic-free lifestyle and it’s really, really difficult. There are some things that you cannot buy without plastic. It’s actually very difficult when you see the unwillingness of supermarkets and people to do anything about it. However, a quote that I keep seeing is, “It’s not just going to take one person living a zero-waste lifestyle perfectly, it’s going to take everyone doing a little bit.” Don’t be overwhelmed and do nothing, just do something.”
It is evident in both Janelle and Ruby that living in line with what they believe is a powerful motivator to keep going in the face of obstacles. In recognising that these sacrificial lifestyle changes are an expression of faith and what they believe to be most true, hard choices become easier to sustain. This is backed up by a foundational belief that all of our actions matter. “The choices that you make make a difference; you can reduce the demand for unethical or unsustainable products. And you can inspire your friends to do a bit more of that, too,” says Ruby, with a smile.
So much of our inspiration comes from seeing others, like Janelle and Ruby Brooks, making conscious, counter-cultural lifestyle choices. The onus is on each of us to gently share what we ourselves are doing to pass that Kingdom-minded inspiration along.