John Stott, A Rocha and Creation Care
I first met John Stott when, as a small boy in Bangalore, India, I was instructed to be on best behaviour because a famous preacher was visiting. My main memory is of a shy, humble man with a genuine interest in each member of our family. More than 20 years later, when I encountered ‘Uncle John’ again, we were introduced and he immediately asked after my parents by name.
John’s attention to detail and his memory for names were astonishing. Perhaps they are amongst the reasons he loved birdwatching. Careful, prayerful, attentiveness and a capacity for holding vast amounts of information characterised his relationships with people, his vast biblical scholarship, and his bird lists. On his travels he would always have binoculars, a regional bird book, and his notebook, and took time away from his busy schedule for birding.
In 1982 John received a letter from Peter Harris asking if he would join the Council of Reference for a proposed new Christian bird observatory and field studies centre in Portugal. Peter, together with his wife Miranda, were about to begin what became A Rocha, and John responded enthusiastically. A Rocha brought together John’s love for God’s word, his love for people and his love for the natural world. These weren’t separate interests. They all stemmed from the heart of John’s faith in Christ.
Over the ensuing years, John developed a close friendship with the Harris family, writing in the preface to Peter’s book Under the Bright Wings, “It will be evident to readers that I love and admire Peter and Miranda … I thank God for their vision, commitment, faith and perseverance, their love for the people they are seeking to serve, and their deep immersion in the Portuguese language and culture. In the developing ministry of A Rocha an exciting, contemporary form of Christian mission has come alive.”
John gave generously of his time and wisdom as A Rocha grew from a single Portuguese project in the 1980s to become a global family of national organisations from the late 1990s onwards. He spoke at launch conferences in the Lebanon and Kenya, gave keynote addresses for A Rocha’s 10th and 20th anniversaries, in 1993 in London and 2003 in Portugal, and helped craft A Rocha’s 5 core commitments.
I had the privilege of leading a service for A Rocha at the British Birdwatching Fair in 1998, at which John preached from Psalm 19 on God’s two books: his word in scripture, and his works in nature. For John, these two were intimately intertwined in his relationship with Jesus, his Lord and Saviour. He once wrote, “Few experiences are more healing to the spirit than rising with the sun and wandering out into the jungle, the African bush or an Asian paddyfield, if possible with a friend, but otherwise alone with the sights, the sounds and the smells of nature, and with the living God, who conceived and contrived it all.”
When my wife and I founded A Rocha UK in 2001, John took an active interest, visiting the Minet site which was being transformed from an urban wasteland into a country park and nature area. He twice invited us to bring groups to his writing retreat on the Welsh coast, the Hookses, where we walked, worked and worshipped, whilst John wrote and joined us for meals and prayer-times. His wise advice helped shape and articulate our strategy. He also agreed to be filmed with the Pembrokeshire coastline and wheeling seabirds behind him, and stated to camera: “For over 20 years I have been an enthusiastic supporter of A Rocha, and I take this opportunity to commend to you their practical and educational work around the world. They are, in my judgment, a very fine organisation which is worthy of our support.” Today, as A Rocha’s work grows across six continents and in influencing the global conservation and Christian communities, John Stott’s support and wisdom played an incalculable part in giving strong biblical foundations and in exemplifying an all-embracing Christ-like discipleship.
In 2010, John Stott’s final book, The Radical Disciple, was published, highlighting eight neglected yet crucial aspects of Christian discipleship. Fourth in his list was ‘Creation-Care’ where he emphasised that “creation-care is neither a selfish interest of the developed ‘north’, nor a minority enthusiasm peculiar to birdwatchers or flower-lovers, but an increasingly mainline Christian concern.” Creation care, and therefore the work of A Rocha, mattered to John, quite simply, because he sought to be a wholehearted disciple of Jesus Christ. As he had written nearly 30 years earlier in relation to A Rocha’s work in Portugal, “mission embraces everything Christ sends his people into the world to do … The gospel itself includes God’s creation as well as his work of redemption.”
 p.xi in Peter Harris (2007), Under the Bright Wings, Regent Publishing, Vancouver (original edition 1992).
 Christian, Conservation, Community, Cross-cultural, Cooperation (https://www.arocha.org/en/values)
 John Stott, p.15 in David Cranston (2017), John Stott and the Hookses, Words by Design
 Video at https://tinyurl.com/y9rbfnlm
 John Stott, (2010), The Radical Disciple, Nottingham, IVP, p.17
 ibid p.57
 p.x in Peter Harris (2007), Under the Bright Wings, Regent Publishing, Vancouver (original edition 1992).
Rev. Dr. Dave Bookless
Director of Theology at A Rocha
To learn more about the work of A Rocha please visit https://www.arocha.org