How many people look at a polluted area, mutter something like “yuck” or “what a shame” or “someone should really do something about that” – and then move on? How many people look at such a place and see possibility for a green community space where people can connect, socialise, plant food, enjoy nature, play, even worship?
The difference is imagination. And it turns out imagination is something CMS mission partners Kailean and Kim Khongsai have – quite literally – in spades. Originally from Manipur, north east India, the Khongsais have lived in Southall, London, for 11 years. Though they both grew up in Christian families where Jesus was at the heart of their households, they say they never dreamed of working in mission.
Then they learned they could marry their respective areas of expertise (Kailean studied ecology and environmental waste management and Kim studied botany and education) with their Christian faith – and their imagination has expanded while working in creation care ministry A Rocha, through a secondment via CMS.
Kailean said, “God placed us in Southall, a multicultural, vibrant place but sadly [when we arrived we saw] the area suffered from lack of community engagement and environmental understanding. Many green spaces were neglected. We felt the need for a community project that could address the issue.
“With very limited resources, we took up a small plot in an overgrown allotment and started a food growing project in 2010.
“It was daunting as this was the first community project in the area and we just didn’t know how people would react – we prayed a lot! The project was well received by the local community and local churches. This triggered our imagination to grow wilder.”
In 2013, Kailean and Kim spotted a three-acre piece of derelict land called Wolf Fields in the area, close to a housing estate, a church and a school.
“The site was very abused, used for drug taking, littered with beer cans, syringes, old mattresses. Even nearby residents avoided it.”
But the Khongsais fell in love: “We could see the site’s potential. We had no doubt that God would love to see his creation well looked after (Genesis 2:15).”
Getting planning permission from Ealing council, the landowner, and startup funding for the project was no easy task. “It required lots of prayer, determination, and patience.”
Permission granted, one of the first tasks was clearing 54 tonnes of rubbish. To attract wildlife, nest boxes and a bird feeding station were installed. New paths were laid to improve site access. A food growing project was started.
All of this was accomplished with help from people in the surrounding multicultural, multi-faith community.
In 2014, a competition was held across four local primary schools to design a sensory garden, and the final design was crafted by a seven-year-old.
Local people helped with planting, and various companies donated products, time and expertise to help the sensory garden become a reality.
In February 2018, a Braille information board and an audio post were installed in conjunction with Ealing Association for the Blind.
Good news for all creation
“The Wolf Fields project has given us the opportunity to work in partnership with local churches in reaching out to the wider community. It also gives us the opportunity to serve people with physical or mental challenges. Last but not least, we have the opportunity to proclaim good news – God’s love for his creation – in a practical way to various faith and cultural backgrounds,” Kailean and Kim said.
Creation care can serve as a strong bridge between different faith communities as environmental concerns are a common denominator for people from all faiths and none.
Today Wolf Fields is a tranquil green oasis for Southall residents. A community orchard and an apiary have been added. As for future plans, “Our dream is that local churches or the local community will take ownership, and the site will become a thriving demonstration where people can learn about the benefits of green space and replicate this project where possible,” said Kailean.
Imagination allows us to rise
He added: “Through this process, we have learned that imagination requires faith, courage, passion and a certain degree of creativity to bring it to fruition. Our faith in God, the creator… helps us to imagine the future and act for his glory.
“I would like to think that imagination is God’s gift to humans. God himself used imagination in the creation of everything…. Our imagination allows us to rise above our limits and act beyond our comfort zone.”
The Khongsais are grateful to work with organisations that encourage imagination in action for the sake of both planet and people: “Becoming CMS partners seconded to A Rocha UK has in many ways refined us to become better disciples of Christ.
“There have been lots of challenges, and perhaps there are more to come, but we are rooted in our identity in Christ and feel that God has rubber stamped our call to serve him in this field.”
How might God be awakening your imagination or calling you into action? Our vocational recruitment team would love to explore your call with you – get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org or go to churchmissionsociety.org/explore