by Laura Lehman Amstutz

Akerson educated beach clean-up crews about local wildlife, making sure that the oil clean-up did not disturb nesting birds and sea turtles.

HARRISONBURG, Va. – Eastern Mennonite Seminary student James Åkerson found
the two weeks he spent this summer helping with clean up from the oil
spill in the Gulf of Mexico a “natural extension” of his Christian faith.

Åkerson, who is about half way through his program of study at EMS, is a
forest ecologist and program director for the National Park Service.
Normally he works in insect and disease control and invasive plant
management. When he heard about the oil spill and follow-up efforts, he
made sure that his disaster response form was up to date. He was asked to
leave immediately for Pensacola Beach, Fla.

“I saw my work with beach clean-up as an extension of creation care,” said
Åkerson. “It was good for me to be there, because I saw first-hand the
impact of my oil use.”

“One thing I learned is that it is my use of oil and demand for plastic
that caused this disaster,” he continued. “The best thing for us to do to
prevent this kind of thing from happening again is to reduce our own use
of oil.”

Åkerson often finds intersection with his work in the Parks Service and
his seminary studies. He is a part of the Creation Care group at
Harrisonburg Mennonite Church where he attends and recently completed an

“Creation care is something that should never be divorced from faith,”
said Åkerson. “It has been our job to care for the earth since creation.
Even before the fall described in Genesis, we were called to be stewards
of the earth.”

“There is a big difference in treating creation like it is ours and
remembering that we are just caring for it for someone else,” Åkerson
stated. “I think it’s a wrong sentiment to say that because you own
something it is yours. Really, you’re just taking care of it for now.”

Åkerson’s primary duty while on the beach clean-up crew was to make sure
that local wildlife was not endangered. In Pensacola, this meant making
sure that the birds that nest in the dunes and the sea turtles that lay
eggs on the shore weren’t disturbed during the clean-up efforts.

“I had day shift for three days, and I’ve never been so glad to have night
shift in my life,” said Åkerson.

“For the clean-up workers the heat and humidity, combined with the
clean-up suits they were required to wear meant that we could only work
20-30 minutes out every hour or we would suffer from heat exhaustion,” he
said.  “I didn’t have to wear the protective clothing but was plenty hot
in my long pants and shirts.”

Åkerson is taking several seminary classes each year so he can work them
around his job with the parks service.

“Each class I’ve taken is a great tool,” said Åkerson. “I have found joy
in my seminary studies, and I enjoy the ministry opportunities I have at
Harrisonburg Mennonite and in the local community.

“I have felt a call to ministry since childhood,” he continued. “I have
held a long litany of church positions, including teaching, leading Bible
study and book keeping. My internship at Harrisonburg Mennonite confirmed
that I was on the right road.”