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Wangari Maathai

This tribute by the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit to the late Professor Dr Wangari Muta Maathai of Kenya was presented at a memorial service in the Ecumenical Centre chapel in Geneva. Maathai, who died on 25 September 2011, had participated in a number of conferences and committees of the WCC related to ecological justice and peace.

07 October 2011

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
for God has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.

Psalm 24:1-2 NRSV

Dear Family and Loved Ones of Professor Dr Wangari Muta Maathai, Brothers and Sisters,

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ.

I write to you on behalf of the World Council of Churches, a global fellowship of 349 churches in more than 110 countries and territories seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service to offer our heartfelt condolences for the passing of Professor Maathai and our words of admiration and tribute to a life well lived. Professor Maathai’s life and witness epitomize the words of the psalmist. We believe that it was out of her deep faith in God, the Creator of all the earth, that she drew strength and creativity to serve as a dedicated and effective advocate for the care of creation and environmental justice.

Dr Maathai’s vocation of education, empowerment, and peace with justice was so akin to the work of the World Council of Churches, resulting in a long partner relationship with the programmatic work of the council. Because of her strong faith and advocacy work, Dr Maathai was a WCC invited speaker in 1979 at the WCC Conference on Faith, Science and the Future at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA. She has also been an adviser on the WCC's Commission on Church and Society. She did not only challenge local communities and civil society institutions but also challenged Kenyan churches as well as communities of faith elsewhere in the world to care for creation and to work together for environmental justice and those things which make for peace. Her labour and achievements have long been documented and lauded by organizations and governments. She continued to use these recognitions, such as that of Nobel Peace Laureate, as opportunities and platforms to advance her efforts toward the common good, convinced as she was quoted to say, “We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!” Her work has indeed had a profound positive effect on the present generation and will certainly continue to inspire generations to come.

Today, here in Geneva at the Ecumenical Centre, the headquarters of the World Council of Churches, brothers and sisters will gather in a memorial service to give praise to God for the life and work of Professor Dr Wangari Muta Maathai. Though separated by thousands of miles from her beloved Kenya, we gather in memorial and prayer, feeling a close bond in our common calling and witness and because of our Common Creator. Please know that in your time of great loss, you are held in prayer by brothers and sisters around the whole, who pray that you will take comfort in the words of Revelation, “...Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.’ ‘Yes’, says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them.” (Rev 14:13)

Yours in our Common Lord, Crucified and Resurrected,

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
WCC general secretary