Originally published in Christianity Today
The global creation care community is grieving the loss of some of its most prominent evangelical advocates after the top leaders of A Rocha International — cofounders Peter and Miranda Harris and CEO Chris Naylor and his wife Susanna — suffered a fatal car crash on Monday.
Miranda Harris and the Naylors were killed when their car flipped over the Blue Water Bay bridge into the Swartkops River in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, according to news reports. Peter Harris and the driver remain in stable condition. The team was visiting South Africa in connection with A Rocha and in hopes of future ministry opportunities there.
“We know that this comes as a profound shock to everyone in the A Rocha Family and others all around the world,” the UK-based Christian conservation organisation stated.
The Harrises founded A Rocha over 35 years ago and have been credited with spreading the creation care movement among Christians around the globe. Chris Naylor joined in 1997, overseeing their conservation work in Lebanon, and has been executive director since 2010.
“Peter and Miranda are pioneers in what is now a global creation care movement, and Chris has led A Rocha brilliantly for many years. It would not be possible to overstate the significance of their contribution both personally and professionally,” said Edward R. Brown, Lausanne Catalyst for Creation Care and director of the ministry Care of Creation. “Though we rejoice in the hope of the resurrection, this is still an unspeakable tragedy for the entire global creation care community.”
Dave Bookless, A Rocha’s director of theology, said the accident “leaves a huge and irreplaceable hole in our lives and our organization.” He described Peter and Miranda Harris’s “transparent love for Jesus, for every person they met, and for every aspect of God’s creation were an inspiration to all of us.”
Lovers of nature and God, the couple established A Rocha in 1983. They began with a bird observatory in Portugal and named the organisation “the rock” in Portuguese.
The Harrises spent nearly 30 years running field centers in Portugal and France. Meanwhile, the organization expanded to more than 20 countries, maintaining a “focus on science and research, practical conservation and environmental education” and rooted in “biblical faith in the living God, who made the world, loves it and entrusts it to the care of human society.”
In recent years, the Harrises returned to the UK and transitioned to part-time, checking in with various national organizations and visiting to pray and provide direction and continuing their work to advocate around areas such as climate change. Miranda, a mother of four and grandmother, spoke about A Rocha as her family, writing once:
“We are joined together by a common passion and a shared faith, and we are deeply committed to each other for the long haul. You might say that our DNA is more spiritual than biological, that we recognise each other because of the values that shape our family life. We are all Christians, involved professionally in nature conservation, motivated by our love for God and the things he loves. We work within and across many cultures and languages, trying to build community wherever we are with anyone and everyone working to protect our fragile planet, whatever their beliefs—or lack of them. This is an infinitely expandable family, one where all can find a welcome.”
Singer Kellie Haddock was one of many who considered Miranda Harris, 66, a “spiritual momma” and mentor. “Her last letter arrived last week and will remain a treasure to me for the rest of my days,” wrote Haddock, an artist partner with A Rocha. “In response to my letter she poignantly writes, ‘All living things do their most significant growing in the darkness, whether of womb or soil or egg or seed’ … Miranda helped me see that we are defined by our belovedness, not the things that happen to us.”
Chris Naylor established A Rocha’s work in Lebanon, after years serving in the Middle East alongside his wife Susanna. In 2015, he wrote Postcards from the Middle East: How Our Family Fell in Love With the Arab World.
The Naylors originally moved to Kuwait as teachers, then fled after the invasion of Saddam Hussein. They returned to the region, along with their children, to teach in Jordan, and eventually Susanna Naylor began dreaming of a particular landscape for their next home—only to discover God had put a picture in her head of Lebanon.
“I felt a call to write the gospel in the landscape, to recognize that our fantastic God loves this place, just like he loves the individuals around it,” said Chris Naylor, who was 58 when he died. Susanna Naylor, who was 54, had also been involved with A Rocha in Lebanon and set up an eco lodge there.
As CEO, Chris’s “leadership was calm, inclusive and yet clear and decisive, as A Rocha became a leading global voice in creation care, respected for its practical experience all around the world and its clear biblical basis,” Bookless said. “Susanna continued to be involved in supporting A Rocha in many ways, even as she returned to teaching.
A Rocha has stated that the organisation is awaiting updates on Peter Harris’s condition, and that “a more detailed announcement will be made in due course”.
In the meantime, fellow environmentalists have begun to share their tributes.
“Respecc expresses deep sadness and condolences on the untimely deaths of the founder of @arochaint Miranda Harris, and CEO Chris and (Susanna) Naylor. People of #faith who lived for justice and wellness of our planet,” tweeted Nigel Crawhall, co-chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s group on Religion, Spirituality, Environmental Conservation, and Climate Justice (ReSpECC).