We Mourn With A Rocha

Cruzinha, the first A Rocha centre in Portugal

We are all deeply shocked by terrible news from South Africa. On Monday 28th October 2019, Peter and Miranda Harris and Chris and Susanna Naylor were involved in a tragic accident while on a holiday and work visit. Their car plunged off a bridge and Miranda, Chris and Susanna were all killed. Peter survived and is in a serious but stable condition in hospital. Peter and Miranda were the founders of A Rocha, the Christian conservation organisation. Chris Naylor was the Executive Director of A Rocha International.

I first met Peter and Miranda on 1st April 1993 when I visited the A Rocha centre (Cruzinha) on the Algarve in Southern Portugal with a party from Sage, Oxford’s Christian Environmental Group. Peter met our party at Faro airport. The Harris’s had been sent out as Cross Links mission partners in the early 1980’s, and established the centre in 1983. Cruzinha was unique and showed how Christians could care for Creation in a very practical way. Peter wrote about the early years of Cruzinha in his wonderful book “Under the Bright Wings.” It remains a classic text. Many people visited Cruzinha in those early years and were inspired to set up similar work in their own countries. The Harris’s moved on, first to establish the A Rocha work in France, and then to lead A Rocha International. This involved helping others set up work around the world, and a lot of speaking, writing and encouraging. Peter is an inspirational speaker, and we heard him on a number of occasions. Over the years we met Peter and Miranda many times in all kinds of places. In 2015, Peter very kindly wrote a commendation for our book “A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues”. In 2017, he was very helpful in linking me up with Arne Mörnerud who is working on setting up the A Rocha work in Sweden. Arne arranged for me to speak at a Bible college in Malmö on a short lecture tour.

Chris Naylor speaking at the Rewilding day in April 2019

I first met Chris Naylor about 20 years ago when he spoke at Woodstock Road Baptist Church in Oxford. At the time he was co-leading the A Rocha work in Lebanon (with Dr Chris Walley, an old friend from my Swansea University days). He oversaw the habitat restoration programme at the Aammiq marsh, and the development of the environmental education project and the field research programme, identifying eleven new Important Bird Areas nationally. Chris wrote about his experiences in Lebanon in his book “Postcards from the Middle East” which I reviewed HERE. With the increased tension in Lebanon, Chris, Susanna and their family were forced to leave in 2009. They returned to the UK and Chris was soon appointed as Executive Director for A Rocha International, taking over from Peter Harris and freeing him up to do more speaking and writing. In recent years Chris was very supportive of the educational work we are engaged in. He was particularly keen on our work with IFES Graduate Impact. Margot and I have been mentoring young Christian environmental scientists from across Europe and beyond. Chris encouraged us to visit an A Rocha centre for one of our sessions, and we will be going to Les Courmettes, the A Rocha France Centre, next March. We also welcomed Chris to speak at two CRES meetings, the most recent being our Rewilding meeting in April this year. Then he was able to share recent A Rocha news from around the world, including A Rocha Lebanon, now under the leadership of local people.

First and foremost at this difficult time, we should pray for Peter’s recovery, and for the Harris and Naylor families. We should also pray for A Rocha, who have lost some of their leading lights. But their loss is also our loss. A Rocha have been JRI’s key partners over 20 years, and they still are. In that time we have been greatly blessed by all of the conferences we have run with A Rocha, our collaboration on the CRES course, all of the writing projects we have worked on together and much more. We have lost some wonderful, wonderful people in South Africa. It is our job to continue the work that they started. I know they would want us to do that.

Dr Martin J Hodson

JRI Operations Director

For More Information:

Press Statement from A Rocha International includes links to an article in Christianity Today and a blog where people are sharing their memories of the Harris’s and Naylors

Salisbury Journal on Miranda Harris who lived in Wiltshire

The BBC report gives a detailed account

The Telegraph a slightly different angle

Times Live from South Africa

Oxford Diocese Both the Harris’s and the Naylors have many links in the Oxford area. Some parts of their article are based on that above.