On May 2nd, a group of Latino faith leaders from Victorville, Apple Valley and
Hesperia, along with several youth between the ages of 9 and 19, joined together in
an outing to visit the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.
This visit to a vital area of the California desert was not by chance. At the end of
April, Por La Creación: Faith-based Alliance, which develops stewards of God’s
creation by educating and engaging this generation to leave a legacy for the future,
brought these pastors together to discuss the need to develop awareness about the
threats faced by the California desert, preserve cultural heritage and highlight the
importance of having a strong Latino voice in the protection effort.
“It’s important for me because as we are getting in contact with nature, which is
something God created for us with a purpose, we better understand why it needs
protecting,” said Pastor Raul Velásquez of Iglesia El Nuevo Comienzo in Victorville.
“The purpose is for us to enjoy, have clean air, and trees — all of nature.”
The California desert is facing major challenges today — exporting groundwater
from desert aquifers, air pollution, rapid community development and encroachments
from renewable energy developments — that jeopardize its future.
“Most of the time faith leaders don’t take advantage of what they have around them.
Some of it is lack of information, and some of it is that they just need a push,” said
Martín Martinez, president of Youth Impact. “When people come out to our public
lands, something happens. A fellowship happens when you come out to a park or a
mountain or the desert, when you get out of church and there is less stress, you
open in a different way.”
During the outing to Big Morongo Canyon, “the youth learned how to use binoculars
to watch birds, learned about wildlife and plants found in Big Morongo Canyon
Preserve, and what makes the preserve a very special place,” said Sara Benitez
from Hispanic Access Foundation.
The attendees also learned about the California Desert Conservation and Recreation
Act of 2015, which was recently introduced in Congress by Sen. Dianne Feinstein,
and how it would help protect the desert for future generations. Amongst the
provisions of this legislation is a proposal to protect Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
and adjacent public lands as the Sand to Snow National Monument.
The experience was eye-opening for the 25 young participants, like Esmeralda
Rodriguez, who took videos of the outing and regarded the visit to Big Morongo
Canyon Preserve as a spiritual journey. “It was a beautiful experience,” said
Rodriguez. “I learned that it is easier to feel God’s presence outdoors, the freedom of
listening to the sounds of nature, and more than anything, the feeling that we are all
together in this.”