At the end of May, 17 cyclists will hit the pavement in Seattle, Washington to begin a two-month, 4,000 mile journey. They’ll pedal through the northern Rockies of Montana; Yellowstone National Park; the midwestern plains; and the Ohio Amish countryside en route to Washington DC. Their goal is simple: get folks interested in saving the world.
The trip, dubbed the “Climate Ride,” was organized by the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions (CSCS) — a partnership between Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), Goshen College, and Mennonite Central Committee — to raise awareness about climate change and connect Anabaptist environmentalists all over the country.
Seminary student and assistant cross-country and triathlon coach Joanna Friesen will lead the trip, with David Landis ’05, the founder of Village to Village Press, which publishes adventure travel guides and develops walking and biking trails. The group includes seven EMU undergraduate and graduate students, and a staff member.
The best way to stay up-to-date on the riders’ preparations, and make sure you don’t miss the kick-off on May 31, is to subscribe to Climate Ride updates. The updates include participant profiles and more information about scheduled events and visits along their route.
The following climate riders from EMU …
Anna Paetkau, senior,
Vanessa Gardiner, first-year,
Elizabeth Miller, senior,
Thomas Guadalupe-Johnson, junior,
Micah Buckwalter, junior,
Isaac Alderfer, senior,
Caleb Schrock-Hurst, seminary student, and
Tyler Goss, assistant director of student programs,
… will be joined by:
Samantha Lioi, alumna of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary,
Toby Bartlett, Fresno Pacific University,
Sierra Richer, Goshen College,
Loren Friesen, Fresno Pacific University,
Denver Beck, Goshen College,
Miriam Huebner, Canadian Mennonite University, and
She moves into a role previously held by Professor Nancy Heisey, who has served as associate dean since 2016.
Bixler will oversee the seminary’s graduate degree programs, guide the development of new programs for pastors and laypersons involved in a wide range of ministries, and serve as director of the seminary’s formation program. She will also serve on the faculty as assistant professor of formation and practical theology, beginning this fall.
“Sarah’s enthusiasm for serving the needs of seminary students and pastors in this difficult time is inspiring,” said Sue Cockley, dean of the seminary. “I’m confident her leadership will strengthen the seminary in the coming years and serve the church both locally and nationally.”
Bixler has been an instructor with the seminary for two years while finishing her PhD in practical theology with a specialization in Christian education and formation from Princeton Theological Seminary.
In addition to her doctorate, she holds a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from Eastern Mennonite University.
“I welcome this role as a sense of call to serve the church through theological education,” Bixler said. “I am honored to help lead the seminary into a new season of faithfulness during this dynamic time of change. Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s firm grounding in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition and desire to expand its educational offerings align with my passion: finding innovative ways for more people to join communities where we are formed together to participate in God’s reconciling mission in the world.”
Bixler spent a decade in ministry in the Shenandoah Valley, including working on Virginia Mennonite Conference staff, before beginning studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. At Princeton, she was instrumental in launching new programs in church planting and revitalization and women clergy leadership education.
Her dissertation was titled “Networks of Belonging: Envisioning Adolescent Attachment in Congregations.” Bixler notes she had “the honor of having the first all-female dissertation committee in Princeton Theological Seminary’s history,” with her advisor Professor Kenda Creasy Dean, and committee members, professors Bo Karen Lee and Sonia Waters.
She and her husband Benjamin and their three children are renovating the historic Lincoln Homestead in Linville, Virginia. The Bixlers have hosted open house events to share the site’s history, including Juneteenth and Lincoln’s birthday events, as well as, most recently, during Black History Month, honoring the known and unknown enslaved people who lived and worked at the site.
Nearly a year after graduating from Eastern Mennonite University, I found myself back in the middle of an EMU class I’d taken my junior year: Environmental Risk and Policy.
The class, taught by Doug Graber Neufeld, professor of biology and director of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions, introduced me to the world of environmental policy and eventually connected me to the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.
Now, I had the opportunity to return to that same class to teach the students how to advocate for just policies that address climate change — an issue that has become my full-time job this year through a fellowship with CSCS, in partnership with MCC U.S.
I was eager to share this knowledge because I’ve become convinced the most effective way that we can get our nation to address climate change is through collective pressure on policymakers.
While individual actions to reduce our own carbon footprints are important, we need to act on the national and global levels too.
Our faith mandates that we confront injustice. Migration, public health and food production are all impacted negatively by climate change.
At the end of the class, the students met with staff in their senators’ offices to discuss federal funding for the Green Climate Fund. Supported by multiple countries, the fund helps low-income countries adapt to the pressures of a changing climate and reduce their own emissions.
The students were attending these meetings at a strategically beneficial time, as Congress was beginning the annual appropriations process.
None of these students had met with staff in a congressional office before. Some were nervous, but they carefully prepared a series of talking points and went into their meetings equipped to share their perspectives. Accompanied by either Neufeld or me, they told stories and asked questions of the congressional staff members.
What follows are excerpts from five students’ reflections after their meetings. I’ll let them tell you, in their own words, why you should start advocating for improved climate policies:
From Rodrigo Barahona, a sophomore who met with staff of Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia:
As much as we can change our lifestyle to promote environmental sustainability, policies play a massive role in the way environmental issues are handled. Meetings such as this one provide a unique opportunity of connecting with those who have the capacity to achieve major strides on any particular issue. While meetings might have felt short and inconsequential to some, just the act of letting policymakers know what we deem important could make a big difference in the long run.
From Andrea Troyer, a sophomore who met with staff of Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia:
I found this experience life-giving because I was making an impact on a sustainability issue I deeply care about. The worries and tension eased up a lot when we learned that Sen. Warner would very likely support the Green Climate Fund and that energy and the environment are topics he finds important. [The staff member] even said, “I wish Senator Warner was on this Zoom because he would agree with each of you,” which put a smile on my face.
I think it’s important that we continue advocating because it brings the perspectives of all people to light to address issues that citizens care about. I would tell others who are considering visits to their public officials to do it. We need political participation more now than ever, and it’s life-giving to advocate for an issue one passionately cares about.
From Anika Hurst, a first-year student who met with staff of Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania:
[The meeting] was a little frustrating because it felt like we were not going to make a drastic difference in the decisions or opinions of the congressman and his [staff]. However, it was still a good experience that taught me a lot about advocacy and the importance of voicing beliefs even if there might not be an immediate result.
I would tell others [interested in advocating] to continue to find ways to reach out and connect with their local officials. If more people connect with them and voice their opinions, then the representatives will gain a better picture of the public’s beliefs, and they may be more willing to do some more research and advocate on the public’s behalf.
From Levi Geyer, a junior who met with staff of Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa:
I wanted to make sure I conveyed my passion for the subject and decided to use the story of my family’s farm to accomplish this. Story has a powerful honesty, a non-aggressive way of taking a firm stand. I spoke of our farm and how we are making changes to be more environmentally friendly. I wanted to show [the staff member] that we were willing to make changes and imply that he and other Iowans could, too.
FromMicah Buckwalter, a sophomore who met with staff of Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia:
Climate change is something I am passionate about fighting, but sometimes it feels overwhelming to think of how much destruction has already been done and how much needs to happen for us to make significant change. Through this experience, I realized that advocating [to] our senators and representatives to show them how important this issue really is can be a great way to make an impact.
The advocacy these students did is something anyone can do. Visiting a legislator’s office, either in person or virtually, is straightforward. You don’t need to have an in-depth understanding of the policy. You simply need to understand its relevance and connect it to your personal convictions and stories.
Every year, MCC U.S.’s advocacy offices are joined by the efforts of thousands of constituents around the United States. Now, the world has gained 15 more young advocates who are equipped and empowered to advocate for climate justice.