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Refugia Faith in Pella, the City of Refuge

Friends of Big Rock Park joined with Central College, the Pella Public Library, and Pella’s Second Reformed Church to host Dr. Debra Rienstra from March 18-21, 2023, as part of Central’s Writers Reading Series. Dr. Rienstra focused her visit on her latest book, Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth where she defines the words and expands the metaphors:Refugia is a biological term describing places of shelter where life endures in times of crisis, such as a volcanic eruption, fire, or stressed climate. Ideally, these refugia endure, expand, and connect so that new life emerges” (cover of book). Debra "expands the metaphor" to argue that faith communities should be "people of refugia."

On Sunday afternoon, March 19, at the Pella Public Library Author Talk, Professor Rienstra provided context for the writing of the book and its emphasis. “Much of my writing lately focuses on taking the climate crisis seriously and responding with the resources of faith, mercy, and justice,” Rienstra explains. She shares that Refugia Faith “explores how Christian spirituality and practice must adapt to prepare for life on a climate-altered planet” ( A lively conversation ensued.

She then read from her book at the Writers Reading on Monday, March 20, in the Boat/Moore/Weller rooms at Central College with more thought-provoking conversation. In addition, she spoke to a creative writing class and a senior seminar on John Milton. According to Dr. Lance Dyzak,

Debra Rienstra was kind enough to visit my class, ENGL 240: The Personal Essay, to speak about how we find the “heart” of a creative nonfiction essay. Her visit was well-timed, as students are about to enter the workshop segment of the class when we meet to discuss their submissions for the final essay project. Debra introduced concepts such as “the dive,” the “strong current,” and the “center of gravity” to help students understand how an essay communicates meaning and evokes emotion; important goals to keep in mind as they provide feedback on each other’s work.

On Tuesday, Debra visited Dr. Valerie Billing's senior seminar on John Milton's Christian epic poem Paradise Lost. Students were just beginning their research projects, and she modeled an ecocritical reading of the poem and coached students through what it would look like to begin a project using this critical approach. Valerie and her students were grateful for the fresh perspective Debra offered, especially as she called attention to the complex ways in which the word "wonder" works as it recurs throughout the epic. Central senior Madison Zink in the Milton seminar shared lunch with Professor Rienstra and contributed the following:

"I had a blast talking with Dr. Rienstra! We discussed how we were all concerned about the climate change occurring and how we can juggle that with our religion. Being a Christian and also a bio major can sometimes feel like a paradox, but Dr. Rienstra told me of her own experiences in these two worlds and how they connect more than we even know. She also was able to tell us some GOOD news going on in this world. This was a huge blessing because I feel like all too often, we only hear the depressing losses and never the wins.”

Friend Mary Stark relates: Jim and Sue Brandl as Directors of Friends of Big Rock Park hosted Debra for a lovely supper in their home where directors could also share “GOOD news” about the organization and the opportunities for biodiversity surveys, water quality, and educational developments thanks to the funding from the Marion County Community Grant, the Pella Community Foundation Grant, and WorkSmart Connector. The celebration continued when Debra joined Friends Director David Timmer for a stroll at the park to experience some of the “wonder”: “We did take a nice walk through BRP, with Gifford and Sherril Graham. I loaned Debra my duck boots and an extra pair of socks. It was a bit squishy, but no big bogs to navigate. We saw some red-bellied woodpeckers and heard what must have been a pileated jackhammering away. Sherril posted some pics on the BRP FB page and gave us permission to post on our webpage too.

David also noted that “Debra is Professor of English at Calvin University. She and Ron lived in Pella for four years (1992-96). In addition to her book, she has a podcast and an on-line newsletter dedicated to the topic of climate change.

She preached at Second Reformed last Sunday; you can watch that here:

Above: Friend Gifford Graham, author Deb Reinstra, Friend Dave Timmer

Friends Dave Timmer and Sheril Graham show Deb the joy of standing on the big rock!

Just as Pella was a “city of refuge” for Dutch ancestors, so also Pella's Big Rock Park serves as a refuge for current residents and visitors, now and into the future for "people of refugia."


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