The changing climate that threatens to drown the island nation of Tuvalu is also a trial by fire for the islanders' faith.
"We plant and depend on God to provide fruits. We go out fishing with faith that God will provide enough daily," said Tafue Lusama, general secretary of the Ekalesia Kelisiano, Tuvalu's national church. "The failure of these seems to indicate to the people that God's providence has failed them."
Tuvalu is a tiny, predominately Christian nation in the Pacific Ocean, halfway between Hawaii and Australia. About 10,500 people live on the 10-square-mile island; 97 percent belong to the Ekalesia Kelisiano.
In recent years, the nation has made international headlines as rising sea levels damage crops and ruin drinking water, threatening the islanders' existence.
Inhabitants of Pacific islands don't distinguish between theology or religion and daily life, said Randall Prior, a professor of missiology at Uniting Church Theological College in Melbourne, Australia.
"Issues of climate change will become issues for theological education," he said.
The Tuvaluan church's challenge is to teach a theology that emphasizes that God's providence still exists even if islanders' surroundings are being destroyed, Lusama said. He explains that such destruction is the consequence of human behavior and injustice, not God's wrath.
When the land is affected, Tuvaluans connect that failure directly to their relationship with God, said Suamalie Iosefa Naisali, a pastor with the Reformed Christian Church of Tuvalu in New Zealand. Fruitful land means God is blessing them, while land failure is seen as a curse. "The land is important and the sea—our surroundings—is our identity," he said.
The ancient Israelites had a similar view, ...