Deforestation takes on new meaning when you're standing in Loma de Ardilla, a cluster of homes perched on a dusty 6,000-foot ridge overlooking an endless sea of Oaxacan mountains. The Mexican village's name means "Squirrel Hill." But its residents haven't seen a squirrel there for years.

Deforestation claimed this mountaintop long ago, as traditional agriculture methods removed precious topsoil while subsistence farmers survived by turning trees into charcoal to sell. Equally barren mountains extend to the horizon like the swells of a dusty brown ocean. They starkly contrast the green maze of pine-covered hills behind the ridge that one must navigate to reach the village.

Yet joining the soft purple of the sparse jacaranda flowers — virtually the only color in this deforested landscape — is another color of hope: the sky blue walls of new ecological latrines. They join water tanks and ecological stoves as signs that something new is happening.

Another sign: the wall-less Presbyterian church above the village. Prince of the Shepherds members tore down their 13-by-20-foot building two weeks ago to build a bigger one for the growing congregation of seven families. A work in progress, today six wooden beams support a corrugated aluminum roof that shelters 14 rudimentary pews hand-carved from pine.

"It's important for the church to be active outside its four walls. That's why we don't have any walls on the new church," said church leader Santiago Perez with a laugh.

Prince of the Shepherds has partnered with Mision Integral (MI), a Christian development ministry and local partner of the San Diego–based reforestation ministry Floresta.

"Some people separate the physical and the spiritual," said Luis Alberto Castellanos, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.