"Preparing for the Christmas season during my Fulbright year in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia meant seeking beauty in a challenging environment, with horrific air pollution worsening every day." Peter Bittner
The season of Advent invites us to ponder the meaning and practice of global citizenship. Advent calls us to more deeply live out the connections between our lives and the impact on our neighbors locally and around the world. The prayer flags pictured in the first Advent reflection manifested that connection, sending intentions of peace, justice, hope everywhere the winds blow.
This week, the image of sunrise over Ulaanbaatar shows the reality of one vital and often overlooked aspect of our connection with Mongolia. Whatever the distinctions of our daily patterns and situations, as living creatures we share the breath of life. In the frigid winter, lifegiving winds do not blow through the valleys of Ulaanbaatar. Smoky stench and poisonous pollution collect in the cold air. Human produced particulate air pollution chokes the life of residents, especially the most vulnerable, infants, children and elders. Particulate rates leap seven to 20 percent higher than World Health Organization guidelines. The rates of infant mortality and pregnancy loss skyrocket.
As we anticipate God coming into the world wrapped in vulnerable infant flesh, we acknowledge the mothers, infants, children and elders who are threatened by human-made environmental crises across our planet, from Mongolia to Michigan.
With every breath our prayers fly to surround them. Our concern, awareness, commitment and accompaniment breathe fresh energy into the communities where we live and distant communities as inexorably connected to us as the air that sustains us. Together with all of creation we groan with eager longing and endure the birth pangs of all that will come alive within and among us. We are enlarged in the faithful waiting, enduring the struggle in joyful expectation (Romans 8:19-23).
This writing was inspired by Peter's recent piece on the air quality public health crisis which made the cover of The Diplomat here.
Peter Bittner, '13 Colleague, is a current student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, where he reports on global development, environment, and health. Peter is passionate to not only help share countries' unique developmental stories but to contribute to their success via collaborations with local leaders. Peter has traveled in Mongolia extensively and documented his experiences through a successful Kickstarter project exploring Mongolia's widening rural-urban divide via photography and narrative writing.