We are deeply shocked by the news from South Africa of a terrible accident involving four British Christians. On Monday 28th October 2019, Peter and Miranda Harris and Chris and Susanna Naylor were involved in a tragic accident while on a holiday and work visit. Their car plunged off a bridge and Miranda, Chris and Susanna were all killed. Peter survived and is in a serious but stable condition in hospital. Peter and Miranda were the founders of A Rocha, the Christian conservation organisation. Chris Naylor was the Executive Director of A Rocha International.

Chris and Susannah Harris and Miranda and Peter Naylor.

Peter and Miranda Harris and the founding of A Rocha

Peter and Miranda Harris went to Portugal as Crosslinks mission partners in the early 1980s and established a Christian centre in 1983 on the Ria de Alvor – a coastal estuary especially rich in biodiversity but vulnerable to developers. Cruzinha was unique and showed how Christians could care for Creation in a very practical way as an integral part of their faith. Peter wrote about the early years of Cruzinha in his wonderful book Under the Bright Wings. It remains a classic text. Miranda was the pastoral anchor for their ministry, as they lived in community, raising their family and hosting many short and long-term visitors. They established the guiding principles of A Rocha as five Cs:

Christian: Underlying all we do is our biblical faith in the living God, who made the world, loves it and entrusts it to the care of human society.
Conservation: We carry out research for the conservation and restoration of the natural world and run environmental education programmes for people of all ages.
Community: Through our commitment to God, each other and the wider creation, we aim to develop good relationships both within the A Rocha family and in our local communities.
Cross-cultural: We draw on the insights and skills of people from diverse cultures, both locally and around the world.
Cooperation: We work in partnership with a wide variety of organisations and individuals who share our concerns for a sustainable world.

As people visited Cruzinha and were inspired to set up similar work in their own countries, the Harrises moved on. First, they established the A Rocha work in France, and then went to lead A Rocha International. This involved helping others set up work around the world, international speaking and writing; relating to wider international conservation and Christian organisations; and always the ministry of pastoral care and encouragement of others.

As the work grew, they moved back to the UK, settling in Wiltshire to be near children and grandchildren. Peter continued as the visionary leader, establishing A Rocha as the leading international Christian conservation charity. Miranda continued as the ‘people person’, keeping connection with untold numbers of people who had shown an interest in their work.

Chris and Susanna Naylor and the expansion of A Rocha

Chris and Susanna Naylor met at university in Cambridge and established A Rocha’s work in Lebanon. They first taught in Kuwait, returning because of the Gulf War and in 1995 went to Lebanon, initially to teach in a school in the Bekaa Valley. Committed Christians and keen naturalists and scientists, they pioneered A Rocha Lebanon, developing educational work in the Aammiq Wetland. This is an exceptional area for wildlife and especially important as part of the major migratory route for birds between Africa, Europe and Central Asia. They lived in a local Arab village and won friendship and respect from those around them. As the A Rocha project took shape in Aammiq, Chris interacted with landowners, hunters and the Ministry of Environment in Beirut, to protect the Aammiq, through example and education, to change the culture toward caring for the natural world. At this time the British Embassy considered the region they were in to be unsafe to visit. Yet they established a welcoming family home and, like the Harris’s, hosted many visitors and their work became known. Chris wrote about their experiences in his book Postcards from the Middle East.

“…there was a profound and deep Christian sense of calling and a trust in Christ…”

A Rocha Lebanon co-founder, Dr Chris Walley, writes of the Naylor’s: ‘Chris was a fine naturalist; he had a first-class scientific mind… a rich store of knowledge, boundless energy and a deep love for living things. He was not simply a good field ecologist; he had a profound desire to understand how everything from agricultural practice to subsurface water flow combined and connected to produce the wetland as it was and had been… They knew what they were involved in, what the risks were and what challenges they faced. Theirs was a clear-eyed, intelligent and thoughtful commitment to Lebanon, to its people and to its natural riches. Superficially, Chris and Susanna seemed to be impermeable to the wearying frustrations, perpetual crises and profound tensions that characterised a Lebanon whose bitter civil war was recent history. Nevertheless, those of us who knew them, were aware that what they were doing came with a cost and that they were paying a price. Yet there was a profound and deep Christian sense of calling and a trust in Christ that kept them going through and above it all.’*

In 2009, The Naylor family moved to the UK and settled near Burford in West Oxfordshire.  Chris was appointed as Executive Director for A Rocha International, taking over from Peter Harris and freeing him up to do more speaking and writing. Susanna returned to teaching at Kitebrook Prep School, Kingham Hill School and recently became head of science at Christ Church School in Oxford. The Naylors were active and much-loved members of Burford Parish Church where Susanna had served as churchwarden and Chris was on the mission committee and assisted in the children’s ministry.

The gift of A Rocha

Within the diocese there are deep links with both couples, with family, friends and colleagues living locally, as well as supporting churches and schools. Many people’s lives have been touched by Peter, Miranda, Chris and Susanna and we grieve with those closest to them.

“..an incredible legacy to their love of Christ…”

First and foremost, at this difficult time, we pray for Peter’s recovery, and for the Harris and Naylor families. We also pray for A Rocha, who have lost some of their leading lights. We have lost some wonderful, wonderful people in South Africa, but they have started a movement that is an incredible legacy to their love of Christ, their love of people and their love of God’s creation. As the environmental crisis deepens, they have given us the gift of A Rocha, and the vision and the means to follow Christ faithfully in caring for his world.

* Tributes to the Harrises and Naylors, including Chris Walley’s, can be found on the A Rocha International website.