And they’ve had some success: the authorities have begun a river cleaning and dredging programme and started creating a floodable park. A people’s forum comprising church leaders and community members – many of them women – now meets regularly with officials.
Crucially, the campaign is also working closely with local people to help them understand the need to protect the environment and their responsibility to care for the river too. Church and community members have cleaned part of the river themselves – and dumping has reduced.
Gradually, their relationship with the river is changing, says Géssica. ‘They begin to understand that, in fact, the river is not their enemy. It is not entering their house to torment them. It is as much a victim as they are.’
Living in balance
Pastor José is determined one day he will be able to fish in the River Tejipió, just as earlier generations did.
For that to happen, he believes, people need to learn to live in harmony with nature. In Recife, this starts by tackling waste. More widely, it means recognising there is no such thing as waste.
‘Humanity needs to stop consuming plastic,’ he says. ‘Our planet can no longer bear these crazy amounts of waste. Throwing out is throwing in because we only have this common home to live in. Rubbish is a social cancer, a problem caused by our arrogance.
‘But we can solve this. The big corporations can help us, first by asking for forgiveness and making amends, but then by educating society. World leaders need to listen to the voices telling them, "Our planet can't take it anymore," and immediately implement policies to eliminate pollution and solid waste.
‘There was a time when we didn't throw things away. My grandmother lived her whole life without creating any rubbish. So we can go back to that: there is nothing more we need to learn.’
For Géssica, solving these structural issues, rehabilitating the river, both bear witness to God’s restoration plan for the world.
‘Our main message is bringing a river that is almost dead back to life. We want this river, as well as other creatures of this earth that are in need of reconciliation with God, to be restored, to be renewed.’