Florida missionary Jonathan McCurley brings us an update on the situation at the Asian Rural Institute in northern Japan, where he serves:
"In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead." 2 Corinthians 1:9 (New Living Translation)
Since we last posted, there have been quite a few changes in our daily lives. We moved back to the Tochigi campus of ARI at the end of July and have gotten settled in back "home." One of the first things we decided to do upon returning to Tochigi was to invite the community over to our house for dinner. So over the first 3 weeks back, every Thursday night we invited one group of folks over for a pizza making party. We cooked, ate and enjoyed the fellowship. The participants had just joined new foodlife groups, daily farm chore groups. So it was also a good opportunity for the staff, volunteers, and participants to just sit down and talk with each other, getting to know one another more deeply.
We told all of the participants that our home is open and anytime they need a rest or to talk or just to get off campus (we are about 500 feet from campus then they can come over. Secretly though we do hope that people don’t take this anytime literally and come over around 2 or 3 in the morning! But we guess we need to be ready in season and out of season, so this seems like good practice.
As far as life at ARI goes, we are still getting used to a new environment. Being away from the campus for 3 months, and this being the first time 2011 participants are living here, things are definitely different than before. Most of our fields are covered in soybeans and sunflowers which we are told will help to decontaminate the land. We have converted a couple of fields into greenhouse row, meaning we had to remove the top soil and then each group put up 2 greenhouses for their vegetables. Finally the livestock learning has started and although the participants were very excited to get in this new learning, the work that has to be done in the fields, building the greenhouses and in the livestock sections has increased quite a bit from what they were used to in Tokyo, and you can tell people are tired. As repair work has continued around campus, limiting usable communal space, and IT issues have caused frustration we can also tell that people are having to make the best of the situation.
Yet with all of this said, people seem to have adapted well for the most part and the participants left last week for a two week rural study program in the North and the report we got today is that they really love each other. We guess this means that they are doing well, and so we thank God for His goodness!
Of course one of our main tasks is the spiritual care of the community here at ARI. We always wonder what fruit is being borne in people’s lives. We were very excited to hear that this past Sunday one of our Japanese graduates from last year was baptized at a local church in the area she is working. This gives us hope that the seeds we are planting here are bearing fruit in many ways, including new lives deciding to follow Christ. And as we have been planting seeds at ARI, we have also had some other exciting and sobering chances to do ministry elsewhere. We continue to serve the local church that we began working at this past April. We returned this August and it is a very different feel then when we entered in April. Although we have not been able to participate fully since April we feel that there is more joy in the church. Although attendance and offering being up has probably helped this feeling, more than anything it seems that our coming to this church was a physical manifestation of Emmanuel for this church. We confirmed in them that God really is with them and sent us to encourage them in ministry.
Having that feeling has led them to be willing to be more creative. We held our first Yukata evening worship service 2 weeks ago. Yukata is the traditional Japanese summer kimono, made of cotton. Although attendance was not as great as we wanted, there was much joy in those of us who gathered. We are also excited that the church is planning to begin Sunday school next week. Although this is a very normal thing for many churches, this is a big step forward for this church and it speaks to the optimism and encouragement that the Holy Spirit is breathing into us.
We also had a chance to do some ministry up in Sendai this past week, and this was challenging. The prefecture Miyagi where Sendai is located was the hardest hit by the earthquake and Tsunami with the vast majority of deaths in the disaster occurring in that region. We went with another young Japanese Christian who Satomi is helping to disciple and spent 2 days working with the Emmaus center in Sendai. We worked in the area directly hit by the Tsunami. Satomi and Haruka worked in one family’s field, digging out garbage to make it usable again. Jonathan worked with a man on roofing and replacing windows. There we heard many stories of the Tsunami, of life in the evacuation centers, of the struggles of coming back to this land that was destroyed by 10 feet of water and of lives lost, many lives lost. In fact for the 4 days we were in Miyagi it seemed that every person we met had a relative or neighbor who perished in the disaster. Jonathan was able to share the gospel and give a bible to the man he was helping and promised to be praying for him, his family, and their community.
The last day of our time there we spent up in and around Ishinomaki which is where the Tsunami hit the hardest. A former staff member of ARI was recruited to coordinate the relief work of the Lutheran church up in that area. It was a joy to see our friend, but as we looked at the scenery, heard more stories, and envisioned the work needed in the future, our hearts were saddened within us. There are too many stories to tell, but we listened and tried to learn, realizing that our listening to stories was the best ministry we could do at that point. Jesus is doing many good things there and we were reminded that he uses normal people to achieve his will every day. Finally, after resting for a couple of days in the far north of Japan we returned to ARI and are ready for what God is going to bring to us this Autumn.
The worship service we attended on Sunday focused on the verse that you read at the beginning of today’s entry. Although our experience of disaster has been brutal, it pales in comparison to the people in Miyagi, many of our participants own communities and others around the world. We do not believe that God sent this Tsunami to punish Japan, nor has he sent the hurricane and recent brutal heat to punish the US. Yet we are reminded that God allows these things to pass. These events remind us that we cannot depend on our own power, knowledge or planning in order to even live another day. We need to rely on God, for He is the only one that can bring us through life in this world. Actually these are words of hope. We may face death at any time, but we know that our God raises the dead. Jesus showed that to us 2000 years ago. Let us remember that God loves us and therefore does not will harm upon us. Instead of wondering if God is punishing us, let us stop relying on ourselves and learn to rely on God.
Please pray that we ourselves, the community at ARI, Nasushiobara church, and the people throughout Japan will not rely on themselves, but learn to rely on God. And pray that we ourselves will be a witness and not a stumbling block to the fulfillment of this prayer.
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