As we move into Advent and the Christmas season, we are reminded of the new things that God promises in the incarnation. The promises of God being with us, a new way of life, and the promise of new birth is not only something that happened 2000 years ago but has been the experience this past year for us here at the Asian Rural Institute. We thank all of you who have supported us with your words, prayers and financial help through this difficult year.
|Koinonia House, the fellowhip center, was not usable post-earthquake.|
As many of you already know, we were hit rather hard by the earthquake that happened on March 11 of this year and continue to be affected by the radiation fallout that came in the aftermath of the Fukushima Dai Ichi power plant disaster. The destruction from the earthquake, while affecting the entire campus, severely damaged our two most central buildings to the school, Koinonia House and the Main Building. Koinonia House is where fellowship, or koinonia, happens in our community. This happens as we cook, eat, worship, sing, dance and converse with one another about life. The Main Building has held our offices, library and classroom since the inception of ARI.
Both of the buildings became very unstable after the earthquake and quickly we realized that one floor of Koinonia would no longer be usable. The Main building also became increasingly dangerous, so much so that it was recommended that we rebuild as soon as possible as the aftershocks would further weaken both buildings. Cracks, falling ceilings, broken glass, dangerous walls were found in those buildings and throughout the campus. Yet in contrast to the chaos around us, on the evening of March 11th, we gathered in the cold, without electricity or gas and with broken water pipes, we gathered to eat, sing, pray and comfort each other and our neighbors. Looking back, I can say that we understood the incarnation to be real and, although much had happened that day, this experience of the incarnation was the real experience of the evening.
From March until now, I must say that this has continued to be our witness. We have watched as so many people have lent their strength and time as they volunteered with us, given us their financial support, and have given us their minds and hearts as they have continued to share and pray for us. It was a struggle to even decide to continue with the training program this year. At the time we had to make a decision, we did not know so much about how safe our structures would be, nor the effects of the radioactive fallout from the Fukushima Dai Ichi Nuclear Power Plant accident.
As we discussed our future at the end of March, it was very difficult to make any decision with so many unknown factors. Yet through the intervention of the Holy Spirit, we were given a vision and soon we decided to begin our training as we made the extraordinary request to begin our training at the Tsurukawa Theological Seminary for Rural Mission located in Machida, west of Tokyo. This step would bring us the courage to go forward and also sent us into a frenzy as we continued cleanup and research in Tochigi and prepared in Machida for the incoming class of 2011, which would represent 14 countries from Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean.
Being in Machida for the first three months of the training brought many challenges as well as fresh blessings. We had to deal with the question of how to communicate smoothly between campuses, the reduced area for the campus and vegetable fields, and the lack of space for livestock. All these issues created a need to be creative and flexible in the training.
|Satomi and Jonathan|
Yet in comparison to previous years, fewer participants came and so we were able to create a close-knit community very quickly, which would prove another blessing as we dealt with so many unknowns throughout the year. People began to open up about their lives and their fears of not knowing enough about radiation and what effects there might be. This led both the staff and participants to study, talk and struggle together with our future and to seek guidance for the right decision to make for our training. Through many prayers and words of encouragement I believe that God guided us to make the decision to return to the Tochigi campus at the end of July, taking a new step in the training.
Returning to Tochigi took weeks to get used to as the community now readjusted to all of the changes around it. Because half of the staff remained at the Tochigi campus and the other half had been in Machida with the participants, this now was a time of getting to know one another again and learning a new daily schedule as we had many fields, livestock, and upkeep to do. It was also at this time that the reality of the situation at ARI in Tochigi became more understood by all. We knew now that while our buildings were unsafe for continual use, they would get us through the year. Learning to use more limited space also created opportunities for learning patience throughout the community.
As months had passed since the disaster, we also had much more understanding about the effects of radiation on campus. We learned that we were in a low contamination area which meant that there had been fallout from the Fukushima Dai Ichi Nuclear Power Plant accident, but it was not something that would prevent us from continuing on with our lives. We did need to take caution as we plowed, planted, and harvested, but life could and would continue.
This reality also created a new opportunity for us to face the challenges in front of us. Would we ignore what was happening and wish it would go away, or would we actively work to seeing transformation take place not only at ARI but in the community where we lived. We decided the latter, joining with local citizens in the Kibou no Toride project, to measure and work at cleaning up our land and making our area literally a fortress of hope. Following that path, this year we have decided to take extra-ordinary precautions to keep contamination risks to a minimum, which I believe shows how much ARI values the mission God has given us to help create a healthy, just and peaceful world. By “government standards,” ARI is considered a safe area for growing food, food that could be sold in any super market throughout Japan. Yet ARI’s commitment to fulfilling the mission that God has given us means that we believe we have a responsibility to create healthy food and a healthy environment which witnesses to our desire to fulfill the call God has given us. So what came to us as a challenge, we are seeking to turn into a blessing.
The highlight of the year so far has been the holding of the 39th Harvest Thanksgiving Festival (HTC) this October. HTC is an event that we have held every year since ARI was founded and is a time we set aside each year to give thanks to God for the harvest, to witness to our faith and mission, and to welcome our supporters and the surrounding community to celebrate with us the life and community of ARI. This is usually a joyous time and as part of the curriculum, the biggest event that the participants lead, prepare, and create during their training. Although after the earthquake and even during early parts of the training we thought it would be impossible to hold this event, the grace of God gave us courage to go forward and to celebrate.
This time, through the voices of the community, we learned that we desired this year to not only create a celebration and time of thanksgiving for the harvest. We would do that, but it would also be a time to proclaim God’s grace that helped us to overcome and calls us to be transformed as well as a time to demonstratively thank our many supporters who have worked so hard and given so much to our community.
This year we invited Dr. Joseph Ozawa to come and give the opening address and his words set the stage for the rest of the weekend. He spoke to us of the good world that God has created and although there seem to be so many difficulties and evil things around us, we are called to keep going to the end, knowing that God has promised to bring us through into a new and transformed future, and as we gave thanks to keep going in our pursuit of this promise, saigo made. These words of encouragement gave us strength as we sang and danced, ate and celebrated with many people. Over that weekend we could see the unity of our community, as we came together as one, choosing to fulfill our theme: that is to “Color the world with love, care, and harmony in difference."
So here we are, coming to the end of another training program when 19 new graduates will be sent into the world, back to their communities to help create the healthy, just and peaceful world that we are called to create. While ARI continues to face challenges, we move forward knowing what Emmanuel means, that God really is with us. Understanding that, we continue to try and reach the seemingly unreachable goal of 500 million yen for reconstruction and are giving thanks as support comes in little by little. At the same time, we are patiently working, waiting and praying that God will touch hearts to bring in the full amount so that we can be about what we have been called to do.
Finally, we continue in our present daily struggle. As we train leaders for the creation of a healthy world, we at ARI continue to work for the decontamination of our soil, so that we can with confidence create healthy food for the sustenance for our communities, and through this action, give witness to the whole world of what is possible when God is with us.
Read updates on Jonathan and Satomi McCurley’s work at his blog http://proverbs169.wordpress.com. Also, for more about the Asian Rural Institute, visit http://www.ari-edu.org/english/index.html.
Financial support for Jonathan McCurley may be made through GBGM Advance #3021131.