Jonathan McCurley is a General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) missionary with the United Methodist Church. Along with his wife, Satomi, he serves in Tochigi prefecture, located in northern Japan. They minister at the Asian Rural Institute (ARI). Jonathan, 31, is a candidate for elder’s orders in the Florida Annual Conference.
|Jonathan McCurley talks about post-earthquake and tsunami ministry in Japan.
When the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit northern Japan on March 11 2011, missionary Jonathan McCurley was halfway through his three-year appointment in the nearby Tochigi prefecture. Nobody would have blamed him for returning home. However, along with his wife, Satomi, Jonathan continued to work with the Asian Rural Institute, determined to serve as a witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In fact, the McCurleys now plan to consult with the GBGM regarding an extension. “We believe God is asking us to commit another term,” said McCurley. This past month, the McCurleys visited Florida for some R&R, to reconnect with supporters and make new contacts. While in Lakeland they talked with the Florida Conference News Network.
Q – Jonathan, everyone wants to know about the tsunami. How has that event prospered your ministry?
March 11 caused me to re-imagine, re-vision, and re-purpose my ministry. Now there was much more urgency – not just for the Gospel message, but for help. We began with serving. The disaster also made scripture more alive. “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16)
Believe me, we were in darkness. No electricity, and the threat of radiation. We felt like we didn’t know where we were going. But God’s light was with us the whole time, and God’s promises proved true.
It made me stronger in my desire to serve and share the Gospel. Since the tsunami more people have come, been baptized, and joined our activities. It took relationships and the desire to make those relationships more real.
30 Second video clip from Derek Maul's interview with Jonathan.
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Q – What has been hardest for you?
Our area is more affected by reputation than radiation. Even so, we have seen just one tenth of normal visiting activity since the disaster. This affects finances, mood, and education. That’s been a difficult thing. So please come. There’s the chance to do volunteer work in the disaster area. Then we need help on our farm and we have some rebuilding projects that need to be done. We work with grass-roots leaders from Asia and Africa. It’s an opportunity to work alongside these people and get involved in their lives. Then you yourself understand more about mission.
Q - How much of ARI’s work is mission oriented?
My role is “Community Life Coordinator”. This is relationship making with people/students brought out of their community, often the only ones from their country. I listen to them and pray with them. We share the gospel and a lot of the students have never met Christians or heard who Jesus is. They learn about servant leadership and we talk about Jesus. Our new class of students is coming at the end of March. We have 34 from 18 nations. Share the Gospel there and it goes all over the world.
Please pray for the beginning of the program. Last year (with the catastrophe) everything was extra-ordinary. Now we’re trying for ordinary; but not really. Pray that the students will be transformed this year. Pray that God will use this year to change their lives through the Gospel and their experience.
Q – How has the Florida Conference helped?
The biggest help has been the prayers and the emails and the cards; the outpouring of love that we feel and see. People we’ve never met have heard about us and reached out. Additionally, more churches are now willing to support us, and our ministry, financially. We’re still new to the mission field so that’s very important. Then there’s support for the Asian Rural Institute, both as congregations and individuals.
Q - What first pulled your heart toward missions?
My home church (Ocoee Oaks) was involved in Appalachian ministries. Then my first year at Emory University we went to Tennessee and my heart was captured. It was the service, the conversations, the relationship building and the sharing of the Gospel. It drew me in and it was transformational. A couple of years later – in Mexico - I committed my life to full-time service. It’s about sharing the Gospel and helping people where they are.
|Jonathan and Satomi McCurley
Q - It’s a long way from Appalachia to Japan
My International Relations study at Emory University (2003) included a semester in Japan and one in France during my junior year. In Japan I felt God calling, pulling this desire out of me to share the gospel with Japan. After university my heart was yearning to go back there, so I went back to Kobe to teach English for two years. It was another small miracle. I met my wife Satomi (Agarie) at the Presbyterian Church. The Japanese pastor was very open to international people. She is a first generation Christian from Okinawa, and started following Jesus in 2002.
Q - How were you called back Japan?
I had a heart for Japan but felt - and still feel – a calling into ordained ministry. In fact I’m still in the process today. So I attended Garrett Evangelical Seminary in Chicago and earned my MDiv degree in 2008. While in seminary I had a strong devotional experience of God saying “Wait, don’t push the doors.” I applied to Thailand but the GBGM said no. Later the GBGM asked if I wanted to go to Japan. It was not easy to be patient and let God extend the invitation. Satomi and I were married in 2009 and started our work with the Asian Rural Institute that October.
Q -What lessons have you learned from Japan's catastrophe?
Time gives you perspective. Now we have a lot more knowledge. We’re still measuring our situation, learning the effects of radiation and able to talk about what to do. We now have a broad view. We have learned a lot about preparedness - spiritually, physically, and relationally. Prepared for eternity, prepared for things that can change your life. We’re now even more willing to share this.
Q - Have you coordinated with Aid organizations?
Yes. Our area was as far north as the train and highway could connect, so many Christian Aid organizations use our area as staging area. We helped provide food and we volunteered. Today we primarily work with Tohoku Help and the National Christian Council. We just gave over a ton of rice that we produced. The radiation examination fell within 2/100ths of the appropriate contamination level.
Q - Are you still motivated?
Yes, more than ever! People the world over struggle with hardships. We live in a world that really is looking for hope, for good news, for love, for laughter. But it seems like life is difficult. I believe our mission is about going into all the nations and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of hope; to share in words and deeds; to feed the hungry and to care for the poor. People want relationships. I’m very much encouraged.
Q - How can United Methodists help?
Contact the General Board of Global Ministries, or the Florida Annual Conference. Or go online and link to us through our blog <www.proverbs169.wordpress.com>
Q – One parting thought for the Florida Annual Conference?
There is a lot of talk among Christians in Japan regarding what is going to happen with the church. Is this a time that God is going to touch hearts and do revival? Has this terrible tragedy opened doors? We know that God can make all things work for the good of those who love him. Our conversations with people have changed. There’s more openness. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) People in the tsunami area have said, “The Christians were the first to help us.” The image of Christianity is here is changing. They know Christians care for them and love them. We pray that this will open doors to the Gospel, and that people will be able to see past religion and see who Jesus is.