Torii Gate on the way to ARI farm shop

Torii Gate on the way to ARI farm shop

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Harvest Thanksgiving at ARI

In the third week of October, we can feel fall in the
air here in Tochigi, Japan. Some days are still warm, but nights are pretty cool. We expected to see changing leaves, but they are still green, and the changes are in the mountains, we hear. September was busy with many visitors – university classes coming to gain experience in organic agriculture, Rotary clubs and women’s groups. Mealtimes were spent explaining to visitors our role as short term Global Missionaries and why we are here!
Of course, we may think we know our reason for being here. We want to support this training program that facilitates the self-development of rural people. We want to be part of a community where people of all races and religions live in harmony. However, we have come to realize that there may be another reason. It seems we are under observation! A participant from Ghana sees Bob bringing a cup of soup to me at lunch. “Bob is teaching me how to be a good husband,” he says. 
Participants are surprised to learn we have been married over 50 years. “You inspire me to work harder to be a good partner,” they say. “I hope for a long, happy marriage like yours.” Perhaps we are helping in ways we never dreamed of. 
 At the end of September we harvested the rice. Most of ARI’s paddy fields are harvested by machine these days, but we harvest one paddy field together as a community.

We take time to remember that this year we have been eating the rice planted by last year’s participants, and this rice we are about to harvest is for the new class of 2019. A prayer and a song start us off, sickles are distributed and a ceremonial sheaf is cut. The harvest begins! Some community members cut sheaves, others tie the bundles and hang upside down on bamboo stands to dry. This year we harvested in a rainy drizzle, but spirits were high. This community work is an essential part of what binds participants, staff and volunteers together.
In October we focused on planning for HTC – Harvest Thanksgiving Celebration on October 13 and 14. It’s ARI’s biggest event of the year and a time to showcase the spirit of ARI for many visitors. The real purpose is to build participants’ leadership skills, as they chair committees and plan for a major event. Volunteers join the committees- worship and logistics, food, games and exhibition, harvest, and stage and decoration.
Bob and I worked with stage and decoration. We helped build and decorate a tall bamboo gate to welcome guests and an outdoor stage for cultural performances. We recruited performers and held a rehearsal for Sri Lankan dancers, American folk songs and line dance, singers and guitar players from Myanmar, Japan, Sierra Leone, a Kenyan poet, and many others. Bob ran the sound board and recruited helpers. I recruited stage announcers and tried to boost audience attendance by distributing ARI bookmarks.   

Despite a rainy forecast, the weekend was beautiful, an answer to prayer, we are sure. One thousand people came over two days! They heard sermons; sang “Bringing in the Sheaves;” ate peanut soup and pork bone stew from Ghana, Indian chapati and chai, Brazilian caramel chocolate balls, African fufu and heaps of traditional food cooked by the participants; shopped at the bazaar of donated items; clapped for performers; tried on traditional clothing for a photo op; played games; and learned about ARI’s mission while helping us celebrate the harvest.
Minngos, the ARI Gospel Choir, performed each day. Minngos translates to “Gospel for everyone.” Jonathan McCurley, a Methodist missionary from Florida and ARI Community Life Coordinator, organized the choir about six years ago. Jonathan loves gospel music and is the most exuberant director. I hadn’t had much exposure to Gospel music but decided to try it out. At first, I was unsure about the repetitive verses, but have come to enjoy these songs of praise sung with joyful abandon, so different from the hymns     I am used to.
   After helping to prepare breakfast, I have worked on compiling a book of founder Takami sensei’s quotations and completed a first draft of a children’s alphabet book about ARI. What we have received is of most importance – the friendship and love of people from many cultures who believe in building a world where no one goes hungry.

Our two months here is about to come to an end. In addition to working with pigs and chickens, Bob has built a roof, refinished desk tops, made minor repairs in dorms, and repainted the Peace pole.

Just this past week we harvested sweet potatoes together. The ARI community will begin a long period when sweet potatoes are a feature of most meals because ARI eats what it grows and raises. ARI is about 90% self-sufficient in its food needs.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Global Ministries at the Asian Rural Institute, September 2018

In September, 2018, ARI life is as we remembered it from 2013 – welcoming smiles, camaraderie, hard work, learning by doing, and everything that comes with a community sharing a common life together. The special blessing of returning is renewing friendships and also meeting a whole new class of participants and volunteers. We are grateful to Global Ministries, an ARI partner for their support.

 The class of 2018 comes from all over Asia and Africa, even the baby country of East Timore, only 12 years old. These men and women participants from different faith traditions are already rural leaders in their countries. They are here to learn servant leadership skills, community development and to care for the environment by growing vegetables organically rather than with chemicals.

Foodlife is a concept centering on the idea that food means life to us, so all participate in some way with the production of food for an hour twice a day. We were quarantined from the animals to protect them from any foreign viruses for the first week after we arrived, as is everyone. Pigs, chickens, goats and fish are essential to ARI, where 90 % of our food comes from the farm. So Bob began morning and evening Foodlife in the Field section, harvesting and weeding. 

The second week Bob began working in the Pig section. The huge mother sow had been lying down for weeks in a narrow pen while her piglets nursed. She could not stand to eat, so Bob and others had to feed her by hand. This week, while being watered down with a hose, she began to shake and with a big heave, she stood up. Everyone cheered!

Joyce’s Foodlife work is meal preparation, called FEAST, an acronym for Food Education and Sustainable Table. Cooking for 60-70 people involves lots of peeling, chopping, sautéing, and 5 -7 kg of rice at every meal. She helps the team of participants prep their dishes – main course, rice, soup, and side dish for each meal. Leadership is also learned in the kitchen as the participants take turns assigning tasks and assuming responsibility for each meal.  Cultural dishes are adapted to whatever vegetables are harvested – sometimes a Japanese taste, Indonesian taste or Kenyan taste. We are not eating sushi and sukiyaki! But sometimes miso soup and tempura.
A week after we arrived, the Honorary Director of ARI, the Rev. Dr. Toshihiro Takami, passed away at the age of 91. ARI was Takami sensei’s dream.
Rev. Dr. Toshihiro Takami

He planted the seed in 1973– the only place in the world where rural leaders could be trained. He was a humble man, inspired by God to become a servant leader for vulnerable people who depend on the land for survival. At ARI we become more conscious that even those of us who do not grow most of our own food, also depend on the land for survival.