Harvesting Health, Justice, Peace
by Melissa Hinnen
My Inner Prayer
The assembly hall at the Asian Rural Institute in Tochigi, Japan, was filled with a spirit of celebration as graduating students anticipated bringing the fruits of their labor back to their home countries. In a commencement message to the 2011 class on November 19, 2011, Thomas Kemper, the head of Global Ministries, said:
Nineteen students from thirteen countries graduated from the seven-month program that included intensive agricultural training and living in community with each other. Through putting classroom education into practice by exercising servant leadership, maintaining fields and rice patties, and raising livestock, students are ready to bring what they learn back to their own communities and apply it in their own contexts. Organic and sustainable farming practices are at the core of what is taught at ARI.
On behalf of Global Ministries, Kemper affirmed the theology and philosophy of the institute. "We share your commitment to sustainable agriculture, bio-diversity, poverty alleviation, and your concept of servant leadership. We are gratified that in recent years we have had the privilege of assisting several students to take part in the ARI training program."
Global Ministries supported two of this year's graduates--the Rev. Munetsi Hokonya from Zimbabwe and Jean Gontran Delgrace, a project manager and agronomist from Haiti. Hokonya says that in Zimbabwe the church is not fully utilizing the land. He looks forward to bringing back new techniques that will help his community be a source of food production that will support ministry. He was especially moved by seeing the different ways that chemicals damage people and the environment, and he is committed to teaching organic methods when he returns home.
Delgrace is also committed to organic farming when he returns to Haiti. Having survived the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, he said he was not afraid to go to Japan following the March 11, 2011, earthquake. "God prepared me to be in Japan at this time," he said. Because of the extreme poverty in Haiti, it is important to him that people in the country return to growing their own food. He is also concerned about the amount of garbage in Haiti and has learned new techniques for composting and recycling that will be helpful in his home country.
Kemper encouraged the graduates to "plant for abundant harvests in health, justice, and peace." Touching on the parable of the sower in Mark 4, he said, "I see the Asian Rural Institute as the good soil into which you, the graduating class, are the seed that is sowed; I see your work in the days and years ahead as the harvest--the bountiful increase produced by what has taken root here even in this year of displacement and uncertainty."
That We May Live Together
The ARI commencement was especially meaningful this year. The 39th class faced challenges beyond the rigorous agricultural curriculum and learning to live with people from different cultural and religious backgrounds. Just six weeks before they were scheduled to begin training, Japan experienced an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident. Many of the buildings at ARI were damaged, and the levels of radiation resulting from the damage of the Fukushima nuclear plant continue to cause serious concern.
When the March 11 earthquake struck Japan, the Asian Rural Institute was 90 percent self-sufficient and felt prepared to meet the challenges. They quickly mobilized and were able to provide food to a nearby gym that was sheltering people who had been displaced. Because the school was not yet in session, the staff focused on recovery from the earthquake and addressed radiation concerns. Global Ministries through UMCOR has granted more than $1 million to help with the repair and rebuilding of the institute's buildings that were severely damaged during the earthquake.
ARI leaders were thoughtful in moving forward with the 2011 class in spite of the challenges. The Rev. Kenichi Otsu, who directs the program, said, "We maintained the same quality of the program while minimizing the participants' exposure to radiation. We believe that the urgency to develop grassroots global leaders who will address issues of food security outweighs the worry, stress, and inconvenience caused by these circumstances." The training was postponed by one month and finished three weeks early. The curriculum was adapted to hold the first three weeks of training at the Theological Seminary for Rural Mission.
"Because students are grassroots leaders who work in their own community, their situation does not allow them to easily go abroad. And also we had to think about their people who are going to get the benefit of this training through their learning," said Yukiko Oyanagi, who coordinates the curriculum. She continued, "The benefit of ARI training goes to our participants and then continues on to their people and community."
Though many of the staff members are not originally from the ARI area, they made a decision as a community to not leave even though radiation was detected. Global Ministries missionary Jonathan McCurley explained, "The motto of ARI is 'that we may live together.' It was important to us to be in solidarity with the farmers in our community who do not have the option to leave. If we move, our neighbors will lose hope. That we have made the decision to stay affirms that this is our home and that we believe what we have here is worth the risks."
As the program prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary, ARI is adapting to its new situation. Utilizing its own philosophies and trial-and-error techniques, they are flexible in their approach to meeting the needs and challenges of a reality that includes radiation. Trusting in God, they continue to be committed to training grassroots rural leaders as a way to build a more just and peaceful society.
Date posted: Nov 23, 2011