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That We May Live Together

October 5, 2010

Just last month I traveled with some college students to join a work camp at the Asian Rural Institute (ARI). This is a program we offer twice a year for young people to have the chance to “learn through doing.” At ARI we are joined by other groups from around Japan, and we become like a small community, sharing labor, food, our stories and our lives. At the end of the four day camp the Japanese young people become quite close to one another. This is a way that Christian ministries in Japan work together to help young people connect to a wider community of friends.

The ministry of ARI is quite well known to some people in the US. Started nearly forty years ago, this Christian NGO brings leaders from rural areas in Asia and Africa for a nine month course on a farm. Participants, as they are called, plant rice and vegetables, share about sustainable agriculture, learn the ill effects of fertilizers and pesticides, harvest in the fall, and most importantly learn through shared living the struggles and meaning of the motto of ARI – That We May Live Together. If you have not heard about ARI I would invite you to visit their website. (www.ari-edu.org )

ARI is open to receiving groups to help out around the farm. Each year we are allowed to share in the labor, and we get the chance to meet people from various parts of the world. Some participants come from war stricken areas, and they are concerned about their families which they have left behind. Some are full of dreams about what they want to do when they return to their homeland. Some have fought for economic and environmental justice and have some powerful stories to share with us. ARI sends the graduates back to their respective countries with a renewed vision that we are all working for a common goal – small scale sustainable communities which return dignity to the people who work the soil. It is always exciting for me to be a part of this community.

Ken (pictured in this letter) was one of our participants this year from Sendai. He is a long-time friend of mine who has cerebral palsy. He gets around in a wheelchair, and has a speaking impairment. Ken has joined me on past visits to ARI, and there have been times when we were let down by the lack of interest among young people to involve themselves with Ken. This time I decided to do something new. I took time at the beginning of camp to let the young people know more about Ken. I told them that Ken’s presence at this camp is like a treasure for us because his simple presence helps us to develop and grow as human beings. Those words of introduction made all the difference! We were amazed by how the young people helped him to eat, to get around and to bathe. Awareness of the motto of ARI was deepened for us through Ken’s presence with us.

On the last evening Ken had a surprise for us. He had prepared a song to sing accompanied by guitar. The girl with the guitar sat beside Ken as they offered to us music that to my ears sounded like the wings of angels. I felt God’s presence lifting our hearts to new horizons. What a witness! As Ken remarked at the closing of the camp; “I feel like a new person.” This, for me, is what evangelism is all about; inspiring new life.

Jeffrey Mensendiek

Jeffrey Mensendiek serves with the Council on Cooperative Mission, assigned to the Gakusei (Student) Center in Japan.  He serves as Director of Gakusei (Student) Center in Sendai, Japan.

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