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 Mission Coworkers 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.
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. 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.
Just this past week we harvested sweet potatoes together.
Joyce and Robert Ray serve with the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) in Japan. Their appointments are made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, WOC, OGHS, and your special gifts.