日本基督教団 The United Church of Christ in Japan

Experiencing the Incarnation at Asian Rural Institute


by Jonathan McCurley, UMC missionary

Asian Rural Institute

Nasu-shiobara, Tochigi Prefecture


As we move into Advent and the Christmas season, we are reminded of the new things that God promises in the incarnation. The promises of God being with us, of a new way of life, and of new birth is not only something that happened 2,000 years ago but also has been the experience this past year for us here at Asian Rural Institute. We thank all of you who have supported us with your words, prayers, and financial help through this difficult year.

As many of you already know, we were hit rather hard by the earthquake that happened on March 11 of this year and continue to be affected by the radiation fallout that came in the aftermath of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster. The destruction from the earthquake, while affecting the entire campus, severely damaged our two most central buildings to the school, Koinonia House and the Main Building. Koinonia House is where fellowship, or koinonia, happens in our community as we cook, eat, worship, sing, dance, and converse with one another about life. The Main Building has held our offices, library, and classrooms since the inception of ARI. Both of these became very unstable after the earthquake, and quickly we realized that one floor of Koinonia would no longer be usable.  The Main building also became increasingly dangerous, so much so that we were recommended to rebuild as soon as possible as the aftershocks would further weaken both buildings. Cracks, falling ceilings, broken glass, dangerous walls were found in those buildings and throughout the campus. Yet in contrast to the chaos around us, on the evening of March 11, in the cold, without electricity or gas and with busted water pipes, we gathered to eat, sing, pray, and comfort each other and our neighbors.  Looking back, I can say that we understood the incarnation to be real, and although much had happened that day, this experience of the incarnation was the real experience of the evening.

From March until now, I must say that this has continued to be our witness. We have watched as so many people have lent their strength and time as they volunteered with us, given us their finances, and have given us their minds and hearts as they have continued to share about and pray for us. However, it was a struggle for us even to decide to continue with the training program this year. At the time we needed to make a decision, we did not know very much about how safe our structures really were nor the effects of the radioactive fallout from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. So, as we struggled and discussed about our future at the end of March, it was very difficult to make any decision because of so many unknown factors. Yet through the intervention of the Holy Spirit, we were given a vision, and soon we were able to decide to begin our training, making an extraordinary request to begin our training at the Theological Seminary for Rural Mission located in Machida, west of Tokyo.  This step would bring us the courage to go forward but also sent us into a frenzy as we continued cleanup and research in Tochigi and prepared in Machida for the incoming class of 2011, which would represent 14 countries from Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Caribbean.

Being in Machida for the first three months of the training brought many challenges as well as fresh blessings. How to communicate smoothly between campuses, the reduced area for the campus and vegetable fields, and the lack of space for livestock—all these made it necessary to be creative and flexible in the training. Yet there were fewer participants in comparison to previous years, which meant that we were able to create a close-knit community very quickly. This would prove to be another blessing as we dealt with so many unknowns throughout the year. Soon, people began to open up about their lives and their fears of not knowing enough about radiation and what effects there might be. This led both the staff and participants to study, talk, and struggle together about our future and to seek guidance for the right decision to make for our training. Through many prayers and words of encouragement I believe that God then guided us to make the decision to return to the Tochigi campus at the end of July, taking a new step in the training.

Returning to Tochigi took weeks to get used to as the community now readjusted to all of the changes around us. Because half of the staff had remained at the Tochigi campus and the other half had been in Machida with the participants, this now was a time of getting to know one another again and of learning a new daily schedule as we had many fields, livestock, and upkeep to do. It was also at this time that the reality of the situation at ARI in Tochigi became more understood by all. We knew now that while our buildings were unsafe for continual use, they would get us through the year. Learning to use more limited space also created opportunities for learning patience throughout the community. As months had passed since the disaster, we also had much more understanding about the effects of radiation on campus. We learned that we were in a low contamination area, which meant that there had been fall-out from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant accident, but it was not something that would prevent us from continuing on with our lives. We do need to take caution as we plow, plant, and harvest, but life could and would continue.

This reality also created a new opportunity for us to face the challenges in front of us. Would we ignore what was happening and wish it would go away, or would we actively work toward seeing transformation take place not only at ARI but also in the community where we live. We decided the latter, joining with local citizens in the Kibou no Toride project to measure and work at cleaning up our land and making our area literally a “fortress of hope.” In that strain, this year we have decided to take extraordinary precautions to keep contamination risks to a minimum. I believe this shows how much ARI values the mission God has given us to help create a healthy, just, and peaceful world. By “government standards,” ARI is considered a safe area for growing food–food that could be sold in any supermarket throughout Japan. Yet the commitment of ARI to fulfilling the mission that God has given us means that we believe we have a responsibility to create healthy food and a healthy environment.  This is how we are witnessing to our desire to fulfill the call God has given us. So what came to us as a challenge, we are seeking to turn into a blessing.

What has been the highlight of the year so far has been the holding of the 39th Harvest Thanksgiving Festival (HTC) this past October. HTC is an event that we have held every year since ARI was founded and is a time we set aside each year to give thanks to God for the harvest, to witness to our faith and mission, and to welcome our supporters and the surrounding community to celebrate with us the life and community of ARI. This is a busy but joyous time and, as part of the curriculum, is the largest event that the participants lead, prepare, and create during their training. Although after the earthquake, and even at the early parts of the training, we thought it would be impossible to hold this event, the grace of God gave us courage to go forward and to celebrate. Through the voices of our community we learned that this year would not only be a celebration and time of thanksgiving for the harvest. It would partly be that, but it would also be a time to proclaim the grace of God that helped us to overcome our challenges and calls us to be transformed. It would also be a time to demonstrate our thankfulness to our many supporters who have worked so hard and given so much to our community.

This year we invited Dr. Joseph Ozawa to come and give the opening address. and his words would set the stage for the rest of the weekend. He spoke to us of the good world that God had created and how that contrasts to the many difficulties and evil things around us. Yet in the middle of it, we are called to keep going to the end, knowing that God has promised to bring us through into a new and transformed future. We were to continue in our pursuit, saigo made (to the last minute). These words of encouragement gave us strength as we sang and danced, ate, and celebrated with many people. Over that weekend we could see the unity of our community, as we came together as one, choosing to fulfill the 2011 HTC theme, which is “Color the world with love, care, and harmony in difference.”

So here we are, coming to the end of another training program when 19 new graduates will be sent into the world, back to their communities, to help create the healthy, just, and peaceful world that we are called to create. While ARI continues to face challenges, we move forward, knowing what Emmanuel means that God really is with us. Understanding that, we continue to try to reach the seemingly unreachable goal of 500 million yen for reconstruction and are giving thanks as support comes in little by little. At the same time, we are patiently working, waiting, and praying that God will touch hearts to bring in the full amount so that we can be about what we have been called to do.

Finally we continue in our present daily struggle. As we train leaders for the creation of a healthy world, we at ARI continue to work for the decontamination of our soil, so that we can with confidence create healthy food for the sustenance for our communities, and through this action, give witness to the whole world of what is possible when God is with us.

アドベントとクリスマスの季節を迎えるにあったって、神様の『受肉』という約束が思い出されます。神様が私たちと共にいてくださる約束は人生の新しい道で す。新しい命の約束は、2000年前に起こっただけでは なく、今年一年の中で、アジア学院にいる私たちも体験しました。励ましの言葉や祈り、経済的な支援などで、この困難な年を支えてくだ さった皆様に心から感謝を申し上げます。

多くの方がご存知のように、3月11日の地震でアジア学院は 大変大きな被害を受けました。そして、福島第一原子力発電所からの放射能の影響もあり、それは今でも続いています。地震による壊滅的 な被害は、敷地全体に及んでいます。特に中心的な建物であるコイノニアハウスと本館の被害が一番大きなものでした。コイノニアハウス はアジア学院の共同体にとって交わりの場所です。ここは、共に料理をし、食べ、礼拝をし、歌い、踊り、互いの人生を分かち合う場所で す。

本館はアジア学院が始まったときからある建物で、職員室があり、 図書室、教室があります。この二つの建物が震災後、不安定な状態になり、コイノニアハウスの下の階は使えなくなりました。使用するの が危険な場所も増え、余震が続いたこともあって、できるだけ早く建て直した方がいいということになりました。ひびが入り、天井は落 ち、窓が割れ、この二つの建物と敷地内の他のところにも使用するのが危険な壁も見つかりました。

しかし、その大変な状況とは対照的に、その3月11日の夜は、寒くて、電気 もガスもなく、水道管は破裂した状態でしたが、その中で私たちは集まり、近所の方々とも一緒に食事をし、歌い、祈り、互いに慰めあい ました。今になると、イエス様がこの世に来られ『受肉』されたということを、その日に現実として体験したように思います。

3月から今まで、そのことはずっと続いていると思います。多くの方 がボランティアとして来られて力を貸してくださり、金銭的な援助や、アジア学院を思って祈ってくださっているのを見てきました。

建物や、福島第1原 子力発電所からの放射能の影響のこともあって、安全かどうかもわからなかったので、今年度の研修プログラム を続けるかどうか、非常に悩みました。未知なことばかりで、3月末頃に今年度の方向性を決めるのは非常に困難でした。

しかし、聖霊様の導きでビジョンが与え られ、驚くべきことに、東京都の西側の町田市にある農村伝道神学校で今年度の研修プログラムを始められることになりました。この一歩 は、私たちに前進する勇気を与え進み出しましたが、震災後のキャンパス内の片付け、放射能対策、町田での研修プログラム、アフリカ・ アジア・太平洋諸島・中米から14カ 国の学生が参加する新学期の準備などで、状況は急展開し慌ただしくなりました。

初めの3ヶ 月を町田で過ごすことで、多くのチャレンジもありました。どのようにしてうまく連絡を取り合うのか、野菜を育てるための畑の敷地も限 られていて、家畜を育てる場所もなかったので、研修内容も柔軟に変更せざるを得ませんでした。

しかし、例年に比べ研修生の人数が少な いこともあって親密になるのが早かったというのは今までにない祝福であり、今年の未知だったことの一つでもあります。 放射能というよくわからないものに対する恐れやどのように影響するのか、などを話し始めました。

職員も研修生も共にそのことを学び、話 し合い、将来のことや研修として何をするべきなのかを考えました。そして多くの祈りと励ましの言葉によって、神様の導きで、研修の新 たな一歩を踏み出すために、栃木のキャンパスに7月 末に戻ってくることができました。

栃木に戻って、また違う新しい環境にな れるためには、何週間かかかりました。町田にいる間は半分の職員が町田で研修生と共にいて、半分の職員は、畑の管理や家畜の世話等も あるため、栃木のアジア学院に残りました。そのため、研修生は新しい人々になれること、新しい一日のスケジュール、多くの畑仕事や畜 産の世話など、毎日いろいろなことがあるからです。しかしそれは普段のアジア学院の状況であると少しずつ理解し始めました。

アジア学院の建物は続けて使うことはで きませんが、今年の研修が終わるまで、限られた期間だけなら使用してもよい、と言う状態だそうです。震災以降、放射能のキャンパスに 与える影響についての知識も増えました。福島第1原 子力発電所の事故の低被害地域であるとのことです。それは、ここは生活できない場所ではないということです。植えることや収穫物にも 気をつけなければいけませんが、生活を続けることはできます。

このような現実は、新しい機会を生み出 したり、時には困難な状況に直面することもあります。その出来事を無視したり逃げたりするべきでしょうか?または、状況を変えるため に行動を起こすべきでしょうか?私たちはその後者を選びました。地域の人々と共に、『希望の砦プロジェクト』というものに参加して、 放射能の数値を測り、除染作業などをして、その地域が本当に『希望の砦』になるように働いています。

こうして、汚染被害を最低限に抑え、神 様がアジア学院に与えてくださった使命である、健全な義と平和の世界を創ることを示していると、私は信じています。

政府の基準によると、アジア学院は食物 を育てるのも安全な場所で、その食物は日本中どこのスーパーでも売ることができるほどだそうです。アジア学院は、健康な食物を作り、 健全な環境を維持する責任があることを証しし、神様に与えられた使命を果たそうとしています。目の前にあるチャレンジなことを祝福に 変えようとしています。

この一年で一番よかったのは、39回目の収穫感謝祭を10月 に祝えたことです。収穫感謝祭は、アジア学院の創立以来続けているイベントです。この時を通して、神様に収穫の感謝をし、私たちの信 仰や使命を証しし、支援してくださっている方、周りの地域の方々を歓迎し共に祝います。研修生にとっては、楽しい学びの一つでもあ り、指導し、準備し、研修の中でも一番大きなイベントです。

震災後、また研修プログラムが始まって からでも最初の頃は、今年はこのイベントができないのではないかと思っていました。しかし神様の恵みで、前進する勇気と祝う時が与え られました。そして今回は、私たちの中で多くの意見がでたこともあって、収穫に感謝して祝うだけではなく、私たちの復興のために労し てくださっている支援者の方々にも、私たちが困難を乗り越えるために助けを与えてくださる神様の恵みを分かち合うことにしました。

今年は収穫感謝祭の礼拝の説教者に、 ジョセフ・オザワ師を招きました。彼は、神様は良い世界を創られたが、私たちの周りには多くの困難と悪いことがあるように見えると言 いました。しかし私たちは最後まで前進し続けるように召されている、神様が私たちに将来を新しく創りかえる約束を与えて     く ださったことを知って、最後まであきらめずに感謝して進み続けることが大切だと語りました。この励ましの言葉は私たちに力を与え、た くさんの人々と一緒に歌って踊って食事し、祝いの時を過ごしました。共同体が一つになり、今年の選ばれたテーマでもある、『愛と思い やりと調和で色とりどりの世界に』を果たすことができたと思います。

もうすぐ今年度の研修プログラムは終わろうとしています。19人の研修生達は世界に遣わされていきます。自分の地域に戻 り、健全な義と平和の世界を創る手助けをします。アジア学院は困難な状況が続く時に、『インマヌエル』本当に神様が私たちと共にいて くださるのだということを知ることができます。それを知って、達成不可能に見える5億円という再建設資金の目標をあきらめずに、前進していま す。同時に、神様に祈り、支援してくださる方に感謝し、私たちの使命を果たすために、目標が達成できると信じています。最後に、私た ちも日々の葛藤があります。健全な世界を作るために指導者養成をしているように、アジア学院は土の除染作業を続け、自身を持って健康 な食物を作り続け、世界中に『神様が共にいてくださるときにすべてが可能』だということを証ししていきたいと思います。

Kyodan News
〒169-0051 東京都新宿区西早稲田2-3-18-31
Copyright (c) 2007-2022
The United Church of Christ in Japan