From around the globe students past and present gathered to honor the UMCOR-supported Asia Rural Institute’s fortieth anniversary, and participated in the rice-harvest.
By David Tereshchuk *
October 1, 2013—Forty years ago United Methodists helped to create the extraordinary source of expertise and skills-sharing known as the Asian Rural Institute (ARI), based in Togichi, Japan. Today, as the Institute celebrates its anniversary, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) can justly feel proud of its steady support for the work carried out there.
For the benefit of local communities in Japan, in Asia, and even beyond, ARI’s work has been aimed at creating an environmentally healthy, just, and peaceful world. With a holistic approach rooted in the love of Jesus Christ, it nurtures and trains rural leaders for a life of sharing.
About 1,200 ARI students have graduated during the institute’s 40 years. Each one undergoes 1,760 hours of training, which embraces not only practical hands-on agricultural techniques but, also, essential communications skills for leadership and tools for individual self-discovery and personal growth.
Monday, September 16, 2013, was allotted as the day to celebrate the 40th anniversary, and, perhaps appropriately, the ceremony went ahead as planned despite typhoon winds and rain. The adverse weather seemed only to highlight ARI’s capacity for pursuing its mission in the face of severe challenges from often hostile elements, whether natural or human in origin.
The institute’s director, the Rev. Kenichi Otsu, expressed thanks to the many supporters from around the world who have walked with ARI over the past four decades and who offered great encouragement and financial assistance following Japan’s 2011 triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns.
In the wake of that disaster, international aid (including much from UMCOR) helped ARI to rebuild its own damaged facilities, and then to work hard with local communities recovering from the disaster’s effects.
ARI staff monitored radioactive radiation levels in soil, water, and in the food grown by local people; they also have provided a radiation-measuring service to which local farmers could bring their own crops, soil, and water samples. Innovative organic programs, a hallmark of ARI’s approach, have been implemented to cleanse the soil by natural means and safeguard crops in the long-term future.
UMCOR Associate General Secretary for International Development Melissa Crutchfield attended the celebration and brought greetings from UMCOR and the General Board of Global Ministries. “[I]t is truly an honor for me to be here with you this morning,” she said, “celebrating 40 years of a ministry that represents our common calling to love, empower, and encourage all God’s people, while promoting dignity, justice, and peace across the globe.”
Crutchfield said UMCOR and Global Ministries have a “particularly special relationship with ARI, starting from the very beginning. We have a ‘shared DNA,” she underscored.
On behalf of all of ARI’s ecumenical partners, Crutchfield congratulated the institute on its “growing legacy and the impact you are making all over the world.”
The occasion was not, however, only about congratulations. Typically for ARI, work was a vital part of the mix.
The anniversary day saw the opening of a two-day symposium focused on extending existing achievements and hammering out improved ways to ensure sustainable food security for communities.
Thomas Mathew, Indian graduate of 1988, and Judith Dhaka, Zambian graduate of 2001, gave keynote addresses entitled “The Transformation We Have Brought About.” Attendees brought their combined practical experiences to a conversation on how to continue to improve the ARI curriculum. Many graduates and current students then stayed on to participate in several days of workshops devoted to vital skills such as organic planting and rice-harvesting.
A gift to Asian Rural Institute, Advance #220450, will support ARI’s work to help build a sustainable future for vulnerable populations.
* David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to UMCOR.org