“Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
-Luke 2:7-8 (NIV)
Please find below an excerpt from our Christmas Letter that we sent to many churches and people that are supporting us!
We greet you in name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and we pray that this letter finds you filled with the light and hope of Christmas as you celebrate the birth of our Lord again this year. Here in Japan, the Asian Rural Institute has just finished the 2017 leadership training program and the campus has become much quieter and colder as we celebrate Christmas. 22 rural leaders from Africa and Asia finished this year’s program and have left us to go back home and put in to practice the many skills and mindsets involved in servant leadership and sustainable, wholistic development and agriculture that they have learned and experienced here. As we say goodbye to these wonderful friends we remember that merely 9 months ago, these people were strangers from different lands who spoke, ate, believed and looked different from ourselves. Yet now we see them as family and cry and hug as we say our goodbyes, goodbyes that are possibly final on this side of eternity.
As we come to the end of the year we celebrate many things in our ministry from 2017. At ARI, we celebrate another training year that was marked by new agricultural practices and new educational methods that brought about positive results. We were very successful with the SRI method that was practiced in the rice fields with a bountiful yield of nine tons coming out of fields that were expected to give only seven. We focused our existing class sessions and added time for self-study, research and observation on a daily basis. This practiced led to more informed reflection and deeper questioning throughout the year. We also are joyous about the Oikos Chapel Hour that we officially began this year, an idea that another missionary we work with brought forth. Although we daily listen to one another in our morning gatherings, Oikos Chapel Hour gave us a chance to also hear from people outside of our community about what God was doing and to what God was calling us. Through this time we became thankful for the many ways we are being molded as a community.
Our ministry in the greater community has also been blessed. Satomi has been busy creating more opportunities for ministry with children and youth and created deeper and new relationships with the greater community in her new role as church and community coordinator with ARI. She actively recruited new teachers and volunteers for our children’s program at Nasushiobara Church and is finding news ways to disciple them. She gathered a team to have our first youth & young adult camp this year. Working with a UM GMF (Global Mission Fellow) from the Philippines, we were successful at bringing the camp to fruition. The Gospel Choir, MINNGOS, continues to grow and touch new people and God is putting new ideas into our hearts to further this work. Her work with children in the community has been rerouted from one children’s home to supporting a support center for neglected and abused children in the area. Meeting children who walk barefoot to school and do not have running water at home is a shock for many in Japan, but is still a reality for some people. Sharing the love of Christ with them in little ways has brought much joy.
As we think on Christmas there are several things that are on our minds.
When we first came to ARI, Jonathan remembers starting to clean out the pig pens or chicken houses and learning what a feeding trough really looked like. The dirt, the saliva and sometimes other things from the animals mixed in with the feed. Thinking of this you can sense the smell and see an image of that manger where Jesus was born. It definitely is not the smell or the image of a nice and clean manger that live nativity scenes often portray. Yet this is the reality of where our Lord first laid his head.
As we think about Bethlehem, we think of a rural area. Here at ARI we have learned that there are many wonderful things about the rural areas of our world and it’s life. People know each other, time slows down and you can actually enjoy your commute from one place to another. But the reality of the many problems also become apparent. As we celebrate Christmas this year, we remember about the many difficulties that rural areas, including Bethlehem itself is going through now. The sad reality is that this is not much different from the situation Jesus was born into some 2000 years ago.
And of course there was no room at the end. When the Messiah appeared to us, no one had a place to welcome him. No one found the space to welcome a teenage girl who was in pain and about to give birth to her first child, our Lord and Savior. The sad reality is that still today, we minister in a country where some 98% of the people do not have room for Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior of their lives.
Yet this is how God chose to send the Savior of the World to us. Jesus came to one of the most marginalized in the world, whose only place was next to animals. And yet that is the beauty of Christmas. The God that we worship did not wait for us to reach up to Him but God came down to be with what seems like the most unimportant one of us. Christmas shows the reality of the gospel, that God cares so much about us, no matter who we are or what we have done and wants to be born anew in us this Christmas. No matter how dirty we are, how separated from the world we seem to be, if we would only have space for Jesus, God will come to us and save us where we are.
This is why we are here in this country at this place. We are here to share with people from some of the most marginalized parts of the world that you are not forgotten. God loves you and says you are important and because of that we love you and want to find ways to lift you up. We are here to share with the Japanese people that no matter how dark and lonely their hearts seem to be, no matter how much they waste in trying to fill themselves up with all of the conveniences and material goods around them, that God comes to them and loves them.
So we thank you and invite you again to join this mission. We are grateful for your support throughout this past year and ask you to sow a seed again in 2018 to bring the gospel to people from some 20 nations of the world. Your support will bring the bright light of hope to Japanese young people who struggle with some of the highest rates of mental illness in the world. Join us to empower bold rural leaders who train with us and return home to work for their own people in nations that are too often only characterized by what they lack and not by what they have. Give of your finances, spend time on your knees in prayer for us and those around us and consider coming to work with us, part of what God is doing on the other side of the world.
Serving the world for Christ,
Jonathan, Satomi & Yuka McCurley