Missionary Excited to Begin Three More Years at Asian Rural Institute
By Sandra Brands
Jonathan McCurley was halfway through his first term as a Global Ministries missionary assigned to the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) in Nasushiobara when the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan.
ARI facilities were damaged, but the institute’s doors remained opened as staff members were called on to help people fleeing the meltdown of four reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant 60 miles away.
Though they could have evacuated, McCurley and his wife, Satomi, remained because, “we knew that this is where God wanted us to be.”
That clarity of calling is foundational to McCurley’s reasons for being a Global Ministries missionary.
A candidate for ordination in the Florida Conference, McCurley had taken three mission trips when he was younger—to the United States, England, and Mexico. “During those times, I felt a calling to continue that type of work and on two occasions went forward for prayer, committing my life to be involved in mission in some way.
“Finally, before my junior year in college, which I spent abroad, I had lunch with my home church pastor,” he said. “He asked me why I was going abroad and what did I think God wanted me to learn from this. He asked me if I had ever considered missions.
“That stuck with me,” McCurley said, adding that he felt that God had showed him people in pain and need as a way to open his heart to mission work and to learn from people from different cultures and countries.
That desire followed him through college, the two years he spent teaching English in Japan, and three years of seminary. The call seemed to solidify for him when, just before he graduated from seminary in 2008, “God literally sent a missionary to my school who got the ball rolling for me to be called and sent out as a missionary by Global Ministries in 2009.”
That love of other cultures and willingness to share and learn from others serves him well in his ministry. As Community Life Coordinator for the institute and its training program, McCurley is charged with building relationships with members of the community, coordinating community events, and welcoming visitors and volunteers to the Institute.
Each spring, he greets new students, called participants, with welcome kits. The kits contain work boots, gloves, things for their dorm, introductions to the on-campus thrift store, and other items. Through the kits, he said, he gets to know the participants and their needs.
“One lady who came this year had never worn socks,” he said. “Through teaching her about those, I was able to learn more about her, and our relationship built from there.”
Opportunities to talk with people and get to know them happen almost every day during meals at the school cafeteria, he said. “I also accompany people to the hospital and churches. Through these times, we get to know not only their physical hurts but what’s going on in their lives and how God is working there.”
These relationships give McCurley a chance to talk to others about Christ.
Japan is a largely secular country with a relatively small population of Christians. “What this means is that Christians are relatively unknown,” he said, though Christianity has influenced Japanese culture through medicine, education, and holidays.
“So when people meet me, many times they don’t really understand what I do or who I am. If I am sharing about something like music or agriculture or international communication and share the philosophy or meaning behind it, then they are usually open and accepting of my being a Christian missionary and the Jesus that I talk about.”
That’s what happened when McCurley launched a gospel music ministry at ARI, attracting 15 to 20 Japanese members, half of whom are not Christian. “But they enjoy the music and through the music and the history of gospel music they are open and willing to learn about Christianity.
“ARI is also a Christian-based ministry,” he said. “People want to know more about our philosophy and reason for being because of our work. Through that they are open and willing to learn about Jesus and his church."
McCurley is beginning his second three-year term at the ecumenical ARI, and will continue as the Community Life Coordinator. He appreciates the extension to his ministry.
“Working at ARI these past few years has been a blessing,” he said. “ARI has opened our eyes to a new way of living,” he said. “Caring deeply about the earth has much to do with caring deeply about our own selves, peace, and the betterment of the world. It is definitely part of what the kingdom of God looks like--living together with each other and nature in a peaceful manner,” he said.
Since the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Japan, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has provided financial resources to ARI to support rebuilding of parts of the damaged ARI campus; enable two Haitian agronomists to participate in ARI studies; and underwrite ARI efforts to monitor and remedy nuclear contamination of soil, water, and local food.
Founded in 1973, the Asian Rural Institute is an ecumenical ministry rooted in the love of Jesus Christ. Its mission is to train rural leaders for lives of sharing and work in communities, primarily in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific region. The institute emphasizes sustainable agriculture, sound ecological practices, and leadership and community development. Since 1973, ARI has trained over 1,000 women and men from more than 50 countries throughout Asia and Africa.
Read more about McCurley and follow his blog. Learn more about becoming an In Mission Together partner and the work of the Asian Rural Institute.
Photos: Jonathan McCurley making silage with farmers at ARI.(top). Community event at Asian Rural Institute (bottom). Credits: Courtesy of ARI.