Sunday, August 26, 2012

Quiet Week on the Farm

We started the week early Monday morning by saying goodbye to our ARI participants. They are traveling for two weeks on their Rural Community Study Tour as part of their curriculum. Their absence has left a quiet yet peaceful void--creating time and space for a little inward focus and reflection. Instead of having 7 or 8 tables during meals, there might be only 2 or 3 (only one for Saturday dinner!). Even with many of its busy worker bees away on a field trip, the farm must go on. For Doug and I, that meant stepping up to the plate!

I took over most of the fish feeding duties, while Doug has temporarily adopted a pig project for Act Ka Hti, a participant from Myanmar. The added responsibilities have kept us both on our toes and made us even more aware how important every person's contribution is to the life of the farm. 

Play Date

We got a break from our farm duties on Wednesday to visit a local school for children and youth with mental disabilities. We arrived about 10:00am and sang and played games for an hour, then made our own pizza, and enjoyed each others' company for the afternoon. It was a wonderful way for us to make connections and bring the Japanese culture closer to home--we could relate the experience at the school to our experience at the Robert R. Brown sessions at Camp Mitchell. Just like the campers we have grown to love over the years, the children and youth at the school are eager to play, love, and have a fun time.

Doug leading "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, (Knees and Toes!)"

Red Light, Green Light (way different from U.S. version, we didn't know what was going on!)


Doug making pizza!

Fellowship :)


After our fun day at the school, some of the volunteers and staff decided to have a relaxing evening at the "onsen" (Japanese hot springs). These pools are heated naturally via the geothermal and volcanic activity around Japan. I have been to natural hot pools before but the onsen was a little different in that males and females did not bathe together and yes, you guessed it, you bathe in the nude!

So Doug may have a different story to tell about the onsen, as we did not share this time together. I will briefly describe my experience, as a female, to you:

We walked into the locker room where women can keep their belongings, towel, hair-dryer, etc. It is here that you de-robe. Everyone takes a small towel into the bathing and spa area so that they can dry off before entering the locker room afterwards. Once inside, you are supposed to bathe before entering the pools. There is a short stool (almost like an overturned bucket) in front of each shower head, we can be removed for convenient washing). There are also bottles of shampoo, conditioner, soap, face wash, and face mask in between the shower heads for your use. The setup reminded me of old backstage theaters where there are rows of mirrors and lights for each person to use to prepare for the stage.

Once we were bathed, we could enter the pools! There were all kinds of pools, some with jets, some outside, some inside, some had small electric shocks that you could utilize to help with muscle pain etc. (I did not like those!). Of course, there were many saunas, and cold pools as well to suit any and all spa needs :)

The experience as a whole was very interesting and enlightening. I learned a lot about the Japanese culture, myself, and my body image in just the hour that I was in the spa. I am currently working on an essay describing in detail these learnings for a Japanese essay contest. Even if I do not win, I will share it with you here once I am done. Also, feel free to email us about anything you might have more questions or comments about.

(sorry, no pictures to show here!!)

English Class

Doug and I were asked to attend a local English class organized by Miki, the wife of Steven Cutting (head of ecumenical relations here at ARI). They try to have different guests attend each time who are not native to Japan, to tell a little about their hometown and give the students (young children and their parents) an opportunity to learn about different cultures and aspects of the English language. 

We very much enjoyed our evening talking with members of the local community, they were kind enough to give us Japanese lessons as well, and they were sure to distinguish between the Tochigi (prefecture we are living in) dialect and the more formal "Japanese" dialect. Coming from Arkansas, we know a lot about differences in pronunciation and word choice :)


This Saturday was a working Saturday so we worked as usual in the morning and had the afternoon off. Doug and I took our usual bike trip to Trial Mart and afterwards, we deep cleaned our bathroom and bedroom, everything gets dirty when you work on a farm!! Seeing as our 11 month anniversary just passed, we spent Saturday evening sipping wine, playing farkle, and eating chocolate!

We got up early this (Sunday) morning to go hiking with Steven and Megan (Megan is the daughter of David Copley, our boss at The Episcopal Church Center in New York, she came just a couple days before we did to volunteer for a month!). We hiked this beautiful mountain up to a "swamp," which was really more like small lake in a field ;). Afterwards, we had tea and mochi (rice paste), delicious!

A sauna in the middle of the woods, paradise!

I hope someone can read Japanese! (Are we going the right way?)

Just inchin' along (farmwork can feel this way sometimes)

Tea and mochi!

Doug and Steven cheesin'

I hope these bike rides never get old
Seeing as Megan's time here at ARI is quickly coming to an end, the volunteers decided to treat her to lunch at a local Indian food restaurant (group bike ride!). Curry all around! It was, of course, delicious. We quizzed Megan about her "biggest learning" at ARI and all shared some of our thoughts on our experience so far. Wonderful fellowship over unlimited naan, can't beat it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Just a quick update, WE HAVE REACHED OUR FUNDRAISING GOAL!!! Yes, thanks to you we have finally raised over $20,000. Words do not justify how truly grateful and humbled we are by all your love and support. We would like to bring you all to Japan and show you around the farm to show our thanks, but we'd have to do a little more fundraising.. ;)

But seriously, you guys are awesome and we love you to pieces. Thank you.

Fireworks, Waterworks, Food Works

We are coming to the end of our second full week here at ARI. At one of the morning gatherings last week, Uncle Timo (a former graduate of ARI, from Ghana, now working as staff) talked about leaving mountaintops and walking through the valley (getting out of your comfort zone). He talked about how the valley is a challenging place to be, but in that challenge there is much you can learn from the trials you go through. He said to also remember that there are those who have traveled before you and walk beside you.

Jenny and I are very much in the valley. We are trying to fit into a very work-intensive lifestyle in a community of cultural complexity and close cooperation. We are encouraged by all the participants around us that have been here for four months now, far away from their home countries. In this journey we are growing like seedlings in rich, rich soil. 

We have been busy settling into the work flow here so we have only taken pictures on special outings. So over the next couple of weeks we’ll try really hard to give you all a proper tour of the ARI facility and a few snap shots of the work we have been doing so far. But until then, we’ll share with you some events that we have really enjoyed.


One night after dinner we loaded up the bus and headed to a nearby festival, the Kurobane Matsuri (Festival at Kurobane). Jenny and some others dressed in traditional Japanese ukata. I tried a festival food favorite called okonomiyaki. Also, Katie Young, a fellow YASCer who served in a different part of Japan last year, met up with us. She will be staying in Japan for another YASC year.

Megan Copley, Katie Young, Doug Knight, Juliao, Joe


Noodle River

This Saturday was a wet one. Jenny and I rode our bikes to our favorite super market, Trial, to pick up some essentials: chocolate and an alarm clock. When we left the store it was pouring so we got soaked. Back at the farm it wasn’t raining so much but the water-works were about to begin. For lunch, a local volunteer had prepared a Nagashi Somen (flowing noodles). Basically it is a bamboo trough with a water hose at one end. Cooked noodles are placed at the top. It is like a water park for your food! We gathered with chopsticks and a cup of special sauce (soy sauce, ginger root, and green onions) and started nabbing the noodles as they flowed by. It brightened up the Saturday and filled us up with deliciousness!

Cookies for Church

Later in the day, Jenny and I helped make oatmeal raisin cookies to take to church on Sunday. It was ARI Sunday at Nishinasuno United Church of Christ in Japan. A bus-load of us from the farm went to the church to share food, fellowship, and to hear one of the participants from our community give the sermon. The Rev. Sang Bik Cem (he goes by Abik on the farm) reflected on Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” He spoke of how being obedient to God is often (almost always) a great burden, but the “yoke” of a gentle spirit and humble heart will help you bear the load. He used the example of the good Samaritan who stopped to help the man who had been robbed and beaten. It was a burden on the Samaritan to do the will of God, but through a humble spirit that was truly Christ-like, he was able to serve well and willingly.

After the service we enjoyed food and fellowship with the church; we would have taken more pictures but we were busy chomping down on the cookies that we made and the snacks and coffee provided by the congregation. Koohii wa oishi des. “The coffee is delicious!”

To finish the weekend off, we ate lunch on our porch with treasures from Trial Mart!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

And on the Seventh Day, we rested

Today is Sunday here in Japan. Since this is the 2nd weekend of the month, we worked on Saturday (2nd and 4th Saturdays are working Saturdays). But today, Sunday, we are resting. So I will restfully and relaxingly reflect on this past week.


Our very first impressions of ARI were very mysterious, as we arrived in the dark (11:00pm). Five and a half hours later, we were peacefully awoken by the morning light peaking up over the mountain ridge that sits outside our back porch. I suppose it woke the roosters up too because it is at 4:30am every morning that they begin to crow. As obnoxious as you may think that would be, it’s not. It is the sound of life on a farm!

First Day of Work!
We were told to relax our first day and not worry about doing much so that we could recover from the journey. This was pretty hard for Doug and I to do. In our minds, we had not been doing much for the past 35 hours, and we were very ready to be productive once again. But we kept ourselves busy by exploring and asking questions.

The Community

This year there are 30 participants in the ARI Rural Leaders Training Program. They are all established leaders in their communities and come from Brazil, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Japan, Liberia, Malawi, Malaysia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, The Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Uganda. In addition to the 30 participants, there are about 15 or so volunteers at the moment (including us!), mainly from the U.S. and Japan. Plus staff, there are ~60 people living/working/serving at ARI that we interact with each day.


So this past week we have been getting to know people in our community and settling into our daily schedule and work. I posted the daily schedule earlier, we follow that every week day. For the “Foodlife Work,” Doug is in the pig group and I am in the fish group. Foodlife is a term coined by the founder of ARI, Rev. Dr. Toshihiro Takami, to emphasize the idea that food and life cannot be separated. To live, one must have food, and food must live to become food to provide life, etc. So Foodlife Work (FLW) is a what we do before breakfast and dinner to sustain the cycle of Foodlife. This usually consists of feeding livestock, cleaning, working in the fields, and cooking.

For the morning and afternoon activities, Doug works on the farm (usually in the field but also includes livestock) and I work in the kitchen (prepare lunch in the morning, various activities in the afternoon). I believe the rest of the schedule is self-explanatory. But please, if you have any questions about our work, feel free to ask!

Community Event

Doug and I arrived just in time for the August “community event.” This is organized by different groups of people each month (this month it was organized by the participants) as a time to build and grow as a community. So on Thursday, we went to a park and played many field and team-building games. 
This was a wonderful way to be welcomed into the community!

Weekend Downtime

After getting back to work on Friday and Saturday morning, we were able to rest Saturday afternoon. 
We rode bikes and went down to the river with some others, barely got back in time to escape from the thunderstorm that moved in, and then rode bikes to the supermarket after dinner. 

Such a lovely day! This morning we went to a Catholic church with some of the participants. Even though we could not understand the Japanese that was spoken, we appreciated the time and space for worship and fellowship. Now we spend this Sunday afternoon cleaning our room, uploading photos, practicing our Japanese on the Rosetta Stone (arigatoh gozaimas, Patrick!), and sharing our experiences with you.

We can’t believe we’ve already been in Japan for a week. We have done so many wonderful things, learned so much, and met so many beautiful people in only a few days. Doug and I feel really blessed to be at ARI in such a welcoming, diverse, yet loving community. It is amazing to think that we get to live here for an entire year! We hope you will continue to follow us on our blog as we highlight our time here.


One quick update before we go, we heard a few days ago that we received funds ($2,000) from the Keller Grant that we applied for back in July (hooray) We also raised over $2,000 at our Sushi Sayonara, bringing our grand total up to $19,700! We are so close to reaching our goal of $20,000 and are just so humbled by all your love and support. We are forever grateful!

Fellow servants in Christ,

Doug and Jenny

P.S. We are starting a new page (tab) on our blog for miscellaneous yet fun facts we here in Japan, be on the look-out for that!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Greetings from Japan!

We have made it safely to ARI and begun working! Here is our daily schedule:

6:30 – 6:35 Morning Exercise – A time to bring the community together to start the day

6:35 – 7:00 Cleaning Chores – A time to take care of our own campus

7:00 – 8:00 Morning Foodlife Work – In order to provide ourselves, the whole community engages in daily farm chores and meal preparation. Foodlife is a term coined by founder Rev. Dr. Takami to show the interconnectedness of food and life. Through these daily activities we learn together by working together.

8:15 – 9:10 Breakfast and Break
The heart of ARI can be seen as we gather together at the table for meals. Each and every meal is a meaningful expression of our labors and our community.

9:10 – 9:40 Morning Gathering
This daily devotional time allows for ARI to reflect and share our life experiences and also provides a place for the whole community to exchange information. The leader for each morning gathering rotates so that everyone gets a chance to guide the gathering.

10:00 – 12:20 Morning Activities
Participants take part in the scheduled curriculum program, including classroom sessions, lectures and outside study opportunities. Staff, volunteers and visitors carry out their work in the office, crops and vegetables or with livestock.

12:30 – 1:50 Lunch and Break
As many people contribute to cooking, we enjoy an international variety of dishes that are made with local ingredients.

2:00 – 4:20 Afternoon Activities
Training sessions as well as the daily work of ARI is continued

5:00 – 6:00 Evening Foodlife Work
By hard work and constant effort, we produce healthy food

6:30 – 7:30 Supper
The last gathering of the day, we sit together and share our evening meal

Evening Free Time

This is a time for relaxing, singing, talking, computing, sleeping, etc. Sometimes optional events are planned.   

For the Foodlife Work, Doug will be working on the farm and Jenny will be working in the kitchen! These positions will last the whole year. As for the morning and afternoon activities, we will rotate every month between different groups like chickens, pigs, fish, crops, office, etc.

We will post more about our first impressions and reflections later in the week! Thank you to everyone for your support!

Fellow servants in Christ,

Doug and Jenny

Saturday, August 4, 2012


We spent all day yesterday preparing a meal and decorating the parish hall of St. Peter’s in Conway for a final fundraiser before we hop on the plane for Japan. The night was nothing short of spectacular. Teri Daily, Andrew Hybl, and Ed Wills prepared an agape style service to send us off in prayer, blessings, and song. Dinah Reed and Dee Sanders decked out the parish hall in a Japanese theme. Many of our family and friends helped us manage the flow of food that brought us all together. It was so great to see everyone together sharing space, food, and the love of Christ. What a wonderful way for us to say, “Sayonara.”

Our deepest thanks to everyone who made the night as special as it was. We will remember what Ed said in his homily, that in our witness we all become one in the body of Christ, the God reincarnate, an active force of love in this world. In this way we are not saying goodbye but preparing to move with you all to act as the hands of Christ. It is through your motion, your love, and your influence that our motion has been made possible. So in everything we do, we celebrate you all for being on this journey with us.

Your fellow servants in Christ,

Jenny and Doug Knight