Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter from the Land of the Rising Son

Lots of news to report on this Holy Day:

First on the agenda--the Lord is risen. We woke up this morning to greet the risen Son with the rising sun. The bad news: So three days have passed since we've seen the sun. You would think that on this third day, it would rise and reveal itself to the world as per scripture but it has not. It has remained hidden in thick cloud caves. But the Good News is that the Son has risen, risen indeed. Kikoten!

That's right, we greeted this cloudy Easter day at sunrise with the rest of the ARI community. Which brings me to the next item on the agenda--the participants are here! This is actually the first item in sequential order, so let's go there.

Welcome Committee!
Two rounds of participants arrived on Monday! And on Tuesday, I (Jenny) actually drove to the airport with Hiromi (staff) to pick up another round! This experience was really unique for two main reasons: 1) I drove outside of my semi-comfortable comfort zone that is Nishinasuno, Japan, reaching speeds upwards of 80kmph (~50mph). Ok, so that doesn't sound very fast. But on Japan's narrow windy roads, it's super kowai. 2) I held a sign at the arrival terminal, waiting on people I had never met before. For the first arrival, my heart was beating so fast and heavy I thought I could see my pullover collar quake with every beat. Wow, I wonder how the participant felt. Patricia (Uganda) seemed calm enough when she walked my way. We both looked at each other and thought, is this the right person? And then we both smiled and knew we were right to find each other. We are about 1 year apart in age, she noted that I am her "sister." :)

We made our way to the next terminal to greet three other participants, all from Malawi. We had an interesting time meeting up with each other, and when we finally did, we were all happy to be able to get to the warm car and continue our journey home. Luckily, Hiromi took the late shift and the rest of us drifted from introductions and comparisons to car-ride dreaming. You know, the kind where you never know how long you were actually asleep and you constantly wake up from your head nodding too far down or from hitting a bumpity-bump or something. Yeah, we did that for four hours and finally drove up the familiar hill to the ARI campus. I felt really proud to pick up some of the participants, like picking up distant relatives who you know are family but that doesn't mean you actually know them, but you realize you love them anyway within 5 minutes of meeting them. Participants continued to trickle in throughout the week. By Thursday evening, 30 of the 31 had arrived.

Much of the Lenten season has passed without much ado here at ARI. Especially the beginning with Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, this was rather disappointing. Our ARI community was small and we were deep in preparations for the participants' arrival and the exchanging of staff and volunteers. And I think many of the Christian denominations represented here don't place as much emphasis on the Lenten experience as the Episcopal tradition that we are used to. So besides eating Girl Scout cookies, we haven't been so in tune with the season. But Holy Week and Easter have certainly been unique and exciting.

Doug and I volunteered to organize a Maundy Thursday foot-washing service. Because this is my favorite (also my sister's favorite) worship service of the whole year, we decided to use the Maundy Thursday liturgy from our Book of Common Prayer (BCP) to make it feel more like home. For many people, this was the first time to ever participate in a foot-washing, and we had a lot of great feed-back from people. This was also the first night that we were together (minus 1 Japanese participant who arrived Saturday) so it was really special to engage in such an intimate act of servitude and love. Here are a few pictures from Fuji (ARI staff member).

Cembel from Myanmar sharing her reflection

Friday night we had a Good Friday service. Kelly and Ban-san organized an experience of Jesus' 7 last words in which we walked around outside to different stations where a participant had prepared a short reflection. Afterwards, there was time to sit in quiet reflection, write out a prayer or concern, and nail it to a big cross. We didn't know it at the time, but this morning at the sunrise service, we had the opportunity to take down our prayer/concern and burn it in a fire. And so of course, we celebrated Easter this morning with everyone. Many of the pastors/priests/ministers were able to participate in these services and I think all of us as a whole are really grateful to have spent this Holy Week and Easter celebrations together. It was all good timing.

We had Easter eggs for breakfast that Sang Ah (new kitchen volunteer from Korea), Hatabo-san, and I made. Afterwards, we attended Nishinasuno Church with many other community members (this is where we celebrated Christmas as well). Here is an Easter photo of us for moms and dads. (Yeah, it's still cold!) 

Already lost my sun-kissed Thailand glow :( Ready for the warm Spring!
Here are a few more photos of participants from this week. 

Altogether there are 31 participants from: Brazil (1), Cameroon (1), Ecuador (1), India (3), Indonesia (3), Japan (3), Kenya (1), Malawi (3), Myanmar (4), Nepal (3), Philippines (2), Sri Lanka (1), Tanzania (2), Thailand (1), Uganda (1), and Zambia (1). 

And the last thing we want to share about this week, item 3:

Takashi and Jenny
On Saturday, we traveled with Takashi, manager of guests and visitors at ARI, to a place that is very special to him. Takashi leads a humble yet extravagant life. His strong-willed wife forced him to quit his job selling cars for Nissan (because he hated it). She believes that money is not so big an issue and we should follow our dreams. So Takashi applied to work here at ARI, and his wife has just recently opened her own natural yeast bakery. They have two kids and are currently building a simple cottage to live in. Other extravagancies in his character include his hipster hats, mad guitar skills, and ability to dance with fire.

One place that inspired Takashi to live open and free is a non-electric institute started by a Dr. Fujimura. Dr. Fujimura used to work in a lab that tested construction equipment. When his son became seriously ill due to his allergy to air-born pollutants, Dr. Fujimura decided to stop the work he was doing and seek another path. He now works to develop appropriate (low power and nearly natural) technologies for self-built homes.

Takashi gave us a tour of the campus, which displays many models of simple homes built with low energy input.

Dr. Fujimura beginning the seminar.

We also got to help build a soil-block home. This was made basically by packing soil into bags, hammering them into a solid brick shape, and stacking them to make a wall. The wall will be re-enforced with a bit of rebar and a wire mesh, but essentially it is built with the soil that was displaced to make a level ground for it on the hillside. The bottom two layers are concrete, for stability.

We had lots of fun and were inspired with many fresh ideas for the farm house we will one day build.
Starting Foundation
We weren't the only ones helping out!

There were several supervisors.

We set the first six layers and set the door frame.

Well, that's all for this Holy Week! We will continue to get to know our new community members and prepare the land for the growing season ahead. Many thanks and blessings to you all!


Doug and Jenny

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Prepare for the Beginning

Apple blossoms above the dining hall.
The first handful of participants will arrive at ARI tomorrow! It is amazing to think about; thirty people are now leaving their communities in places like Indonesia, Myanmar, Malawi, India, Uganda, and many more. They will be arriving here in a strange land surrounded by strange people. In a few short months, they will form a community that laughs, learns, cries, works, eats, and (as the ARI motto says) lives together.

Yukiko and Rachael are on their way back from Tokyo now with  the first batch of participants!
Jenny and I feel truly blessed, because we are not only witnesses to this happening, but we are a part of it as well. When we first arrived on the farm back in August, the participants had been on the farm since March. They had already grown together so much. Nishantha, Sri Lankan pastor, referred to Joelma, the young Brazilian community farmer, as his “daughter.” Marta, the Indonesian pastor/farmer, often called Lwin Lwin, the young Burmese agricultural leader, “my step son.” Yuta, the young Japanese participant, lovingly referred to Hanifa, the Liberian teacher and community worker, as “Mama.”

This year we will see this process of living together as it starts from day one. We are blessed. We are pumped. We are ready to see ARI come out of hibernation and begin the work that is outlined in the missionstatement.

In preparation for this time we have spent the week putting the campus in order, trying to make everything as user-friendly as possible. The men’s dorm is being rebuilt, so ARI rented an old unused kindergarten building that, strangely enough, is hiding at the back of our onion field. We have been turning the upstairs into a temporary men’s dormitory. Yesterday we put the finishing touches on it, wiping dust, removing stink bugs, and supplying laundry hangers. As far as impromptu housing for some twenty-plus people go, it isn’t half bad.

Yesterday, with the help of some work campers I cleared many fallen branches from the individual fields, which the participants will be able to use to grow whatever they like.

Jenny and I also did some work on our personal field. We invited Nishi to work with us too which was great. Jenny says that Nishi misses the farm work because she is in the kitchen all the time.

Since the warm weather and longer sunshine came around, our wheat has hit a growth spurt! We followed the farm’s practice for the wheat and tilled the earth between our rows. This cuts back the weeds that are starting and allows more oxygen into the soil. It is potato planting season. So we tried to make use of a few of the diseased looking potatoes that the farm is not going to use. Nishi also brought some from the kitchen that have already started to sprout. We planted these in between our wheat.

The purple and yellow growths that develop when you keep potatoes too long are the new buds. So we cut our potatoes apart, being sure to have a bud on each slice, and then pop them in the ground. Hopefully when they sprout, they’ll play nice with our wheat. This is an experiment in companion cropping! If it goes well, we’ll have potatoes, garlic, and wheat to eat! If it doesn’t fly, we’ll have learned a few good lessons.

As is the ARI life, some people are arriving, some are leaving, and maybe one person is doing both!

Thursday night we went to a farm party to say "goodbye" to Gussan and "hello" to Sam, the new Teaching Assistant from Myanmar who will be working with crops and vegetables. Uncle Timo (Ghana) made corn fufu and chicken peanut stew. Most wouldn't believe Uncle Timo was cooking chicken in the kitchen without proof, so here's our proof:

In addition, we enjoyed Ban-san's Korean pancakes and Jil-san's fried fish.

Gussan lives a simple life. He does not like to waste anything. On principle he doesn't wear underwear. So as a good joke we got him a fresh pair and we all signed them. He was very shocked.
Gussan's gift of underpants.
On Friday night we had a farewell party for our departing staff, Steven and Gussan. We all gathered at the director’s house where we feasted and heard a few parting words. We laughed and cried and hoped for the future, all in all, feeling like a big family.

Steven eating bees!

Luckily, someone will be returning soon. The long term volunteer who just left last week, Sakura, will be returning to ARI next week as one of the Japanese participants in the program! We are really excited about Sakura returning to the ARI community and her opportunity to learn even more about organic agriculture and servant leadership through the training program curriculum.

Saturday night we had a Gambaro (good luck or get pumped up) party, to get us all excited for the arrival of the new participants. We really went an extra mile to put out a decadent meal. Kathy directed the construction of twelve pizzas (including desert pizzas—chocolate and blueberry) with nearly perfect home-made crust. Nishi put her best Japanese curry in the pot. Our working visitors from the Student Christian Fellowship made soup, salad, and some berry-ful yogurt. Of course I ate way too much. Of course I don’t regret it in the least.


We have been receiving lots of Girl Scout cookies lately. We've even shared a few boxes. Thanks to everyone who has sent us goodies, thank you for supporting the Girl Scouts of America, and thanks to the Girl Scouts for selling such wonderful treats.

Now if only we could get someone to send us some rain, we’d be good to go. It is a dry spring so far. I don’t want to jinx us but today looks promising.

May peace, fair weather, and good pizza find you all,

Doug and Jenny Knight

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Thai-me Well Spent

I begin this blog post waiting in the Chiang Mai International Airport for our flight back to Narita, which spoken in Thai English can sound like “Florida.” No, our final destination is not Florida, but Florida was where we just about started this journey. :)

Step 1: Make dough
But this particular journey to Thailand started last Saturday night. We had spent the day at Nasu Mountain enjoying fellowship with local high school students. We made udon noodles and went snow-shoe hiking! To our great joy but temporary disappointment, the snow was just about melted, but we adventured through it anyway. After the event, Doug and I headed to Tokyo where we stayed with friends, Eric and Tauna, to catch an early bus to the airport Sunday morning.

Step 2: Stomp on dough 
Step 3: Roll out dough
Step 4: Cut dough into noodles
Step 5: Shake out the noodles
Step 6: Boil noodles
Step 7: Find a tasty stew and eat it with your noodles


After just about 12 hours of bus, waiting, plane, waiting, plane, taxi, we made it to our lodging, The Juniper Tree, Chiang Mai, Thailand. This is a retreat center specially designed for Christian missionaries serving in the Asia area. They have a lovely facility with ranging room/house sizes and provide three meals a day, of which everyone sits down and enjoys together.


Our first full day was devoted to resting and exploring The Juniper Tree. Which meant we spent pretty much the whole day lounging by the pool, reading and soaking up our old friend, Vitamin D. That night we walked to the “night bazaar,” a rather busy strip closer to town that hosts vendors and many tourists and their souvenir desires. We gently partook.


This was our big day, our elephant adventure day. I can't visit a country famed for elephants and not take advantage of the many elephant interactions opportunities they offer. So after breakfast, we loaded up in a 4WD SUV with two other couples and made our way into the jungle. There, Asian elephants patiently waiting for their banana treats that we were soon to give to them. The pictures are more interesting than my words, so I will let them speak for themselves. All in all, we fed the elephants, learned a few commands to direct them while riding, ate a delicious lunch, rode the elephants through jungle, and bathed them in the river. It was all pretty elephunky.

kiss kiss

scrub a dub dub!

Jungle Boogie

This day was pretty much identical to Monday: Pool lounging—reading and soaking up the sun.


This day was pretty much identical to Wednesday: Pool lounging—reading and soaking up the sun. We did mix things up a little bit by playing HORSE and ELEPHANT on the b-ball court.

Doug showing off for the camera ;)
That night we decided to build a fort (which Doug calls a “tent”) in the next bedroom. (Our “house” was two bedrooms and a joint bathroom) What do you think, is this a fort or a tent? We held down our tentfort by watching episodes of “House” we rented from the office and then looking at “our friendship” on facebook. Old pictures are a hoot n' a half!


Besides our morning walk through the city, this day was pretty much identical to Thursday: Pool lounging—reading and soaking up the sun.

Chiang Mai lights, a bit different from Tokyo lights :)
Friday night we went to the night bazaar. Kelly, from ARI, and her fellow Methodist missionary friends (2 serving in Hong Kong, 1 serving in the Philippines) came out with us. We went to a Babylonian restaurant where we enjoyed the most divine hummus, baba gonoush, yogurt, naan, etc. Oishi.

Laura (Philippines), Kelly, Katie (Hong Kong), Beth (Hong Kong), Doug


On our final morning we did not get the luxury of sleeping in because we decided to go to a local organic market. Kelly had heard about this market through some ARI people she had met up with in Thailand, so we all went to check it out. The organizer of the market is a former ARI graduate. We were really happy to see the market so busy and it was incredibly interesting to see what all the farmers had to offer. We picked up some tea for our ARI community and sampled some bananas!

First come, first serve at the butcher stand!


We reclaimed our loss of sleep with a nap before lunch. And of course, with only 2 hours to spare between lunch and our taxi to the airport, we did nothing short of lounging by the pool.

And now here we are, about an hour from boarding our plane. I think we have a bit more colors to our cheeks, that is not attributed to frost bite, and we are incredibly refreshed and renewed.

We are so glad we decided to take this vacation. After the long winter we feel this trip was just what we needed. We usually are not content to just sit around and do “nothing,” but the fact that we were happy just sitting around really says a lot about where we were mentally. However, we are definitely ready to get back to our ARI family and back to work.

We are quickly approaching the next chapter of our ARI life, participants will begin arriving a week from Monday! Please especially hold them in your prayers as they collect all their papers and begin saying 'goodbye' to their families and communities for 9 months. Thank you for all your continued support and prayers, sending love to you all from Thailand,

Doug and Jenny

PS. Here are more Thailand pictures for your viewing pleasure

Our house at The Juniper Tree