Japanese church in Tigard launches ministries nationwide

By Sheila Allen
NW Baptist Witness Newsletter

TIGARD, Ore. —As a pastor in Japan with three young sons, Mike Yokoy made his way to Tigard, Ore., as a missionary to the United States 20 years ago, where he assumed the pastorate of a fledgling congregation of 15 people.  Today, Japanese International Baptist Church has reached beyond its ethnic origins and has truly become international in its scope, with church members touching the world by loving all they come in contact with, regardless of their cultural background.

“It is a unique thing God is doing,” said Kenji Yokoy, pastor of the Japanese International Baptist Church English congregation and son of Mike Yokoy. “We are getting people we would never have imagined reaching. People from prison, those who have been addicted, they stay because there is love here.”

Life groups, Japanese International’s discipleship format, meet all over the city and are primarily grouped by affinities. One such group comprises those who have dealt with drug and alcohol abuse in their past.  “I am a convicted felon,” said Sid Crawford, a Japanese International member. “A man I worked with in Prison Fellowship got my attention. He always told me to find a church when I got out of jail and he helped me find a job with a Christian roofing company.”

A domino effect began to take place when Crawford’s girlfriend, Toya Meyer, met Cliff Bailey while living in a clean and sober house, and the pair was encouraged to give the church a chance.  “I came here one year ago and was baptized in March,” Crawford said. “You cannot come to this church and not feel the love of Christ. I am at peace and there is no drama in my life.”  Crawford now assists with a weekly food ministry, is a greeter, hosts the weekly discipleship group for former addicts and has become a general handyman around the church’s facilities.

Japanese International is making tangible differences for those who are dealing with difficult financial times. They have a weekly arrangement with Trader Joe’s, a high-end supermarket, to receive closely-dated food items, and each Sunday afternoon 20 members sort and deliver a bag of high quality food to 40 homes that are in need.

Members can also be found delivering food and clothing to homeless individuals living under bridges in the Portland, Ore., metro area.  “We have found that many we reach out to there know scripture better than those going out,” Yokoy said. “We recently were able to deliver 4,000 pounds of clothing we had collected to the Portland Rescue Mission.”

These efforts give members the opportunity to apply principles they are learning in their life groups. A team was also sent to assist with disaster relief efforts in Louisiana for hurricane-related needs and a mission team goes to Japan two to three times a year.  “There are more Japanese being saved in the United States than Japan and we want to do what we can to change that,” Yokoy said.

The church has taken the Great Commission literally by helping launch nearly a dozen Japanese churches in the Northwest and across the United States and would like to birth a congregation in Japan. In the process, the congregation continues becoming more diverse. While a weekly service continues with Japanese as the primary language, a second English-speaking congregation meets that draws second and third generation Japanese as well as Caucasians, Chinese and Koreans.

“Our congregation is becoming so diversified,” Yokoy said. “We are always trying to figure out where the Lord is leading, as we don’t want to go forward on our own strength. While our church is transitioning into a medium-sized church, we have maintained Godly people that were here from the beginning.”

The care church members have for one another was evident during a recent family Christmas celebration, where life groups presented skits and songs, often in languages they did not understand. Families who have a child in a preschool operated out of the church were invited to watch their children participate.

The church has grown from a Japanese-only congregation, then a church of second and third generation Japanese, and are now in its third phase of two congregations working side by side. They maintain their unity with joint worship services held each quarter. They also join together for weekly meals that follow Sunday services.  “God calls us as Christians to embody theology,” Yokoy said. “Live out your faith and people begin to transform.”

That is evidenced by lives being changed. The church prayed for two years for leaders to guide the youth group, and those prayers were answered when Candace and Aaron Koller joined the church. The Kollers were missionaries in Japan for three years, and understand the nature of the shy students they work with.

“We are bringing them out of their comfort zone,” Aaron Koller said. “But God is transforming us more than them. It is not automatic for us to follow after Christ,” said the leaders who plugged into a life group immediately after coming to Japanese International, and began looking for a way to give back.  And the cycle continues. Pam Gamache, who was invited to the church by Sid Crawford, recently accepted Christ and is preparing to be baptized.

“I moved into an apartment complex that Sid manages, and they invited me to a Bible study,” Gamache said. I realized I needed to stop fighting God. I am a recovering addict, but now I have great friends here who I can talk to and will accept me. I have invited some Muslim friends to attend my baptism. Now I am reaching out to others like they have done for me.”

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