Ministry Story – A Call to be Peacemakers and to Seek Justice, First Baptist Church, McMinnville, Oregon
Transformed by the Spirit – Ministry Story Opportunity
Isaiah 1:17 and 9:6 tells us to… Seek justice and, that a child will be born named “Prince of Peace.” Micah 6:8 reminds us that the Lord requires us to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. Jesus himself speaks in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”
First Baptist Church (FBC) McMinnville, Oregon has long been a Peace Church. Our affiliation with the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) has been for decades. In 2005 FBC hosted the Annual (BPFNA) Summer Gathering of people and churches with a heart of peace on our campus in cooperation with the American Baptist founded college, Linfield College, in McMinnville, Oregon. From 2011-2013 JoAnn and Larry Sims were commissioned by McMinnville First Baptist Church and Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America to be Peace Missionaries in Hiroshima, Japan. FBC supported the Sims’ with prayers and continued working with them on their return to continue transformational peace and justice work.
In the fall of 2013 FBC hosted 16 Peace Ambassadors from Hiroshima, Japan for one week. FBC housed the Peace Ambassadors in their homes, hosted a welcome dinner for the visitors and the community, transported them to various speaking venues at Linfield College, George Fox University, Willamette University, Portland schools, Beaverton, Oregon municipal offices, and a local Japanese school. The Peace Ambassadors spoke of experiences after the Atomic Bombing and their hope that their stories would enable a future of peace without nuclear weapons. They spoke to classes, reporters, news programs, and to the McMinnville community. Several large gatherings were hosted at FBC. The Peace Ambassadors continued their journey accompanied by JoAnn and Larry Sims. They spent a week in the Seattle area, a stop at The Hanford Site in Washington where the materials for the Nagasaki bomb was made, a visit to Camp Minidoka where Japanese Americans were interned, a week in New Mexico
visiting Los Alamos where the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic bombs were constructed, and on to Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
During early fall of 2014 McMinnville First Baptist Church again walked humbly with God to Seek Justice by sharing the stories of immigrants seeking justice through stories of the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II. The goals of the project were to bring stories of the pursuit of justice and to inform audiences about what happened to Japanese immigrants and US citizens in the 1940’s in the hope that such injustices would not be repeated today or in the future.
The ten day series of events told the story of Seeking Justice from four perspectives, 1) Three Japanese Americans who were imprisoned at Camp Minidoka, Idaho as told by Yosh Nakagawa, Herb Tsuchiya, and Lilly Kodama, 2) A Caucasian American Baptist pastor who relocated his family from Seattle, WA to Twin Falls, ID to minister to his congregation behind barbed wire as told by his son, American Baptist Rev. Brooks Andrews, 3) United States National Park Service’s (NPS) designation of Camp Minidoka as a National Historic site and a Place of Conscience as told by Carol Ash, Chief of Interpretation and Education of NPS, and 4) Latino immigrants seeking justice in today’s world as told by an immigrant lawyer and a young mother who is an undocumented Latino immigrant.
The Seeking Justice project included a reader’s theater drama, “Breaking the Silence” written by Nikki Louis whose father was interned in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The play is about three generations of Japanese Americans, from immigration through incarceration during WWII, to the post war years of activism and redress by the United States Supreme Court.
Speakers visited Linfield classes and spoke directly to students. The discussions were rich. Many students were not aware of the fate of Japanese Americans during WWII or about our government’s response of redress by the Supreme Court and the current actions to make Camp Minidoka a National Historic site and a Place of Conscience. Willamette University hosted a panel in Salem, Oregon called “Stories of Survival, Minidoka” as part of the Seeking Justice Project. The attendance over the ten days of the entire “Seeking Justice Project” exceeded 750.
The transforming Spirit of God was present at each event or activity. At the internee panel presentation, a gentleman stood and gratefully told how the internees had saved the crops in southern Idaho by volunteering to work the fields in the absence of farm workers drafted into the military. At the “Stories of Survival” event a gentleman spoke of the guilt his father carried his entire adult life when he realized he was building the tarpaper shacks for the internees to live in. He donated his father’s letters to Ms. Carol Ash of the National Park Service. Following the drama presentation of “Breaking the Silence” the audience stood applauding, tears in their eyes. At the close of the sermon by Rev. Andrews the congregation applauded. Another memorable moment occurred when the Latino panelist realized that the Japanese experience was similar to her own story in seeking new opportunities and justice in our community. She suddenly felt she was not alone. She embraced the internee with tears streaming down her cheeks.
Seek Justice, Walk Humbly with God and the Prince of Peace. The lives of many people have been transformed by providing opportunities for people to learn of injustice and then walking with those people in love and support so they could tell their story. The Call to be Peacemakers and Seek Justice is strong at FBC. That power comes from God’s loving spirit moving among the congregation at FBC.