VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 9/18/19)—Close to 300 people were on hand Sept. 14 to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the founding of Seattle’s Japanese Baptist Church (JBC), including Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, executive director of American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS), and four additional ABHMS staff members.
“What an amazing journey is yours,” said Haggray in his remarks to the luncheon gathering at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington at Seattle’s Southport, Renton, Wash., calling three Japanese Americans who requested Bible study and English lessons during a late-1800s revival meeting at First Baptist Church, Seattle, “trailblazers.” In response, ABHMS later helped to establish the congregation, supplying pastors and leaders at ABHMS’ expense.
Citing decades of ABHMS ministry with the Japanese American congregation, Haggray said, “Your history is our history.” As part of its mission among Japanese immigrants on the U.S. West Coast, ABHMS purchased property and a building for the fledgling church in 1899, and in the earliest years of the 20th century, the Home Mission Society provided pastoral leadership and Christian education staff to the congregation.
The Women’s American Baptist Home Mission Society ministered at the Christian center—Fujin Home—through missionaries Esther McCollough and Florence Rumsey.
During World War II, when Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes to internment camps, ABHMS missionaries—McCullough and Rumsey along with May Herd Katayama and the Rev. Emery Andrews—followed members of Japanese Baptist Church to an internment camp at Minidoka, Idaho, and ministered there.
JBC member Yosh Nakagawa, a former vice president of the board of directors of American Baptist Churches USA, lived in Camp Minidoka as a child. Greeting those gathered, he said his mantra has always been “Never again in America.” Yet “today it is happening again,” he said, referring to the U.S. immigration crisis as well as treatment of Muslim Americans.
The story of Japanese Baptist Church, said Haggray, is “a story of biblical proportions.” It is a story of sojourn, a journey of faith and a story of persecution. “ABHMS is one and the same with your story. Ours has been a story of constant response to your needs, and you continue to be a dwelling in which God lives.”
Alex Zarecki, worship music director, came to JBC about five years ago at the request of a previous pastor seeking help with youth and music. “I might have overlooked a call to JBC as a young white/Euro kid from the northeast who was trying to move past his more conservative Baptist roots,” he said. But he was encouraged by his father to hear the church’s story—a story that now has become “partly my story, too.” Today Zarecki calls JBC his “chosen family,” where he finds “spiritual community, sacred refuge and guidance.”
In remarks to the congregation, he said, “Without you, my faith journey would have been deprived of the depth and texture of your narrative, one my white-washed contexts might have left me blind to.”
JBC’s senior pastor, the Rev. Samuel Kim, said everyone at the luncheon has been “changed and transformed” by the church. The church, too, he said “continues to change and evolve.” Today, JBC ministers to the homeless in Seattle and also serves people with special needs.
“We honor our past,” Kim said, “but we are committed to what God has in store for us in the future. Our past opens up what God will do in our future.”
Additional ABHMS staff in attendance included Susan Gottshall, associate executive director of Communications; the Rev. Florence Li, national coordinator, Asian Ministries; the Rev. Lauren Ng, director, Leadership Empowerment; and the Rev. Dr. Christine Roush, national coordinator, Discipleship.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.