FROM THE STATES: Wash., Calif. and Ala. evangelism/missions news; 'We gave birth to that church'
Today's From the States features items from:
Northwest Baptist Witness (Washington)
California Southern Baptist
The Alabama Baptist
Encounter with God spawns
multiple Wash. churches
By Sheila Allen
TACOMA, Wash. (Northwest Baptist Witness) -- A career move first brought Masaomi Takeuchi to the Northwest from his native Japan, but a life changing encounter with God redirected his career and life.
"I worked for a Japanese engineering company in 1987 and came to the United States, working in Portland," Takeuchi recounted. "The company provided me with an English tutor and he was a member of the Japanese International Baptist Church in Tigard, Ore., which was a small church. That is when I first heard of Jesus Christ and I was baptized a few months later."
Takeuchi returned to Tokyo a year later, in hopes of attending seminary and evangelizing his fellow countrymen, but after searching diligently he found no institutions to further his education. He sought advice from Mike Yokoy, pastor of Japanese International, who suggested he return to the U.S. Takeuchi quit his job and struck out on faith.
"I had savings and a couple supported me," Takeuchi said. "A church in Portland let me stay in a house they owned and my tutor let me use a car while I attended the Pacific Northwest campus of Golden Gate Seminary (now Gateway Seminary.)"
Although he sought a pastoral position in a church in Japan after seminary, with no experience, he had little success. But Japanese International was expanding their territory with a Bible study in Tacoma, with Yokoy traveling there every Monday, so Takeuchi was asked to shepherd the group. Japanese International Baptist Church of Tacoma became a formal congregation in 1993, meeting in borrowed space.
Takeuchi eventually married and had had a family as he ministered in his new hometown of Tacoma.
"Most of the people we reach are Japanese ladies in mixed-race marriages," Takeuchi said. "Some of their husbands might be Christian, but may not attend church. The husbands, many who are servicemen, are often uncomfortable coming to church, so the ministry grew slowly."
In 1996, Takeuchi started another Bible study in Bremerton, Wash., and the congregation at Kitsap Lake Baptist Church supported the ministry by providing the use of their facility. This ministry also reaches many Japanese women who attend the Bible study after their children are in school.
The Japanese Church Planting Network was formed in 2002 after Pastor Yokoy of the Tigard church received a vision from God about a network of Japanese churches and was eagerly joined by Japanese International in Tacoma and a sister church in Phoenix, Ariz. Since 2002, the network has grown to 15 congregations across the U.S.
As more people of Japanese descent located in the northern part of the Puget Sound, Takeuchi assisted with a church plant in Lynnwood until the congregation grew large enough to call their own pastor, Gordon Kaneda.
"We gave birth to that church," Takeuchi added. "We currently have two services at our church in Tacoma on Sunday morning and then drive to Bellevue in the afternoon for another small gathering of 25 people."
As the cost of property skyrocketed, the Japanese International Baptist Church in Tacoma received a gift from God -- the city issued a special use zoning permit for them to build a facility on property they owned.
"For six years we used a small house and saved money," Takeuchi said. "It is really difficult to borrow money for a small church. We spent five years completing the building and it was finished in 2011, although we still have a mortgage."
Of the 15 churches started through the Japanese network, only seven churches have pastors.
"We are always praying about who will succeed us in ministry," Takeuchi said. "We are looking for Japanese/Americans, as we need church leaders that understand both and are praying for that. We encourage our people to join two-week overseas mission trips. We need a world view and as God raises more people to go, He will increase our population in our churches."
This article appeared in the Northwest Baptist Witness (nwbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Northwest Baptist Convention. Sheila Allen is managing editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness.
Calif. church's local
project leads to new believers
By Carrie Blackaby Camp
VISALIA, Calif. (California Southern Baptist) -- Mission work does not always require a passport and boarding pass. Sierra Baptist Church in Visalia recently discovered their mission field only a parking lot away.
The church had neighbored the New Visions for Women drug addiction treatment center for years, but Mark Wilson, Sierra's bivocational senior pastor, was unsure how to build deeper relationships with the center's residents.
Not only is New Visions for Women a secular organization, but the frequent turnover of its residents made building long-term relationships challenging.
"We had a cordial relationship, but nothing that would really draw the women to come and be a part of what God is doing at (our church)," Wilson said. "We've always struggled with how we can build a bridge across the parking lot."
Wilson found an opportunity when his church hosted the California Southern Baptist Convention Tapestry Women's Conference last April.
In addition to attending worship services and breakout sessions, conference participants also typically perform local mission projects the host church helps organize.
An idea for a project struck Wilson one day as he was raking leaves in the church parking lot.
"I thought about putting together a little packet of items to give the ladies when they come (to New Visions) as a welcome bag," Wilson said.
He shared his idea with the center's staff, who agreed to distribute the welcome bags on the condition that the recipients clearly understood they were gifts from Sierra Baptist Church.
"I asked if there was an item they thought would be beneficial," Wilson continued. "They said the ladies could really use reusable sport water bottles, because they go on outings and need something to put their water in."
Wilson's research indicated that ordering water bottles bearing the church's logo would cost $300, funds the church did not have available in the budget.
"But then a gentleman who had been visiting the church on Wednesday nights said he wanted to give $300 to the church for whatever we are trying to do," Wilson said. "And I thought, 'Wow!'
"I hadn't even mentioned this need to him!"
Taking God's provision as confirmation, Wilson ordered the water bottles and secured New Testaments from the California Southern Baptist Convention to include in the welcome bags. The women attending Tapestry were encouraged to bring supplementary materials such as non-perishable snacks and lotion.
During the two-day Tapestry Conference, participants took turns assembling 150 bags and writing personalized notes of encouragement to include with each one.
As soon as the conference ended, Wilson began taking the welcome bags across the parking lot.
"I started noticing the women as they walked in front of the church, sometimes they'd be carrying the water bottles," he said. "So I knew they were getting the bags."
To Wilson's delight, some of the women from New Visions started slipping into the church for worship services.
"Sometimes we'd have 10-15 women there from next door," Wilson said. "So that was exciting to see! They had a genuine spirit of worship."
Wilson has seen God work powerfully in the lives of some of the women since they started attending the church.
"A couple weeks ago it was really a blessing because two women before the service even began came to me and said, 'Pastor Mark, we really want to be baptized,'" Wilson recounted.
"So I talked to them about having a personal relationship with Jesus. They said they have asked Jesus to come into their life to be their Lord and Savior and they really wanted to be baptized."
On Feb. 5, Wilson had the honor of seeing pure joy on their faces as they publicly proclaimed their faith in Jesus Christ through baptism.
"This is just a neat initial fruit of (this ministry)," Wilson said. "I look forward to seeing more fruit in the future."
This article appeared in the California Southern Baptist, newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention (csbc.com). Carrie Blackaby Camp is a correspondent for the California Southern Baptist.
Ala. church wants people
to see 'beauty in diversity'
By Neisha Roberts
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- We shop in diverse places. We live in diverse neighborhoods. We work in diverse places." It's because of these circumstances that Terrence Jones, pastor of Strong Tower at Washington Park, thinks it's actually "harder for Christians to be segregated than it is to be together."
But on Sunday morning "we somehow find ourselves … in a place where everybody looks like us and lives like us," Jones said. "We kind of have to cut off all of our connections in our lives" to go to a church like that.
That's why the Montgomery-area church Jones helped plant was founded on the fact that the blood of Christ on the cross tore down the dividing walls of hostility (see Eph. 2:11–12). From the beginning, Strong Tower leadership didn't "see 'multicultural' as a thing to be manufactured but saw it as an outworking of what Jesus did on the cross," Jones said. "It takes the pressure off of trying to engineer it. We wholeheartedly believe that Christ died for a group of people to be family -- from every tribe, tongue and nation."
Strong Tower, which was voted into the Montgomery Baptist Association in 2015, now sees about 150 gather every Sunday morning with about 45 percent African-American, 45 percent white and 10 percent Latino.
However, to be multicultural does take intentionality, Jones said. The team that planted Strong Tower was diverse at every level, which then funneled into the congregation, he said.
The music and culture of worship also has to be inclusive, Jones said.
"You cannot say you want to be multicultural and all your music is white or all your music is black. We intentionally sing hymns, gospel and contemporary because we want people to feel that there's beauty in diversity. There's something beautiful from every culture."
But being multicultural is not the only "unique" thing about Strong Tower.
Washington Park, an area just south of the intersection of Interstates 65 and 85, is unique in that the neighborhood itself is considered 70 percent unreached, according to Jones. Its residents see a median income of $10,000 and 39 percent of residents over age 18 do not have a high school diploma.
"All those things can create an atmosphere of chaos and a different culture of how they deal with problems," said Jones, noting that problems are often addressed through violence and drugs to "cope with the hopelessness."
A man was murdered in Washington Park the very weekend that Jones and his wife were on their first vision trip there. They'd traveled from California to see if Washington Park was where God was leading.
"As we were praying about what to do we realized, 'Why would we not come here to help? There is such a huge need,'" Jones said. Soon after that trip Jones and his wife and five children moved to Washington Park.
That was five years ago.
Growing from 25 to 150, Strong Tower has seen an explosion of growth in the last 18 months. And it's not because the church building is aesthetically pleasing, Jones said. Strong Tower meets in a partially finished gym owned by the ministry Common Ground Montgomery.
"We don't have a fancy building but we do preach the Bible."
In November 2016, nine people were baptized at Strong Tower and since then there have been two or three new believers trusting in their Savior every month, Jones said.
Making outreach a priority
When it comes to missions, Strong Tower makes outreach a priority. Members of the church have taken three missions trips to Thailand as well as serving in Africa, Haiti, Ecuador, New York and Clarkston, Ga.
Locally the church has what they call "missional communities" -- small group Bible studies held in a member's home. Sunday School classes also started in early March.
On April 29 the church will host a free medical clinic with a North American Mission Board mobile clinic offering several health screenings onsite.
"We're always trying to figure out ways to serve our community. I think people appreciate the church because we're very active."
State missionary Lamar Duke, who works closely with church planters for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), said, "It's pretty exciting to watch what God is doing in a community that needed the Lord."
Duke, who has visited Strong Tower a few times, described the church service as a "heavenly experience."
"In Revelations it talks about every tribe, tongue and nation so Strong Tower is kind of like heaven practice," said Duke, noting that the way Jones leads the congregation is exemplary.
"He has a lot of people doing a lot of different things and lets others take ownership and responsibility for their acts of service."
'A great leader'
Jones, who went through SBOM's church planting assessment process, three-day church planting boot camp and coaching for a year, is "a great leader," Duke said. And all SBOM resources made available to church planters like Jones are made possible "by gifts from Alabama Baptists through the Cooperative Program."
As Jones and church leadership look to the future, they see loads of possibilities and have a robust five-year plan in place for Strong Tower that includes:
-- Building a multipurpose facility on 13 acres of land they purchased (with help from an SBOM grant).
-- Hosting an extension site of a job-training program already in place at First Baptist Church, Montgomery.
-- Beginning an after-school program to reach the 2,000 kids in a three-mile radius around the property.
-- Planting a church.
Jones said, "We see the budding in all of these things. Someone in our church has already said they want to be a church planter."
So what has produced all this growth and progress at Strong Tower, the first church Jones has ever served as pastor?
That's simple, Jones said. "I think the Lord is just blessing it ... and has His hand on it."
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Neisha Roberts is a writer for The Alabama Baptist.
EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board's call to embrace the world's unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board's call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.