ST. LOUIS – The Lord is making connections to draw people from around the world to Christ, according to Tim Cowin, lead pastor of The Rock Church of St. Louis.
“We have a culture based on Ephesians 6,” he said, “We want to equip the saints. When those come from different ethnic backgrounds, we embrace them with hearts passionate for ministry.”
The mid-city, four-campus congregation at the Rock Church has seen many internationals come and go through the years. “We’ve had active internationals from many countries,” Cowin said. “We’ve had members from Indonesia, Kenya and Uganda among others.”
Now, Yoshi Ubukata, pastor of the Japanese International Harvest Church, shares the facilities on Manchester Road. “We’ve been meeting at The Rock since February, 2007,” Yoshi said. “We moved here from Portland, Ore. My wife, Hye Yeon, and I came to begin a Japanese church. Our personal interest was New York because we had lived in Tokyo and we thought our big city experience would be important. But, God confirmed to both of us that we should come to St Louis.”
Yoshi and Hye Yeon towed all their possessions from Portland to St. Louis with two daughters (another was born in St. Louis). When they arrived in St. Louis, they began to visit churches looking for a sponsor.
“We visited The Rock,” Yoshi said, “and I told Tim why we were in St. Louis. He invited us to lunch so we could talk and he immediately said we could use the building.”
Yoshi’s heart for his congregation is evident as he talks about the people. “The greatest opportunity is also the biggest challenge,” he said. “Many come to St. Louis and to the church, but only for a short period. They are here usually from one to three years and then go back to Japan.”
According to Yoshi, Japanese companies send employees for a few years. Also, many students come, as well as medical doctors at Washington University. Many of those who come are not Christians when they first attend the church.
“Almost all who accept Christ go back to Japan,” Yoshi said. “God’s Kingdom expands and it is our mission to equip them before they go back.”
Yoshi said 80 percent of the Christians who return to Japan stop attending church within three years. “When you come to Christ in America,” he said, “there is a lot of support. But, in Japan, less than one percent is Christian, and you don’t have Christian friends. One of the keys is to attend a Japanese church in America before going back because it helps with the adjustment. Our mission is to help them grow their faith so that it will stay growing.”
One of the primary activities the Japanese church uses for strengthening the members is a Sunday lunch three weeks a month. “It is a great opportunity for fellowship,” Yoshi said. “We can invite many and we get to know each other. These meals are also a part of the Asian culture.”
Hye Yeon cooks the main dish for all of the meals, and she has three teams that rotate the other sides during the month.
The church uses several other activities to reach people. “We are targeting students and new families,” Yoshi said. “This fall, we had a rafting event for the students. We also reach out to seniors and we’ve helped trim trees and move furniture.”
The congregation also serves once a month at a homeless shelter by serving food and leading a chapel time in English.
“As a church we want to reach the Japanese,” Yoshi said, “but we want to reach other people groups too. International in the church’s name is intentional.”