Japanese church planter tastes success
Ubukata builds on previous attempts
in new St. Louis work
ST. LOUIS—After about 15 years of tilling and watering the soil of Japanese-American ministry on the eastern side of the state, fruit is starting to emerge in the preaching and teaching of Yoshinori “Yoshi” Ubukata.
Ubukata, who turned 35 on July 7, has planted what many hope will turn out to be the first established Japanese-American church in the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). His congregation in St. Louis is standing on the shoulders of about three others that have come and gone since the early 1990s along the Cape Girardeau-Perryville-St. Louis corridor, according to MBC Multicultural Church Planting Strategist Mauricio Vargas.
“I think we are building a church based on what they have been sowing and praying for years,” Ubukata said. “We also want to plant more Japanese churches as we grow.”
Ubukata came to St. Louis by means of Portland, Ore., and the Southern Baptist-oriented Japanese Church Planting Network. A church of some 20-30 people has been operating out of sponsoring congregation Rock Hill Baptist Church, St. Louis, since January. On June 6, Rock Hill Pastor Tim Cowin helped ordain Ubukata along with representatives of the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association and Vargas, who is excited about what the Lord is doing through the founding pastor.
“He has a beautiful core group,” Vargas said. “It is really hard to get a core group in Japanese and he already has some young men.”
The heart of that core group, Ubukata said, is made up of Japanese women, many of whom have American husbands. The Japanese women in the church tend to be believers.
“Most of the American husbands are unchurched or non-believers, so we are also trying to reach them, too,” he said.
Vargas has been amazed at how quickly Ubukata has moved, in the Spirit of the Lord, since last November to plant the church. That’s when the Japanese church planter called him to say that God was leading him to move his family. Consistent visitation of Japanese-American families has been the key to the church’s success, Vargas said.
“Yoshi’s self-motivated, Yoshi’s a disciplined guy, so real quick, in January when I met with him, he told me, ‘We already have a prospect for home Bible studies and for a meeting at Rock Hill,’” Vargas said.
“I think that he’s a solid guy. He’s grounded scripturally, and he’s grounded in what he wants to do. So when they are like that, it’s easy for them to relate to a lot of the people.”
MBC Church Planting Strategist Ben Hess has also worked with Ubukata and calls him “a fine Christian gentleman.” Hess talked about the difficulty involved in starting a Japanese church in light of previous attempts by Missouri Baptist planters.
“In Cape Girardeau, we had a people group but we had no man who was called to them,” Hess said. “Church planting rises and falls on that man, that leadership.”
“Unfortunately the Japanese in Cape are all related to the university, which means that they come for 10 months and then they leave,” Vargas said. “Some of them are staying but most of them take off.”
Another unsuccessful attempt was made in Perryville when a church planting pastor was willing to drive up from Memphis, Tenn., to help grow a congregation. That plant ultimately failed when the pastor moved away, but another bid was made in 2005 that resulted in some excellent survey work.
“He helped us because he gave us names, addresses and a list of about 2,000 Japanese companies, restaurants and families,” Vargas said.
Ubukata senses that he is benefiting from all of that labor.