ST. LOUIS—Yoshi Ubukata, a Japanese church planter here who is supported by the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), is living out an “on mission” lifestyle over a long distance that MBC specialists one day hope will become more common.
Ubukata through the Japanese Church Planting Network is helping to plant a new Japanese congregation in Orlando, Fla., with a group of Japanese who have been meeting for about 10 years in a Bible study. Ubukata, pastor of Japanese International Harvest Church in St. Louis, has been traveling once a month to Orlando and has seen the local body secure a sponsoring church and begin working with a Japanese mission pastor and his wife.
MBC Multicultural Church Planting Specialist Ken McCune has long envisioned an MBC where church planters and missionaries would be working more intentionally over long distances toward a church planting movement. While the DNA for this type of dreaming is beginning to make itself known, it will take actual faith steps like the one Ubukata is taking as he leaves his church of 50-60 to go offer catalytic help in Florida, or the steps Hispanic churches in Missouri may take to go plant in Hispanic populations outside of the United States, to raise the level of Great Commission obedience to the place where it ought to be.
“We’re probably going to need to do more of that in order to reach everyone,” McCune said. “My term a lot of times is it’s simple, but it’s not easy. It’s as simple as the Great Commission, and it’s Acts 1:8, but then the doing it and having people do it is the same for all of our churches. Everybody knows that’s what we need to do. Some are doing it. Many are not.”
Ubukata is doing it in part because he sees the potential for a more stable work in Orlando due to the number of Japanese citizens who tend to be permanent residents. Since launching the Japanese church in St. Louis in February 2007 at The Rock Church, he and his wife, Hyeyeon, have seen steady growth but have also battled a trend of losing church members back to their homeland.
“God has been faithful in supporting our ministry, but one of the biggest challenges is developing leadership in our church because people move in and move out,” Ubukata said. “Most of the people here don’t stay long. They go back to Japan or move out of the state. So this year we want to more intentionally focus on discipleship and multiplication – reproducing leaders and growing small groups.”
A major part of his ministry is tied to the Japanese network. He speaks of their work in Orlando in terms of how amazing it has been to see God work, and he looks forward to attending their annual conference in Portland, Ore., this June.
“I can tell it has really strengthened him and his wife,” McCune said.
Tim Cowin, lead pastor, The Rock Church, has been able to walk alongside Ubukata from the beginning. Every Tuesday they are part of a group of ministers who meet to build relationships and participate in informal training times.
“He’s just got a real evangelistic heart, and the Lord just obviously gave him a call to come here and reach the Japanese who live in this area,” Cowin said.
Cowin went on to describe the Japanese pastor as a good preacher and communicator who is disciplined and focused within a strong work ethic.
“He’s a reader and a good biblicist,” Cowin said.
McCune said Ubukata is consistent and persistent.
“He has put his hand to the plow, and he’s going to keep going,” McCune said.
He is the type of church planting pioneer that the MBC is praying will be equipped to make a difference one day in a faraway land for the advancement of the gospel. Partnership missions and church planting are intertwined that way in a manner where they would be praying for and working toward a synergy that could ultimately result in the launching of several church planting movements among indigenous people. This is Acts 1:8 in action.
ALLEN PALMERI/associate editor
“Our church planting team has always encouraged church planters and new church starts to be able to connect in missions—obviously right where they’re at but also to other places in the state, the U.S., or the world,” McCune said. “We’ve been working on some things to try to make more of those a reality. Sometimes they happen and sometimes they don’t. We want them very much to see first-hand about doing missions. We want them to do missions but also to understand and to give more through the Cooperative Program as they see that.”
Japanese works in Missouri and Florida are clearly an example of this.
“With language groups, if there are people who are coming here but perhaps returning to their country of origin, missions is being done both on a local and on an international basis right here in Missouri,” McCune said. “For instance, there are many Chinese students who are coming to the U.S., and if through our Chinese church plants some are being saved, they may be here four years maximum, but then they return back to their country. So there’s missions being done here, but then they go back with the gospel to their country.”