A blog by Cyril Nishimoto
Stan and I had the great privilege of hearing Soong-Chan Rah speak at Fuller Theological Seminary in November. Dr. Rah—Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago—served as the featured speaker for Fuller’s Missiology Lectures 2012. He gave a timely series of talks on the topic of “Tools and Theology of the Multicultural Church.”
We were particularly interested in his talks because “the multicultural church” has not only been a hot topic at seminaries like Fuller, but has also been a highly relevant subject for Japanese- and other Asian American churches that are seeing more and more non-Asian people worshipping with them and joining as members.
In the first of his three lectures--Cultural Intelligence and the Multicultural Church—Dr. Rah presented the idea that when we speak about “the multicultural church,” “cultural intelligence” must be central to the discussion. Unfortunately there is a lot of “cultural unintelligence” in churches these days.
To illustrate how “cultural unintelligence” is very present in our churches, Rah cited a book called Deadly Viper Character Assassin that used images of ninjas and kung fu martial arts as a “fun” way to present the subject matter of Christian leadership and lifestyle. It was only when Dr. Rah wrote a public letter that pointed out how offensive the images were that, for example, portrayed Asians as “sinister enemies,” that the principals involved became aware of their cultural unintelligence.
And it was when Dr. Rah along with other Asian American leaders, engaged in dialogues with the white 20-something year-old authors and the book’s publisher, Zondervan, that the publisher ended up writing a public letter of apology and pulled the book and the curriculum from its stores permanently. (Read more about the controversy here.)
Rah contends that because we are all made in the image of God, who is creative, we have a cultural mandate to reflect God’s image in creating cultures and building civilizations. He believes that the “color blind approach”—where we check our culture at the door and take on “the culture of Jesus”—must give way to, and be replaced by the “social or racial justice approach”—where we acknowledge that we come with culture, and thus can’t ignore it, but instead must honor and express it because God gave it to us.
So from what I gathered from Dr. Rah’s talk, cultural intelligence is the ability to understand a culture different from our own and to navigate competently and adeptly with that understanding through various situations where cultural differences come into play. A culturally intelligent person would be one who, on a cultural intelligence scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), for example, moves from a 3 to a 7.
And it is not something that can be learned from reading books. It is learned through relationships. For example, it can be gained through sharing meals with people whose culture one has had little contact with. Or it can be absorbed through serving under the leadership of someone whose culture is vastly different from one’s own.
The Challenge of Going Multicultural
The dialogue that Dr. Rah and other Asian American leaders had with the authors and publisher of Deadly Viper Character Assassin obviously resulted in a cultural understanding that produced a result that they were all satisfied with in the end—the complete removal of the book from circulation. But it took two sides sitting down with each other and hashing things out before any progress in cultural intelligence could be made, and an acceptable resolution could be achieved.
And this controversy points out the tremendous challenge faced by local churches that are trying to go multicultural. People must be willing to make a significant investment of time to build the kind of relationships that will bring about cultural understanding. And this is no small task for churches where there are two or three cultures present.
Dr. Rah believes that local churches should go multicultural “where possible.” It sounds great theoretically, but practically speaking, how does that work?
The Difficulty of Making Cultural Adjustments
If it’s difficult for a church with just two or three cultures present, what about a church for example, that has various Asian cultures represented—Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Filipino—as well as non-Asian cultures—white American, black American, and Hispanic? How much understanding is needed for a person to be “competent” in each of those cultures? And how do they deal with situations where people understand culturally where others are coming from but just can’t make adjustments because they’re so locked into their own cultures?
For example, Dr. Rah gave the example of people from western cultures having no qualms about talking over other people while those others are already speaking (a la “The View” or the U.S. Presidential debates), while people from eastern cultures will politely wait until the others are finished before they commence sharing their own ideas.
I imagine that even if the Asian person knows he or she can cut off the conversation of the white person without any negative repercussions, that Asian person will be hard-pressed to do it because that person would still not want to be “rude”--something hard to get over when their mother’s voice is in their heads telling them not to be rude.
And I could see how a white person may be able to restrain him- or herself from cutting off an Asian person in the interest of cultural sensitivity for a time, but I wonder how long will it last when things are just taking so long, or when it seems “fair” to do things “the American way” once in a while because one side shouldn’t always have to make all the adjustments?
Culture is ingrained and hard to change. Is the sharing of stories really going to be enough to bring about the raising of cultural intelligence that will truly make a difference?
And what about a church that has 15 different cultures, as did the church that Dr. Rah served as the founding pastor—Cambridge Community Fellowship Church in Cambridge, MA? Will people forever be learning about other people’s cultures and trying to keep them all straight? At what point will people just give up because the task is simply too difficult and overwhelming? Dr. Rah admitted that people just can’t know that many different cultures. So at best they could just try to understand each other’s cultures. But is that really enough?
According to Dr. Rah, there are really no models of successful local multicultural churches at this time. So it may be decades before we see any concrete examples of what really works well, as well as what doesn’t.
In the meantime, I believe that perhaps the challenge will be for local churches to see and acknowledge what the Lord has been doing in their churches in bringing about greater cultural awareness and sensitivity, and increasing cultural intelligence, and to move in the cultural direction the Lord seems to be taking the church.
At the AAPIs Seeking Biblical Values and Social Justice conference in October, in their workshop on “Race, Culture, and the Asian American Church,” Pastors Kevin Doi and Erin Hamilton of Epic Church presented what they’re doing to follow the Lord’s lead in going multicultural. Calling their church an “Asian American multiethnic church,” they said they had to acknowledge just what the Lord had made it—a church whose dominant culture was Asian American (and Japanese American for that matter) with a smattering of people of various other non-Asian ethnic groups.
To be consistent with that, they consciously decided to designate the founding Japanese American pastor—Kevin--as the senior pastor. This designation was actually recommended by the white American pastor—Erin. And they run the church and operate their programs with the dominant culture in mind, not trying to cater to everyone. So it seems to be working because the leaders are intentional about what they’re doing as they fall into line with what they see the Lord doing.
The Future of Outreach to People of Japanese and Asian Ancestry
When I hear the idea that there is a mandate—biblical or otherwise—that all local churches should go multicultural, I wonder what that means for the reaching of Japanese- and Asian Americans with the gospel.
Churches are already having difficulty being effective in their evangelistic outreach efforts toward people of Japanese and Asian ancestry. To be effective, there are a lot of adjustments they need to make. For example, they need to understand Japanese and Asian culture, so their cultural intelligence needs to be increased. Then with that understanding, they need to change the approach they take in their outreach efforts, such as being less direct, confrontational, individualistic, and verbal, and more indirect, non-confrontational, group-oriented and non-verbal, and in general, being more relational. And they need to build the kind of relationships of trust and transparency that allow people to see and speak into each other’s lives. It all takes time. But few are doing this, and few are effective. And the process seems strangely similar to what needs to take place so that a church can go multicultural.
If churches are spending a great deal of their time learning how to be a multicultural church—people who know the Lord, sharing their culture and their stories with others in their churches who also already know the Lord--how are they going to have the time to build meaningful relationships with people outside the church who don’t know the Lord?
And when Japanese or Asian culture is just one of many cultures within the church, how can a church reach people of Japanese or Asian ancestry when it would need to focus on doing so to be effective?
Will a multicultural mandate for local churches sound the death knell for reaching Japanese- and Asian Americans with the gospel? Perhaps it could, if we let it. But perhaps, if the Lord leads us to, we can make a focused effort to make sure that it doesn’t. Perhaps the experience of Epic Church can be instructive in showing us how we might focus on outreach and ministry to people of Japanese or Asian ancestry and still go multicultural.
May we follow the Lord’s lead as we move toward the multicultural future He envisions for us.
Please leave any comments you may have on this blog and feel free to share it with others.
The Great Buddha (Daibutsu) in Kamakura
A blog by Cyril Nishimoto
Last year in July, I attended a very interesting seminar led by Pat Zukeran, a Japanese American Christian apologetics expert who is on the staff of Probe Ministries and speaks nationally and internationally on topics related to cults, world religions, the Bible, and current issues. Based in Hawaii, he is also the host of a nationally syndicated radio show called “Evidence and Answers.” The seminar, entitled “Do All Roads or Religions Lead to God?” addressed such questions as “Do all roads lead to heaven?” “Don’t all religions teach the same thing?” and “How can I know which religion is true?” In his clear, easy-to-understand, engaging style, Pat did an excellent job of tackling a very challenging topic, and he satisfied many curious and skeptical minds.
What was most interesting to me was Pat’s response to a question that came out of the audience during the Q & A session at the end of the formal presentation. Someone asked, “What do you say when a someone you want to share your faith with says, ‘I’m Buddhist’?” Pat shared three things he would do.
First, he would probe a bit and ask the person some questions that would help him understand better what “I’m Buddhist” means. Oftentimes, the person doesn’t know much about the teachings of Buddhism but belongs to a family that has Buddhism in its background. So that person may not be communicating that he or she really believes in Buddhism, but may be telling you he or she is a “cultural Buddhist.”
Pat might then respond with something like, “Oh. What do you believe about Buddhism?” From the answer to that question, we can get an idea of how strong that person’s attachment to Buddhism is.
He would then follow up with the question: “And why do you believe Buddhism is true?” If the person doesn’t really have an answer to that, which is often the case, the person may ask, “Why do you believe Christianity is true?” And that’s our opening to share about our faith in Christ.
Cultural Buddhists might also raise the issue that if they become Christians, they would be in heaven when the rest of their family would be in hell. They might then say they would rather be in hell with their family than in heaven without them. But Pat’s response would be that if their family members in hell could speak to them, they would very likely tell them to avoid going to hell at all costs.
Pat pointed to Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16:19-31. In this story, a rich man dies and goes to hell, and a poor man named Lazarus dies, but goes to heaven. Being in torment, the rich man asks that Lazarus be sent back into the world to warn his five brothers about the horrors of hell so that they won’t wind up where he is. But he was told that if they won’t listen to “Moses and the Prophets” (that is, the Jewish scriptures), they won’t listen to anyone who rises from the dead.
So Pat would say that hell is not a place anyone would want to go to. And no family members who end up there would want any other family members to join them in that place.
The third thing Pat shared was that we cannot really know for sure whether our family members who weren’t Christians have gone to heaven or to hell after they died. We know that God does not want anyone to perish, and that God is fair and just. So it would seem to follow that God would surely give each person an opportunity to go to heaven. We may not know when and how God does it (it could even be a last ditch opportunity given by God right before the person’s spirit leaves this earth). But we can trust that being as merciful and just as God is, God would give some opportunity.
So for all we know, the people we’re concerned about are in fact in heaven with Christ. And the person who says “I’m Buddhist” may be passing up the opportunity he or she has been given to enter heaven along with them.
While we can’t be responsible for the decisions our family members and others make, we can be responsible for our own. So it would a terrible shame if the person didn’t take advantage of the opportunity that he or she was given, and ended up in hell, while their family members, unbeknownst to them, did take advantage of it and wound up in heaven.
I believe that Pat’s response is biblically sound and intellectually satisfying. I had never before heard the idea of using the story of the rich man and Lazarus to point out how relatives in hell might feel about being there. And I find it appealing because it’s a perspective that relational people, as people of Japanese and Asian ancestry are, would want to consider.
When I look at it from an Iwa perspective, I find that there’s something that I would want to interject into the conversation.
When we share our faith with people with Buddhist backgrounds, we need to see that it’s not just the Buddhist beliefs that form the barrier against Christianity, but it’s also the ties of family that are woven with Buddhist heritage. If a person’s family has been Buddhist for generations, the person would not only be changing religions if he or she becomes a Christian, the person would be turning against his or her family, including his or her ancestors. Who would want to do that?
There’s also a sense that if a person gives up Buddhism for Christianity, the person will lose something “Japanese” about himself or herself. To say, “I’m Buddhist” may be akin to saying, “I’m Japanese. And Japanese people are Buddhist. So don’t try to change me or my identity.” So the tie of Buddhism to a person’s Japanese identity may be another strong barrier that goes beyond the barrier of Buddhist beliefs. So how can we break through these barriers?
I think it is important to see our sharing not as trying to get people to change their belief systems—trying to convince people that Christianity is true and Buddhism is false—but to see it as introducing them to a person—Jesus Christ--a person who is alive and real and with whom they can have a relationship. (Pat may see it that way too, but when we’re sharing our faith, we may not see it that way when we’re faced with the challenge of answering the question of why we believe Christianity is true).
Because Japanese- and Asian Americans are culturally wired so that they look at the world through their relationships, they will respond more readily to God as a person they can relate to than to a doctrine they need to believe in. So if we can get them to wrestle directly with Jesus, there’s a chance that they will experience who he really is, be convinced of the truth, and have a change in their beliefs as a result.
So if we have an opportunity to explain why we believe Christianity is true, it would be important to talk about the personal, intimate relationship with God we have that is made possible by Jesus Christ. The idea of having a relationship with God like that is not something that Buddhism or other religions offer, so it can be intriguing and attractive, especially to those who never knew such a relationship with God was possible.
And if we look relationally at the question of who gets into heaven and who does not, we can see it as a matter that Jesus himself decides. It’s not decided by some set formula or checklist. It’s Jesus who will determine whether or not a person has a relationship with him. He will be the one who will say, "Enter into my kingdom, good and faithful servant" or "I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers." So we can never know for sure who’s in or who’s out because only Jesus knows what his relationship with each person was like. The decision is all ultimately up to him. I think we may be surprised when we actually find out who is in heaven and who is not. In any case, I think we can trust him to make the wisest, fairest, and most loving decision that can be made.
A blog by Cyril Nishimoto
So I try to preach the gospel to myself each day. I go over the relational gospel message and pray it in during my morning prayer time. I also listen to sermons that have the relational gospel message in it, in my car on my way to work. And for a few months last year I listened every day to songs and hymns with the gospel at their core, like “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us” and “Rock of Ages.” There are some verses I’ve meditated on, such as Romans 8:31-39, but it’s been hard to keep them in my daily routine. In any case, whether I do something regularly or add something temporarily for a season, I think it’s all making a difference.
One of the changes I’ve been noticing is that I actually respond to situations more with the idea that the only eyes that matter are my Father God’s. I have been in situations where in the past I may have done or not done something because I was afraid of what other people would think of me. Now, if I’m sure it’s something God wants me to do, I just do it even if I know I may catch some flak for it.
Last year, being sure that God wanted me to do it, I sent e-mails to a guy of Jewish background I’ve known for about 20 years to point him to God, as I’d done in the past. But this time, I got an extremely negative reaction I’d never gotten before, from anyone. In phone messages and e-mails, he lit into me, calling me such things as a “hypocrite,” “anti-Christian,” and “self-righteous,”and telling me never to bring God into our conversations again. It was quite a shock.
Angry and upset, I wanted to defend myself. So I thought of all kinds of ways to counter his allegations. But after calming down, I realized that I needed to focus on the gospel—that I am so loved and valued by my Father God that He would sacrifice His greatest treasure, His Son, for me despite all the things I’d said, done, or had inside me that were offensive to Him. And I am now a completely accepted and infinitely loved son of my Father God, like Christ, because of Christ’s sacrifice—living and dying for me.
So I didn’t need to defend myself or correct what I thought were outrageous distortions. In the view of the only eyes that mattered—my Father God’s—I was not an anti-Christian, self-righteous hypocrite (although I do realize that I have those tendencies in me). I was an incredibly loved, well-pleasing son of God. And if Christ could allow outrageous distortions about himself to go uncorrected—as he went through without protest the incredibly humiliating public shame of being crucified like a common criminal on a cross—I could do the same for him.
And if the Father and the Son could forgive me for my offensiveness to them, I could forgive this guy for his offensiveness to me.
So what did I do? I restrained myself from responding and just waited—something very unusual to do for the lawyer in me who usually feels compelled to put things right ASAP. The wisdom of that seems to have been borne out because after over a month of silence, he initiated contact because he needed my help. And he has since asked me to pray for him. And following that, he admitted I was right and he was wrong about one thing among others that had provoked his derogatory epithets. And to top it off, he recently told me he would let me counsel him on putting his faith, trust, love, and sense of safety and security in God because of a life-threatening condition he’s facing. I don’t know if his heart is really turning to God or if he just wants my attention and sympathy. But at least I can bring God back into our conversations.
So in this case, the gospel being worked into my heart brought about not only something good for me, but also something good for someone else. This may not always be the case, but I think that what it does, in any case, is it allows God to do the work that only He can do. And that is always something good. . . and often quite amazing and even miraculous.
I am experiencing other changes as well, as I work the gospel into my heart. With gospel-centered sensibility, I have been trying to get into the practice of getting past the things that ordinarily divide people—race and ethnicity, gender, class, economic status, social standing, culture, religion--and relating to people at the core—as spiritually flawed, broken, and corrupted, yet completely loved human creatures who have the potential of becoming glorious, beautiful, and awe-inspiring sons and daughters of the Creator-King of the Universe.
As the gospel helps me see myself and others as God does, I am learning to relate to people with more and more confidence and compassion, free from feelings of inferiority and superiority. It’s incredible how the gospel levels the playing field, putting us all on equal footing, no one “better” than another before God.
For example, I have been learning over the years how to relate at the core to a half-Japanese, half-white single mother originally from Japan but now living on welfare in New York who calls me on the phone periodically. She is a former client of mine from my days when I was the Director of Japanese American Social Services, Inc. (JASSI). She still calls to talk with me about her life and her five adult children whom I’ve known ever since they were young kids—all born out of wedlock with four different fathers. And I’ve been learning over the years to treat her with honor, love, and respect instead of with a feeling of superiority, of being “better” than her, as I see her as someone like me at the core—a spiritually fallen but completely loved human being.
In the same way, I have tried to relate at the core to famous people who cross my path every now and then, the latest being the white, mid-western former “Dateline NBC” broadcast journalist, Stone Phillips. He was in the same graduating class as I was in college, but I never had the pleasure of meeting him. I’m convinced that God orchestrated a perfect opportunity for me to meet him and talk with him over breakfast at our recent college class reunion. Without feelings of inferiority, I was able to initiate a fairly ordinary conversation with him about someone we both knew—my college roommate (who it turns out is someone he actually admired back in freshman year)--because I saw him as a fellow fallen-but-loved human being who was, at the core, no better than I.
It’s amazing how the gospel enables me to cut through barriers that usually divide people and to relate to people as the human beings God made us.
Gospel-centeredness is also transforming how I view and relate to money and possessions. I can see that the Creator-King owns everything in the universe, including the things I have on this earth. And because He did not spare His greatest treasure, His Son, but gave him up for me so that I could be adopted into His family as His son, I can trust my perfect Father to give me, along with His Son, whatever else I need (Romans 8:32). So it does me no good to worry about things my Father—the Creator-King—has committed Himself to take care of.
And as His son, I have the tremendous privilege of being a steward, not an owner, of what He gives me, to use for His purposes and mission in the world, not my own, but in dialogue and consultation with Him. So I can answer His call to work for an underfunded Christian ministry like Iwa, and live on a bare bones survival budget, and not worry, knowing that my Father is dedicated to supplying all I need. Twinges of panic may arise now and then when something goes wrong with the economy or when it looks like Iwa’s income isn’t going to cover its expenses for the month. But they go away when I center on the gospel.
And as a steward-son, I’ve been feeling more joy and satisfaction in giving away the money God has entrusted me with, to enrich other people’s lives, than in spending it on myself. And that’s because, as I’ve been working the gospel into my heart, I’ve been seeing how much God loves “the world” (and the people in it) (John 3:16) and I’ve been growing a heart like the heart of my Father. And as my Father abundantly supplies all that I need, I feel rich and generous like Him, and want to share my riches with others, as He does.
If I had to sum it all up, I’d say that the basic change that’s been taking place is a growing love for and trust in God—Father and Son—who gave up everything for me so that I could have everything I want and need in life. And what I’m finding I truly want and need in life ultimately is God. Nothing is truly more satisfying in life than a loving, intimate relationship with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. And that’s something we can have for eternity, as Jesus himself pointed out in John 17:3: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
And what makes it all work—as something that’s not just an abstract idea that sits in my head but a concrete reality that moves into my heart and truly changes me—is “the kiss of God.”
To be continued. . . .
Please leave any comments you may have on this blog and feel free to share it with others.
If you'd like to read any of the other blogs in this series, please go to Iwa's Facebook page here.
If you’re looking for something new and different to tantalize your taste buds and cool you off in the summer heat, try some shaved snow at Flurries, 5950 Corporate Avenue, Cypress, CA 90630. You will not only enjoy a refreshing, light, flavorful Asian dessert, you will also help serve the local and global community as profits go to such missions work as funding a school for orphans in Africa, providing disaster relief for tsunami survivors in Japan, and feeding the homeless in Long Beach.
I made a trip there in April, about a week after it opened, and was not disappointed. Of course I knew what shaved ice was but had never heard about shaved snow until I heard about Flurries. At the recommendation of my niece and nephew who work there, I tried the Salted Mocha.
Cut into a sheet (not ground into powder like shaved ice)—like a long wood-shaving--by a special machine that shaves it from a frozen, disc-shaped, milk-flavored block, the “snow” was placed into a large white paper container along with bits of salty pretzels and sweet chocolate, drizzled with coffee and vanilla sauces, and finished with sea salt crystals. I was advised to eat from the top down so that I would have toppings and sauces in every bite instead of having just snow at the bottom at the end. The flavored snow with the sweet and salty flavors made a very tasty, one-of-a-kind mid-afternoon snack.
I first heard about the idea for this store in 2009 from Barry Deguchi, the Lead Pastor of Catalyst Christian Community in Long Beach (a church plant of Cerritos Baptist Church) and an Advisory Board member of Iwa. He first approached me about it in August at the wedding he was officiating for my nephew, Damon Gohata, who was on staff at Catalyst as the Youth Ministry Director.
He said, “I want to pick your brain” about a new thing his church was thinking about doing. I really wondered what he thought was in my head that could be of any help to him and his church. So we set up a meeting in September.
When Barry shared with me the new venture he and his church were exploring, I was impressed with how he and his church were willing to try something no other church I knew of has tried. They were thinking outside of the box, willing to take a risk, venturing into the unknown, and blazing a path that other churches could follow—all to pursue what must be a passion of theirs (why else would they go to all the trouble?). They wanted to fund their church’s missions projects through the profits gained from a business they would create. And the business they were thinking of was something like Yogurtland because they had a church member who had a lot of experience running successful restaurants or food establishments.
And what Barry wanted me to do was to put on my lawyer’s hat, as well as draw on my non-profit organizational director’s experience, and provide any insight and advice that came to mind. I don’t think I was much help because my legal experience was in community poverty law, not business. And I knew of no churches or non-profit organizations that had tried anything similar. But I did know someone who I thought would know a lot more than me about these things, and who was well-networked. So I set up an appointment for us to pick the brain of none other than Bill Watanabe, Founder and Executive Director of Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC).
We met with Bill in his office at LTSC, and he was about as helpful as I was (okay, maybe just a little more). He expressed concern about whether or not the church should use money donated by its members to fund a risky business venture. And he referred Barry to a lawyer-friend who could provide some legal insight.
But the meeting turned out to have an unexpected benefit. As we passed through the plaza of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center on our way to lunch on First Street, we stopped at a plaque that commemorated the Azusa Street Revival. Right in the heart of Little Tokyo was the place where the Pentecostal Movement began.
I believe that Bill was instrumental in getting that plaque placed. And I know that he had been working more recently with a committee to have something more there than a plaque to mark the place where such a historical event took place—such as a mural on the wall that aligns the actual Azusa Street (now just an alleyway). For some reason, it couldn’t get done.
For Barry, the stop must have been a significant moment. I learned from my nephew, Damon, that not long after that, Barry took the whole Catalyst staff to see the plaque with Bill, and had Bill lead them in a prayer at the site. What connection does this have with Flurries? I’m not sure.
I’m guessing that among other things they were praying that God would pour out His Spirit on Little Tokyo and the Japanese American community, and that a revival would take place bringing many to Christ. But in any case, perhaps one of the outcomes of that prayer was the successful creation of their missions-funding eatery.
I don’t know when the idea for the store changed from frozen yogurt to shaved snow. But I do know that someone got the idea after discovering that a few restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley were offering this new dessert that originated in Taiwan. And people as far away as Orange County were traveling up there just to eat it. Frozen yogurt shops are a dime a dozen. But shaved snow? Perhaps it’s the next big thing. So to their credit, they took a chance on it.
The difference between the shaved snow of Flurries and the shaved snow of other places is the fusion of cultures. It’s Asian with an American twist. The Flurries recipes for the flavored blocks of ice are the creation of Sansei, Ralph Ono. And the sauces, toppings, and dishes have all been developed through trial and error by a team of other Asian Americans. So they’ve come up with flavors like Green Tea Tiramisu, Orange Creamsicle, and French Toast with Bacon—not the kind of flavors you would look for at a Taiwanese restaurant, or a shaved snow bar for that matter.
I like the idea of supporting missions work, and of contributing to the development of young adult employees (like my niece and nephew who are college students getting valuable experience in the working world), through my enjoyment of tasty, refreshing desserts that I can’t get anywhere else. To highlight the fact that all the profits go to special causes to bring positive change to the community and world around them, the store has framed pictures of Catalyst’s missions projects in Japan, Cambodia, Mexico, and Africa displayed on shelves along one wall.
I heard that funding for Flurries came, not from the coffers of Catalyst, but from several church members who personally invested their own funds without any expectation of a return on their investment, and thus assumed all the risk. I was glad to hear that they found a way to address the concern about the church entering into a risky business venture.
So could missions-supporting businesses like Flurries be the wave of future for churches in the Japanese- and Asian American community? God only knows. But it’s innovative, forward-thinking, and gutsy—something to keep tabs on and support if possible.
Putting on my Iwa hat, I’m thinking that this shaved snow bar could be a great place of first contact for the church with Asian Americans and others who would not ordinarily set foot in a church. If they become regular customers, perhaps they might take interest in more than the shaved snow—e.g., the missions work or the reason why a church would want to create a business like that.
It’s not quite a place like The Fish (see my recent blog about that) where seekers could experience the real and living Christ in the context of a community of people who know Him. But there is exposure to Him there. And who knows what could happen if it becomes a popular hangout place for both those who know Him and those who don’t?
So in the meantime, I’m going to drop by the store whenever I can—which could be often since it’s literally right down the street from my sister’s house. And I’m going to try as many of the flavors as I can. And why not make a special trip to see it and experience it for yourself? Green Tea + Strawberries anyone?
If you enjoyed reading this blog, please let other people in your network know about it. Thanks!
If you'd like to go to the Flurries website, click here.
To go back to the video and slideshow, click here.
And here's a map to show you where Flurries is:
New Menu as of 6/15/12
Out: Oatmeal Raisin and Green Tea Tiramisu
In: Berry Berry Parfait, Strawberry Pie, and Halo Halo
I am so glad that I went to The Fish Reunion in March. I almost didn’t go because I had an Iwa Board meeting on the same day that had been scheduled well before I knew the date of the reunion. But Iwa’s Board Chair, Dave Akiyama, thought we (he and I and any other Board members who wanted to) should go to the reunion. So we shifted the Board meeting to a different Saturday, and we both attended the reunion. And as I said, I am so glad I went.
It wasn’t just because I enjoyed meeting and reconnecting with a lot of people I hadn’t seen for years. Or just because the food catered was excellent (I even contributed my favorite dish—chicken katsu from Gardena’s L & L Hawaiian Barbecue—after a call went out for potluck food when they decided, in the spirit of The Fish, to make it a free-will-donations-only event rather than a paid-tickets-required one).
It wasn’t just because the worship with Wes Terasaki songs and other oldies-but-goodies led by Jimi Yamagishi and Denny Sato (who came all the way from Seattle to lead us in the favorites he originated) touched the heart and brought back good memories. Or just because the Looking Up band with original members Jeff Yota, Russell Takaki, Cliff Makaena, and Randy Kojaku sounded so good after all these years (and I felt connected to Russell and Cliff because we were in the same graduating class at Gardena High; and to Randy because we both were Gardena boys going to the same East Coast Ivy League university at the same time; and to Jeff because he used to live down the street from me).
And it wasn’t just because the featured speaker, Fred Tanizaki, Associate Pastor at Wintersburg Presbyterian Church (who also happens to be a Gardena boy) gave such an appropriate personal testimony that captured what The Fish was about—opening up unchurched people to the living and real Jesus Christ. Or just because the others who got up and spoke at the “open mike” moved us to thank the Lord for The Fish and all He did through it. Or just because the slideshow captured so well the sights, the feelings, and the spirit of those bygone days. Or just because the silent “home movie” that included footage of an actual gathering at The Fish that yet another Gardena boy--Jon Kaji—shot when video was hardly heard of, was SO entertaining (emphasis on the “SO”).
No. It wasn’t just because of those things that I am so glad I went—although those things really did add to the whole experience. I think what made me so glad I went was that I had the sense that I was participating in something very special. It was like standing on sacred ground. The Lord had done something that had significance and impact in our Japanese- and Asian American community, and we were remembering and honoring Him for it. It was an important piece of our community’s history that we were commemorating, and it was such an honor and privilege for me to participate in it.
I was actually around when The Fish got started. I remember first meeting Luther Masumoto before he became the co-founder and first overseer of The Fish, at the JEMS Mt. Hermon Conference in 1972. I was a teenage boy in high school. He was a young man out in the “real world.” Being from San Diego, he was not typical of the Japanese Americans I was used to relating to. To me he looked like a long-haired hippie-type with a moustache and beard. When I try to picture him back then, I see him in my mind’s eye as wearing a green army jacket—whether or not he really did, I don’t know. So I think of him as someone who might have been in the army. He looked to me to have a glazed look on his face, so I remember thinking he must have been on drugs at one time. But there was one thing that gave me a positive feeling about him. His smile. Something in his smile brightened him up and gave him an aura of warmth and friendliness, and approachability, despite all the other things that made him seem hard for me to relate to.
The next time I remember seeing him was not too long after that, maybe a couple of months later. I had heard that a Christian drop-in center sponsored by JEMS was opening in Gardena, right around the corner and down the street from my house, literally. So I went with some friends to check it out one afternoon. And who did I find there? That hippie-army-druggie guy with the great smile from San Diego that I met at Mt. Hermon. He was sitting on a rolled out sleeping bag on the floor, so I wondered if he was actually sleeping there, or perhaps even making it his home.
And I guess that’s what it became--Luther’s House. The Fish was a place where people could drop in and hang out “at home” with a laid back guy who had experienced “life” and who was willing to discuss life’s issues (we called it “rapping”), play music, study the Bible, talk about Jesus, or pray with whoever walked in the door. It was a place where people could experience Jesus and his love through people who loved, worshiped, and served him.
Although I wasn’t a regular at The Fish myself (my usual hangout place was my church—Gardena Valley Baptist [GVBC]—where I could be found almost every day of the week in high school), I did go to some of the gatherings and appreciated what the Lord was doing there.
And when Howard Yim came on the scene to lead the ministry, I was on the east coast for school and work. So I didn’t know him very well. But I did get a chance to meet him on several occasions when I came home for visits.
When I picture Howard in my mind, I see an older guy (that is, maybe 10 years older than me) with long, straight black hair and a moustache, preaching with a Bible in one hand. He was a dynamic speaker with a confident, engaging style. It was no wonder that under his leadership, the ministry of The Fish extended beyond the borders of Gardena into L.A. and the O.C.
Fred Tanizaki’s personal testimony at the reunion was especially fascinating to me. I didn’t know Fred when I was in high school, but I knew his younger brother, Jim, through Gardena High’s cross country and track team and through church. I remember when Jim dedicated his life to Christ at the South Bay New Life Crusade to which his Gardena Evening Optimist basketball teammate and my good friend, Paul Hayase, invited him. Jim was one of the first to come to know Christ through the outreach efforts of the members of our youth group at GVBC—which was less than 10 people at the time—who were getting serious about our faith in Christ and about sharing Him with our friends.
I knew of Fred through Jim but had pretty much zero contact with him. When I actually saw Fred in person for the first time, I thought he looked like a “hood”—a bad boy—the kind with greased, slicked-back hair, who wore a black leather jacket and sunglasses and had a don’t-mess-with-me edge. So I was surprised when I heard years later that Fred was going to Fuller Seminary (“Fred?? Seminary!?! Since when was he even a Christian?”). Fred had made some turn in his life while I was out east. I always wondered how it happened. And at the reunion, it was great that I finally got to hear his story.
Fred recounted how his mother was very worried about Jim because Jim was saying strange things like how he didn’t have to worry about his future because he was going to just be taken to heaven. (We talked a lot about Christ’s Second Coming in those days and thought that because so many prophesies about it were coming true in our generation, we wouldn’t have to worry about our education, our work, etc. in the future because He was coming back soon). As Fred was the older brother, his mother told him to find out about this crazy thing his younger brother had gotten himself into. (His mother, by the way, is now a long-time, faithful member of GVBC’s Nichigo congregation).
So what did Fred do? One night, he ended up at The Fish. And he experienced something he would never forget. What seemed to leave a lasting impression on him was his being in the same room with all these people who had something he didn’t have—life, love, and a relationship with God that they could sing about. It was something that stuck with him and set him on the path that finally led to his committing his life to Christ.
And Fred’s experience really shows why The Fish had such an important ministry. People like Fred, who might not feel comfortable stepping foot inside a church, might feel more at ease about going to a place like The Fish. It wasn’t “church,” but it was a place where people could feel free to explore things about God without needing to know how to “do church” before going. It was an informal hangout place that encouraged people to “rap” about their lives and the relevant issues in life, and to find out how God related to their lives and life’s issues.
And for Asian Americans who tend to be group- and family-oriented, it was important to have a place where people could experience Christ through people who knew Him—through Christian community. Relational people, as Asian Americans are, tend to be convinced about the truth of something more because of who says it than because of what is said. So when people like Fred encounter Christians who have a genuine relationship with Christ, and they experience a taste of the love and unity, and the presence of God, through the fellowship of believers, they sense with their hearts the truth of the gospel. And later on they can catch up with their minds what they already sense is true in their hearts.
I think I would be neglectful if I failed to mention that I am so glad that we shifted the date of the Iwa Board meeting not just because I got to be at the Reunion, but because Dave could be there. He really did Iwa proud. He was one of the last ones to go up to the open mike to speak. Having been involved in The Fish’s ministry particularly through the music he brought to it, such as the worship music of the band InSpirit for which he played the drums, he knew how The Fish had touched many lives. And so he made an impassioned plea for those of us attending the reunion to think about the people we knew who weren’t there and may no longer be following the Lord, and to reach out to them. At Iwa’s Board meetings Dave often tears up when he talks about all the people in our Japanese- and Asian American community who still don’t know the Lord. And to Dave and his plea, I could only say, “Amen!”
The Fish Reunion for me was a wonderful celebration of a time in the history of our Japanese- and Asian American Christian community when God formed and grew a ministry that had the focus of reaching the unreached in our community. Times have changed but the need for ministries like it has not.
The Reunion was also a reminder that the work is not done yet. We need more ministries that make it easy for seekers in our community to experience the living and real Jesus in informal, “unchurchy” settings, through people who know him. And we need to ask the Lord what he would want us to do now, in this day and age, that carries forward the work and spirit of The Fish.
Perhaps The Fish Reunion can be more than just a nostalgic journey into the past, and can be a launching pad for something the Lord may want to do now in our community and in the future. What can be done and who will do it, I don’t know. So I’m going to pray about it and see where the Lord will take it from here. Perhaps you can too. Can I get an “Amen?”
To view a slideshow, read a newspaper article announcing The Fish's ministry in 1972, and to see the program from the Reunion, go here.