Our Story

In the Fall of 1891, there was a great revival meeting held at the First Baptist Church, located at 4th and James Street. At that meeting, three youths came forward and made their decision for Christ. They were Messrs. Fukumatsu Okazaki, Yoshigoro Akiyama and Yosaburo Nakayama. These young men requested instructions in the English language and in the Bible. With the help of the pastor, Rev. G. J. Burchett and Mr. Jacob W. Sherwood, a small room was rented and school was held three nights a week.

Beginning in April 1892, one night a week was given to Bible study with Mrs. Louise V. Ward as teacher. Within a month, Messrs. Akiyama and Nakayama were baptized. They were the first Japanese to be baptized in the city of Seattle. At the same time, Mr. Okazaki transferred his membership from the First Baptist Church of Denver, Colorado to the First Baptist Church of Seattle.

In March of 1893, the Home Mission Society appointed Mr. Sherwood as the principal of the Mission School. The school was located at 418 Jefferson Street in Seattle, where there were 27 rooms. With the help of the Young Men's Group, classrooms were set up. One portion of the building was set aside as a dormitory for the many young people who recently immigrated from Japan. Building rental was $40 per month with furnished rooms.

Mrs. Ward assumed the role of the principal of the Mission School after Mr. Sherwood left in January 1894. By mid-year, classes were conducted twice daily. On Sundays, Mrs. Ward devoted herself to teaching the Bible. In September 1894, Messrs. Okazaki and Akiyama passed examinations and became ordained ministers.

By the end of 1894, seventeen persons were baptized and membership rose to thirty. With the urging of Mrs. Ward, the young people worked enthusiastically in sharing the Gospel with their friends. For three years and without compensation their witness expanded to include Orillia, Auburn, Green River, O'Brien, Port Blakely, Tacoma, and Vancouver, B.C.

Rev. Kihachi Hirakawa was instrumental in the mission work at Port Blakely and Winslow. When he first came to America in 1890, he went to work at the sawmill in Port Blakely for seven years. At 50 years old, he decided to devote himself to God's work. He went to Missouri and Illinois to study for eight years and returned to make his home on Bainbridge Island and to build a church there. With the help of members and friends, Rev. Hirakawa completed building the church around 1927. Because of his dedication and deep faith in the Lord, the Bainbridge Island Issei and Nisei were able to worship the Lord in the little American Baptist Home Mission Church called the Winslow Japanese Baptist Church, but Rev. Hirakawa called it the Winslow Lighthouse.

On May 23, 1899, under the guidance of Mr. and Mrs. Ward, and after numerous meetings, the Seattle Japanese Baptist Church was organized at 418 Jefferson Street with the following as charter members: Rev. Fukumatsu Okazaki, Imajiro Kudo, Sokichi Hoshide, Toyozo Sakura, Inosuke Kawahara, Tamejiro Watanabe, Keitaro Yamada, Takasaburo Kusumi, Hatsutaro Nakamura, Yoshio Sakuma, and Takesaburo Hironaka. Shortly after the formation of the church, Rev. Okazaki left for Japan. Rev. Shimenosuke Hara became the pastor and served until 1904. Rev. Okazaki returned in 1901 and served as pastor until 1933.
JBCstartRev. Okazaki (left) and Rev. Shimenosuke Hara (right) meeting with American Baptist Home Missions officials starting Japanese Baptist Church around 1899.

In the Fall of 1899, a building and property at 624 Jackson was purchased. In 1900, the only organized Japanese work of the American Baptist Home Mission Society was done in Seattle and Tacoma. The Seattle church had thirty members and property valued at $6,000. In 1909, fully one hundred converts had been gained in Seattle over a ten year period after organizing and five men and one woman had gone to Japan as missionaries. The "Jackson Street Era" from 1899 - 1909 saw the Youth Group grow rapidly because of many persons immigrating from Japan.

In the early 1900's, picture brides were passengers on many boats docking in Seattle. These girls having exchanged photographs with Japanese men in America, whom they had never seen, thereby had their marriage registered in Japan. Coming to the United States they met their husbands and consummated the marriage vow. In the thirteen Japanese hotels and rooming houses in the city, no safe and decent place could be found for single women. Mrs. Yoshi Okazaki, the wife of the Rev. Okazaki made up her mind that something must be done to help the homeless women among the 3,000 Japanese then in Seattle. In 1903, Mrs. Okazaki was appointed and commissioned by the American Baptist Home Mission Society to give half time to work with these newcomers, and in 1904 a Christian center known as the "Fujin Home" was opened.

In 1910, the Fujin Home was built on the corner of 11th and East Spruce. In 1909, the Immigration Laws were changed and single women were not permitted to come to the U.S. Thus, the nature of the Home's ministry changed to become a Christian training residence - teaching young married couples English and the Bible as well as providing a warm atmosphere for Christian fellowship and growth. The Home was closed during the war years, but reopened in 1945. After many years of service and use the property was sold in 1963.

The parade of witnesses and ministers who have served in the Fujin Home are countless: the visionary first worker, Mrs. Yoshi Okazaki; Miss Nellie E. Fife, a former missionary teacher in Japan; Miss Masako Okano; Miss Amy Purcell; Miss Eva Hill; Miss Zen Sunaga (Amano); Miss Florence Rumsey, who came in 1915 and served for over fifty years; Miss Susie Stoner; Miss Mary Alway; Miss Esther McCollough, who served for forty years; Mrs. May Herd Katayama, who served over 45 years; Miss Ruth D. French; Mrs. Kan Arai; Mrs. Nao Tashiro; Mrs. Mamie Strandell; Mrs. Hinoe Kakibara; Mrs. Ruth Hara (Sato); Miss Ruth Wagoner; Mr. Paul Bunji Katayama and many others.

With the coming of women from Japan and the establishment of family life, the church began Sunday School. Miss Nellie Fife was the first principal followed by Mr. Sokichi Hoshide. Enrollment of 270 in Sunday School brought up the need for construction of larger facilities. The Japanese population in Washington was 15,901 in the year 1908.

In September 1909, a three-story structure was completed at 661 Washington Street with a budget of $6,000. Joy and relief was short-lived as a landslide in December had damaged the new facilities due to the Jackson Street Re-grade Project. Undaunted, the church remained at this location for twelve years. In spite of many setbacks and expenditures over $10,000, the witness of the church prospered under the leadership of Rev. Okazaki and with the unwavering faith of the early church members.

The Home Mission Society appointed Rev. Paul Gates to work with the young people. Under his leadership, the foundation of the young people's group was established. Rev. Gates became the first English pastor in 1921 and served until 1925. During the succeeding years until Rev. Emery Andrews came in September 1929, the Nisei church was served by Rev. Frederick W. Wightman and Rev. Frederick W. Steadman.

It was in early 1920 that Miss Harriet Dithridge was appointed by the Washington Baptist State Convention as Director of the Japanese Baptist Church Kindergarten which was then located at 661 Washington Street. She was a native of New York and had served as a kindergarten teacher for several terms in Japan. She brought a strong Christian emphasis to this field among the children and parents. Many people were asked to serve as directors until the Japanese evacuation in 1942. The Kindergarten Building on Broadway was built around 1927.

After World War II, the JBC Kindergarten (renamed the Broadway Nursery School) was reopened under the direction of Mrs. Hisako Suzuki. Those that served after her were Mrs. Isako Takahashi Koba and Mrs. May Herd Katayama. In the summer of 1958, Mrs. Katayama retired as an active missionary under the Home Mission society which also meant the conclusion of the subsidy for the Broadway Nursery School from our Convention. So, in order to continue the nursery school, the Nisei congregation voted to subsidize and to assume full administrative responsibility. Mrs. Joanna Payne Jones came to take up her work as Director of Christian Education and was the Executive Director of the nursery school. Mrs. Helen Gerisch, Mrs. Dorothy Koshi, and Mrs. Massie Tomita were the succeeding Directors. The school was officially closed in 1972 due to lack of participants.

The Japanese Baptist Church located on the corner of Broadway and East Spruce Street was built in 1922. In these years, the Japanese American community resided near the church. With the gymnasium and many missionary leaders, various clubs were formed. The gymnasium was in constant use with athletic events for all ages. What a vision our predecessors had in making provisions for such a gymnasium!

JBC has had a long and significant history of choirs and musical groups. The real development of the Nisei choir began after World War II. There were directors such as Mr. Howard Sakura, Mr. Ira Jones, Mrs. Shizuko Kitasako, Mrs. Mutsu Homma, Mrs. Jean Herbert, Mr. Wilford Stearns and Mr. Stan Watkins. Mrs. Yuko Ishimaru and Mr. Yoshio Tomita are the current directors.

The Boy Scout Troop #53 was organized by Mr. Clarence Arai and others on April 20, 1920. This was not only the first Nisei Troop in Seattle, but one of the first in the United States. Mr. Rex Strickland was the first Scoutmaster and twelve boys were registered as charter members. Rev. Emery Andrews reorganized the troop in 1930 after several inactive years and served as Scoutmaster for 38 years continuously. After Andy was named Scoutmaster Emeritus in 1968, Mr. Frank Nishimura stepped into the position which he held until December 1998 - 30 dedicated years under the sponsorship of JBC. Girl Scouting and Cub Scouting were also part of the scouting family at JBC. Cub Scouting started in 1951 and continues today.

World War II and the forced evacuation of all Japanese Americans from the West Coast (citizens as well as those who could not become citizens) caused the church to close in the Spring of 1942, but the church continued to meet as part of the Japanese Federated Christian Church in Hunt, Idaho, at the Minidoka Relocation Center.

In Minidoka Relocation Center, the Baptist Home Missions Society sponsored visits from Rev. Masahiko Wada.  Rev. Wada would travel from Amache Relocation Center in Colorado every few months to minister to the Issei congregation and conduct baptisms.  Rev. Masahiko Wada, Mrs. Kuni Wada (cousin of Rev. Shimenosuke Hara) and the Homma family would move to Seattle to serve at JBC in Sept 1945.  Rev. Wada would serve as the Issei minister until 1955.
AndrewsWadaRev. Emery E. Andrews and Rev. Masahiko Wada.

The real thrust of JBC's ministry took place under the leadership of the Rev. Emery E. Andrews, who served the church from 1929 to 1955. "Andy," as he was lovingly known was confronted with a real challenge in 1942, when the wartime evacuation of all Japanese from the Pacific Coast states was ordered as a military necessity. Rev. Andrews, his family and Miss Esther McCollough relocated with the church to Twin Falls, Idaho, so that they could commute to the Minidoka War Relocation Assembly camp and minister to the internees. Opening their home as a hostel to the internees, the Andrews suffered innumerable threats and humiliation from the local antagonists because of their association with the Japanese. Rev. Andrews made over 50 trips to Seattle to bring back needed articles left behind by the Japanese families, covering the 1,500 mile trip on an average of more than once a month. He will be long remembered by not only his congregants, but also by the many lives he touched throughout the Japanese community.

A significant occasion took place on December 10, 1955, when members and friends of the JBC Issei and Nisei congregations honored Andy at a Recognition Banquet. He resigned his position as pastor of JBC in the Fall of 1955 to allow the congregation to call a Nisei pastor. In 1971, he was asked to serve as the Minister of Visitation of JBC and served until his health failed.

Before Andy passed away on May 30, 1976, the Seattle Japanese Community honored him at a recognition banquet held at the Olympic Hotel Grand Ballroom on February 14, 1976. Approximately 700 people attended the testimonial dinner. It was truly a demonstration of affection and thanks that underscored Andy's rare place in the Japanese Community.

The year 1955 saw the branching of the church into two distinct congregations, each of which called its own pastor. The Rev. Iwahei Hori arrived from Boston on June 25, 1955 to assume his responsibilities as the Issei pastor and Rev. Peter T. Koshi arrived from Kansas City, Kansas, after graduating from Central Baptist Theological Seminary on September 14, 1956, to assume the pastorate of JBC as its first Japanese American pastor. Under his leadership, the church became a self-supporting congregation. He served from 1956 to 1968 after which he became the Educational Specialist for the Model Cities Project, then Director of Ethnic Studies and Inter- Group Relations at the Seattle Central Community College.

On December 14, 1958, the church at 901 East Spruce Street dedicated its remodeled sanctuary. The Rev. Allan Anderson, representing the Washington Baptist Convention, brought the message at the Joint Issei and Nisei Service of Dedication. This concluded the elaborate sanctuary remodeling begun in the Spring of the same year as part of the 60th Anniversary Project. The pews donated by the Nichigo Congregation are still in use today.

The Rev. Donald Cowell was installed as Minister to Youth on September 22, 1963. His work with the youth was well underway, when Rev. Cowell accepted a call to the Air Force Chaplaincy. This was done in order to retain his officer's commission received during his ROTC training at the University of Washington which included training for the Chaplaincy. He left Seattle on February 3,1964.

Following a prolonged illness, long time friend and missionary of JBC, Miss Esther McCollough passed away on August 16, 1964. In accordance with her desire a Memorial Scholarship Fund was established to be administered by JBC. One of the stipulations was that the recipient be a college or university student who would be training to enter full-time Christian service.

A special service was held for Miss Florence Rumsey on March 14, 1965, as she celebrated 50 years of service to the people of Japanese background. She came as a Japanese-speaking missionary to our Isseis and served them and our Lord faithfully all those many years. Mrs. May Herd Katayama, lovingly called "Mrs. K", served the total church. JBC was very fortunate in having such a dedicated laborer as Mrs. K. She served faithfully for 50 years. She was honored on her 84th birthday by many friends and members of JBC before her passing on March 19, 1978. Miss Rumsey, along with Miss McCollough, Mrs. Katayama and Rev. Andrews, helped lay the Christian foundation on which the Japanese Baptist Church now stands.

The Rev. Charles N. Elven, graduating from the Berkeley Baptist Divinity School, became the interim pastor of JBC in 1969 after the departure of Rev. Peter T. Koshi. Prior to his coming, the congregation called a full-time Director of Christian Education, Miss Diana Zediker, in 1965. During this period, with these two gifted servants of Christ, the English-language constituency learned to shoulder more responsibility in the ministry of the church.

Miss McCollough first started the World Wide Guild (WWG) groups at JBC. These groups were organized for young girls by the Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Convention). The groups were named the Light Lighters, Torii and Myojo. They had fellowship with other groups in the Puget Sound Area. They were taught to cook, to set and decorate tables, to take leadership in the fellowship group and to serve others here and abroad. These friendships continue today although the program itself has been discontinued.

The Rev. Dr. Paul M. Nagano came to JBC in January 1971 after serving as the first Executive Director of the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society (JEMS) from 1951 to 1954 and from November 1962 to 1971. Prior to that, he was the pastor of the Makiki Christian Church of Honolulu, Hawaii from 1954 to 1962. He was the Senior Pastor of JBC from 1971 until his retirement in June 1986. Many JBC members and community friends, and National leaders of ABC/USA were in attendance at an appreciation banquet held in "Pastor Paul's" honor on June 29,1986, at the Seattle Trade Center. He was honored as Pastor Emeritus upon his retirement on June 30, 1986.

During Rev. Nagano's term from 1971 to 1986 as Senior Minister, several people came to serve at the church, such as: the Rev. Tsutomu Tom Fukuyama as Minister of Visitation from 1976 to 1977; the Rev. Christopher K. Eng as Associate Minister from 1978 to 1981; and and Ms. Carolyn Yabuki as Director of Christian Education from 1983 to 1985.  Carolyn Yabuki Shimabukuro was ordained by JBC in 2002.  She serves as the Pacific NW Director for JEMS.

The Nichigo (Japanese Language congregation) was shepherded by the Rev. Shimenosuke Hara from 1900 to 1904; then as a volunteer from 1905 to 1940, humbly relinquishing his position in favor of Rev. Okazaki. The Rev. Shiroku Fujimura served from 1933 to 1937, followed by the Rev. Shozo Hashimoto from 1938 to 1943. The Rev. Masahiko Wada served from 1945 to 1954 after which the Rev. Iwahei Peter Hori arrived from Boston in June 1955 to assume the pastorate until his death in the Fall of 1971. In the Summer of 1972, the Rev. Nobuaki Hanaoka was called to be the interim pastor of the Nichigo congregation, with the church having the joy of ordaining him. He served until 1975, when the Rev. Kunihiko Amano came from Japan and served until 1980. The Rev. Yoshiaki Kondo served as the interim pastor from 1981 to 1982 followed by the Rev. Yoshihisa Sawano who served the Nichigo congregation until January 11, 1998. Rev. Sawano was ordained on December 26, 1982 by the Japanese Baptist Church. Rev. Joe Sakakibara took over the responsibilities of the Nichigo congregation as their Interim on January 18, 1998 on a half-time basis until his untimely death on December 14, 2000.

On July 11, 1982, the congregation approved the recommendations of the Facilities Feasibility Committee under the leadership of Bob Yoshihara. The recommendations included: 1) the raising of $75,000 seed money for the improvement project; 2) the first phase of remodeling the sanctuary; 3) the long range goal of an east wing addition. On September 19, 1982, George Yamane was appointed as chairman of the Short-Range/Long Range Building Planning Committee. On June 5, 1983, the Committee recommended to the Diaconate that the Committee's mandate be changed to include a new sanctuary in lieu of remodeling the existing one, to remodel the existing building to serve multiple purposes and to hold a Capital Fund Campaign in the Fall. These recommendations were approved by the Diaconate and by the membership on July 17, 1983. This was a historic decision on the part of JBC. The Church is very appreciative of the guidance provided by Mr. Milton Stricker, architect, during the planning process and construction phase which took over three years.

During January to March of 1984, a Capital Fund Campaign was held under the leadership of Mr. Shig Tsutsumi and Mr. Richard Kobayashi. With the support of the congregation and friends, a very successful campaign was held with pledges totaling almost $400,000 for the building of a new sanctuary and the remodeling of the existing building. On February 20, 1985, a contract with Leo Finnegan Construction Company was signed by Moderator Yosh Nakagawa. On March 3, 1985, a Ground Breaking Ceremony was held under the chairmanship of Mr. Tak Omoto. On June 30, 1985, membership approved remodeling of the old building and retained Leo Finnegan Construction Company to do the work. The first service in the new Sanctuary was held on August 25,1985. On October 6, 1985, the dedication of the new sanctuary was held. The dedication of the Memorial Chapel was held on January 26, 1986. On April 6, 1986, the total church facility was dedicated. Hallelujah!

The Rev. Dr. Russell S. Orr served as the Interim Senior Pastor from July 1986 to April 1987 when Rev. Yoshihisa Sawano took over as the Acting Senior Minister for one year until August 1988. During this time, Mrs. Cathy Kernen became the Christian Education Administrator from July 1987 to February 1988. Rev. Joseph J. Sakakibara became the Senior Minister from August 1988 until August 1991, when Rev. Yoshihisa Sawano again took on the duties as Acting Senior Minister from September 1991 to May 1992 when he was officially given the title of Senior Minister on May 3, 1992. Mr. Kent Murahashi was called to be the Associate Minister on March 1, 1993. The church had the privilege of ordaining Kent on Sunday, October 3, 1993, with approximately 200 people in attendance.

The Church's 95th Anniversary celebration commenced on Friday, May 20, 1994 with the gathering of many scouts from years gone by to the present. The evening began with a delicious roast beef dinner. Dr. Kelly Yamada started the program reminiscing about the beginning of JBC's Scouting Program, followed by sharing of hilarious experiences by various former scouts and closing remarks by Scoutmaster Frank Nishimura. It proved to be a very full evening with many wonderful memories and reunions of friends from the past.

Saturday, May 21, 1994, saw a capacity crowd in the gymnasium enjoying a delicious box lunch from Togetsu Restaurant. A wonderful time of celebration with great singing and a slide presentation of JBC's history was culminated with the mortgage burning made possible by a very generous donation from an anonymous congregant. The Rev. Dr. Paul M. Nagano brought the day's message, "Celebrating Glory in the Church." Continuing our celebrations on the theme "Growing By Faith in Christ," Rev. Peter Koshi brought the message on Sunday "By Faith Becoming a Dwelling in Which God Lives" followed by Rev. Masaru Nambu's message, "Church and Vision" in Japanese. The weekend events were culminated with an anniversary group photo and our famous JBC potluck luncheon.

Rev. Yoshihisa Sawano resigned from his Senior Pastor position at the end of 1995. Rev. Frank W. Barker was called with a 6 month contract as Interim Senior Pastor January 1996 to June 30, 1996 with Rev. Sawano as Acting Associate Nichigo Pastor and Rev. Kent Murahashi continuing as Associate Pastor. Kent Murahashi resigned from his position August, 1996. Rev. Dr. Alfred Van Selow was called from Hawaii as our new Senior Pastor in October 1996. Annie Lee was called by Rev. Van Selow as the Christian Education and Youth Coordinator in October 1998. Rev. Van Selow resigned from his position as Senior Minister end of December 1999. A Search Committee has been formed to seek a new pastor. Dr. Paul D. Aita was called as the Interim Senior Minister October 2000 becoming the Senior Minister in July of 2001. Dr. Aita was installed on Sunday, September 30, 2001 with Dr. Roy Medley as the guest speaker.

In 1997, the original brick building received an extensive facelift with re-roofing, trim painting and brick cleaning and sealing. The Centennial Kick-Off Dinner Celebration was held at the Asian Resource Center on May 23, 1998, with a slide presentation of the history of JBC. The donated property south of the church was completed as a parking lot just in time for the Centennial Celebrations May 1999. Under the theme, "Passing the Torch to New Generations," the Centennial Celebrations began Friday evening, May 21st welcoming the guests who arrived for the Centennial. Saturday morning, May 22nd an Asian Forum was held with invited guest presenters. That evening, the Centennial Banquet was held at the Atrium in the Seattle Design Center with guest speaker, Dr. Daniel Weiss, General Secretary of ABC/USA.

Our church has run the leg of the first one hundred years with perseverance and as we pass the torch to the next generation, we pray that the hand-over will be taken smoothly and that God will continue to bless JBC as the new generations remain faithful to God's bidding.

Annie Lee was called by Rev. Van Selow as the Christian Education and Youth Coordinator in October 1998. Rev. Van Selow resigned from his position as Senior Minister, December 1999. A Search Committee was formed to seek a new pastor.

Rev. Dr. Paul D. Aita was called as the interim Senior Minister October 2000 becoming the Senior Minister in July of 2001. Dr. Aita was installed as our Senior Minister on Sunday, September 30, 2001 with Dr. Roy Medley as the guest speaker. During his time at JBC, Rev. Aita emphasized unity between the English & Nichigo congregation, strengthened ties to the denomination, worked extensively with the Burmese community, and was instrumental in preparing the commissioning of JBC Yokohama, Japan missionaries, the Hwang Family, and several ordained clergy.

Rev. Archie Pinkney of the Mt. Zion Baptist church became the church intern working with our youth group in September 2002 and on October 20, 2003, became the youth director until May of 2005.

Noriko Kussman served as Youth Director from the fall of 2005 through the spring of 2007.  She was ordained at JBC in December 2006.
On April 2, 2006, E. Brooks Andrews, son of Rev. Emery Andrews who served the congregation in the midst of the Japanese internment, returned to JBC to serve as a volunteer Pastor of Congregational Care. It was a time intended to be for healing and restoration for Rev. Andrews, which turned into years of service ending with two years as the Senior Interim Pastor until 2013. Rev. Andrews and his wife Corean still visit JBC once in a while today. He has just published his first book, "Balancing on Barbed Wire."

Mr. Yukio Sakiyama was ordained on Sunday, September 25, 2005 with Rev. Dr. Glaucia V. Wilkey, his teacher at Seattle University, as the speaker. Rev. Sakiyama faithfully served the Nichigo congregation of JBC until his retirement in March of 2015, after which he and his wife Makiko returned to Japan to care for his aging mother. Interim Associate Minister Jonathan Kobayashi served after Rev. Sakiyama until August of 2015, followed by Mr. Joe Suzuki serving as an Interim Teaching & Preaching Minister. JBC is still seeking an Associate Minister at this time.
In October 2013, JBC called its first female senior minister, Rev. Jennifer Ikoma-Motzko. Sharing her enthusiasm and passion for Christ and the ministry in the community, Pastor Jennifer inspired many JBCers and young staff that she brought on board. Her service to JBC as Senior Minister ended in July 2016. Minister Michele Turek was brought on as Bridge Minister while the church searched for our current Interim Minister, Rev. Dr. Robert Reid. Minister Michele Turek continues to serve as JBC's Interim Pastoral Care Minister.

Updated February 2016