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Florida Baptists’ first Japanese church planted in Orlando

By Barbara Denman

November 29, 2012

A Korean co-worker trained in Evangelism Explosion often asked Masaya Ginter if she died today would she go to heaven. At first, the Japanese woman responded yes, because “I am a good person.”

But the co-worker kept asking until one day Ginter fully understood the implications of the query and accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, “knowing that I was saved by faith,” she said, and was baptized “in obedience.”

Although early in their conversation, Ginter told her co-worker that she was Buddhist, she now believes “I was Buddhist by tradition and ancestry.”

With her new found Christian faith, the former military wife developed a desire to study the Bible in her own language and began a home Bible study for other Japanese persons in 1997. As the Bible study group grew, it moved to a local church before finding a permanent home at Orlando’s Dover Shores Baptist Church.

From that initial Evangelism Explosion question, a passionate new believer thirsting for God’s word and God’s infinite plan has evolved into the first Japanese language church in the Florida Baptist Convention.

Orlando Japanese Baptist Church, a church planted for the Central Florida’s Japanese community, was started with Ginter’s Bible study participants as the core group and now draws 60 persons in attendance each week.

The church is a testimony to the cooperation of God’s people in planting churches to reach every culture. Playing integral roles were the Japanese Church Planting Network (JCPN), which is affiliated with the North American Mission Board; Florida Baptist Convention; Greater Orlando Baptist Association; and Dover Shores Baptist Church, which hosts and sponsors the congregation.

The JCPN, based in Oregon, has as its goal to plant 120 Japanese churches in North America by 2020. With 14 churches from Oregon to Maryland, the network began targeting Florida with 11,000 Japanese residents as a potential new church site, thinking Miami because of its diversity would be a likely location, said Mike Yokoy, JCPN director.

But when he learned of this band of Christian believers in Orlando who faithfully met together to study the Bible and pray, he decided God had placed them there for a purpose. With that nucleus, the church was planted.

 “Thinking back, I can say that this was all God’s plan and He was leading us all the way,” said Ginter, who continues to be a leader within the congregation.

When the church first started meeting, a Japanese pastor from St. Louis traveled to Orlando each month for two years to preach for the congregation.

Then more than a year ago, the congregation called Hiro Takaoka as the first full-time pastor.

But before Takaoka, who was in the States studying for the ministry, could assume responsibilities as pastor, he was required to return to his homeland and change his student visa to a religious work visa, a year-long process.

Critical to his immigration was the promise of a guaranteed salary, which is being equally underwritten by the sponsoring church, association and state convention. Pine Castle Baptist Church provided the pastor their mission house for a year while First Spanish Baptist Church donated a car for the pastors’ use. 

Takaoka and his wife, Megumi, a concert pianist and opera singer, arrived in July and are expecting their first child in January. Both are gifted musicians who lead the church in worship and praise. Since their arrival, four new Christians have been baptized.

Pat Pasley, a layperson who coordinates the ministry for Dover Shores, said Takaoka brings “a humble spirit and real sense of direction, and is open to ideas for growth.”

Toshie Metts was among the four new converts and in a testimony shared with the congregation, told how she knew nothing about the Bible before attending the study. Then “little by little and bit by bit, I learned about the Bible” until “I believed that Jesus died for my sins and forgave me.”

Seiko Moody, who like many in the church came to America as a military wife, became a “born again Christian” through the study of the Bible in Japanese.

Hearing the Word of God in one’s language is critical to reaching any culture with the gospel, said Pastor Takaoka. “The word of God goes into the heart as well as the brain. To fully understand, God’s word should be incarnate and learned in one’s original language.”

The Japanese congregation is one of two language churches that meet in the Orlando church’s facility. A Filipino congregation also worships there.

Pastor Bill Tummons said the Dover Shores congregation believes it is “our responsibility to reach every culture, every language group in our community in Central Florida. That is why we are partnering with the Japanese church plant to reach its diverse culture.”

James Fortinberry, who served as Dover Shores’ interim pastor and helped coordinate the new congregation said now that the Bible study has evolved into a church, it will better reach people.

“This is just the first one.” he said of the Japanese church. “Once they begin to make disciples, it will lead to new churches planted across Florida, targeting the Japanese people in Miami, Tampa and, Jacksonville. This can be the beginning of a church planting movement among Florida’s Japanese people.”

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