2011-03-11 / Faith

Church bridges boundaries of culture and language

By Roxanne Estrada


The Rev. John Katagi The Rev. John Katagi The Rev. John Katagi said the congregation at the Japanese American Christian Chapel overcomes boundaries of culture and language to worship God together.

“In church, we’re not supposed to be separated by ethnicity, language or culture,” said Katagi, a third- generation Japanese American. “You can erase some of those boundaries that exist between people. It’s a blending of cultures.”

The church has two ministries. One is in English, the other in Japanese. Last month, the two congregations started meeting together on Sundays for worship.

To ensure all members are engaged in the services and understand what is being said, worship hymns are translated into Japanese and English using subtitles projected onto a screen at the front of the church.

The sermons are also presented in English and Japanese.

On the first and second Sundays, sermons are given in English. The church provides a Japanese translation in its program.

On the third and fourth Sundays, the church’s Japanese-speaking members go to a separate worship hall to listen to a guest speaker who speaks in Japanese.

“We’re still finding our way,” said Katagi, who has been a minister for more than 20 years. “Change is never easy, but people are open.”

The church has 70 members, 30 of whom are part of the Japanese language ministry. Katagi said the eventual goal is to have two full-time pastors for the two ministries. But with a small congregation, the church cannot afford multiple ministers.

In the meantime, Katagi said, combining both ministries has been a positive experience for members to learn from each other and worship together. The church makes an effort to deliver sermons in the ministry’s native tongue to better communicate with members.

“When you’re hearing something like a gospel message, it has to hit your heart,” Katagi said. “You can understand the words, but language is not only mental but emotional. Hearing the message in your mother language has a far greater impact.”

Like the church itself, Katagi straddles two cultures and speaks Portuguese as a second language because of his mission work in Brazil.

He has led mission trips to South America for the past 11 years. He primarily spends his time in Brazil ministering to Japanese Brazilian residents, many of whose ancestors immigrated to the country around the time of World War I.

With 1.3 million Brazilians of Japanese descent, Brazil has the largest population of Japanese outside Japan, Katagi said.

“I have a more American perspective but recognize the kinds of issues Japanese Americans face in regard to how cultural upbringing imprints and affects our relationship with God,” Katagi said. “The gospel has the power to bring freedom and to transform our cultural biases.”

Katagi said each culture approaches religion differently. Asian Americans are bound by stereotypical traits such as perfectionism, shame, high achievement and forgiveness, he said.

“It’s not a weakness; it’s just part of who we are,” Katagi said. “I try to approach it as directly as possible with certain messages that address those issues.”

To connect these cultural characteristics with faith, the main theme and message of the church is restoration.

“All of us are broken in some way, and we’re looking for a paramount healing for restoration within ourselves, with other people and with God,” Katagi said.

The Sunday message usually entails mending broken relationships to grow closer to God, he said.

“People do experience difficulties, challenges and hardships in their lives, and sometimes it’s hard to get back on your feet,” Katagi said. “I want people to know there’s a God who loves us and people who care for us and there is a place people can find acceptance.”

Katagi said a sense of belonging in a church is very important. He said because the church is small, the congregation welcomes newcomers with open arms.

“I think you’d be expected to be greeted warmly,” Katagi said. “We want to open our doors to the community. We don’t want to be that kind of church where people walk in and walk out and nobody has said anything to them. We’re a small church; if you come here, you’re not going to be lost.”

The Japanese American Christian Chapel at 300 Mission Drive shares a campus with the Camarillo United Methodist Church.

For more information, call the church office at (805) 384-9333 or visit http://celebrate-Jesus.blogspot.com.

Sunday service starts at 11 a.m. Bible study sessions are Monday morning in Moorpark, Tuesday morning and evening in Camarillo and Friday night in Oxnard.

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