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Jesus makes this invitation: “Come and you will see.”
My introduction to JEMS came when I started attending Christian Layman Church in 1986, through Pastor Wayne Ogimachi, who was [then] the senior pastor. At the time, a majority of the church was young single adults. JEMS had a Career Camp that was popular for young adults in their mid-20s to 30s. One year Pastor Wayne was the speaker for that camp, so he encouraged some of us from the church to attend.
Not having grown up in JEMS, or gone through AACF [JEMS’ college ministry], Career Camp was my first ever Christian camp. I was unchurched most of my life and going to a retreat was not something I was very familiar with. Often new things can be threatening and Career Camp could have been, but I had a great experience. I was able to meet people who were of similar age and similar career aspirations. That’s where I first met many of the men and women that I would later meet again at JEMS Mount Hermon Family Camp.
A rich Acts 2 community of lifelong relationships
Mount Hermon was like a slice of what Christian community is supposed to be like. It’s the Acts 2 community described in the Bible being lived out at Mount Hermon. I remembered thinking, “Is this all pretense for the whole week?” But you attend enough times, it is really genuine. The people are loving and so caring of each other. At Mount Hermon, JEMS creates a place that’s very safe for people.
And it’s not just for that one week. Relationships and experiences that are lived out that week are actually carried over throughout the year and in the years to follow. It’s truly amazing, and I observed this to be true for the kids. They go through their programs: whether it’s family camp, junior high, inter-high, high school, and later college camp at Mount Hermon summer conference. They may not see each other at any other time in the year, but as soon as they see each other for that week, the relationships just start up again. It’s as if time just stood still and they came back, and just picked up where they left off.
In the afternoons at camp, it’s free time. People used the time to do life together, in a casual way, like just going to the ice cream fountain, and maybe just sitting with another family and hanging out and getting to know each other.
For me the afternoons were special for another reason. The dads and the young guys who wanted to play basketball would go play some hoops. When we play basketball, there’s the game itself and then after you play, you sit and cool down, and start talking with each other. And that’s where that community counsel can happen. I remember times discussing challenging things we were going through in our church or someone else’s church. We would sit and talk to each other after playing, and give our advice or simple encouragement. It is that kind of peer mentoring that was happening on the basketball court. That’s where guys like Kevin Hayashida, Curt Ogawa, Lawrence Tonomura, Rick Chuman, and Paul Okada and many others, some who were and would become pastors, would connect. We would play basketball and then afterward just talk about life and what was going on. A built-in ministry, networking on the courts at Mount Hermon.
While Career Camp was very age-stage specific and more peer-oriented, Mount Hermon Family Camp is intergenerational. I remember meeting a lot of people who were older than me and being blessed by their willingness to tell their story. And that for me was very valuable in trying to learn how to do ministry or just do life.
When I first went to Mount Hermon, I went as a lay person, but when I became a pastor of Christian Layman Church, I entered into a different aspect of Mount Hermon. Once a pastor, you are invited to the pastors’ small group. That was a different kind of experience, but it was also nurturing for me. When you go to those kinds of meetings, you’re essentially the young punk. You have these champions of Asian American ministry throughout the country, the Sam Tonomuras, the Dan Shinodas and the like. To have those pastors come around you and encourage you is a great blessing. Two pastors I will always respect and thank for being always there for me are Pastor George Toda and Pastor Jim Toda (who has passed away). They and Pastor Wayne Ogimachi would always be very encouraging in bringing me to the pastors’ meeting which can be kind of intimidating for young guys.
You just hear their stories about ministry, in particular Asian American ministry which has a long history, but also not that long of a history in the United States. So it’s good to have that kind of background and being able to understand the values and the hopes that they had, and see if any of that still resonates and then carry it over to your own ministry.
“One of the best investments I could do for my own family”
When I married and had a family, I remember Pastor Wayne saying that when you have your own children, bring them to Family Camp because it was a great place to live out the command that we raise our children in the ways of the Lord. Another person that I respect, Pastor Cory Ishida from Evergreen always endorsed young parents taking their families to JEMS’ Mount Hermon for that week in the summer. And even though attending can be costly year after year, Pastor Cory said it would be a good investment.
I saw those who I call the “Pillars of the Church” modeling strong Christian parenting through generations: grandparents to parents to children. Seeing that was very helpful when I was there as a “young married,” a young parent myself. Coming from an unchurched background, going to a Christian family camp allowed me to see first-hand how to be a godly father or mother.
I think it really made a difference in our own children’s spiritual development to be able to go year after year, especially in their primary ages. In Family Camp, the children continue to stay with you until about sixth grade. My wife and I took ours from preschool through the sixth grade. And we continued to send them to the youth camps after that. It was definitely valuable in terms of their spiritual growth and also with the friends that they made. It was not just an opportunity for us to make friends and network, but also for our children to be able to do the same with their peers from preschool all the way to college. And it’s amazing how many of them meet up in college or later. Life-long relationships began by just going to this one conference and that’s a huge blessing. One of the best investments I could do for my own family was to go to Mount Hermon.
Family Camp also gave my wife and I an opportunity to invest in others by mentoring younger parents, which in turn benefited our own growth. We often think mentoring is one way. Many times we learn just as much from a younger person from their stories. There is kind of mutual learning that happens inter-generationally. That’s where I found Mount Hermon’s inter-generational nature a major strength.
Still mentoring from those examples
We’re talking about Mount Hermon for me when I was in my 30s, and now I’m in my late 50s. I’m looking to do the same thing as those who mentored me. I’m on the old side of the scale now, trying to mentor the younger generation, ministering to them. It’s the same at our church. I remember how Pastor Wayne and Pastor George and Pastor Jim would talk to me and encourage me in my one-on-one times with them. And what I appreciated about them is that they never said anything negative to me. And I hope to follow their examples.
Calvin Yim is an Associate Pastor of Christian Layman Church in Oakland, California. He’s been bi-vocational since 1998; he is also a dentist. He and and his wife Terri live in Fremont, CA and have two children, Josh and Kristi.
Calvin Yim’s words have been condensed, edited and subtitled with permission.
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