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I’m trying to think of when I first heard about Mount Hermon. I grew up in a Japanese American church. At the time, it was called the San Diego Holiness Church; it’s called the San Diego Japanese Church now. I must have heard about it then. If you were in a Japanese American Church, you kind of knew about JEMS. It’s been around since 1950. We had always heard about Mount Hermon somehow.
I went five years as a conferee, seven years as a cabin leader, and then at least four times as a speaker at Mount Hermon. After my kids were born, and being here [as Executive Director of JEMS], I would say at least 25 years easily I’ve been to Mount Hermon. It’s been half of my life, and some of the most important periods of life I can trace to Mount Hermon. I met my wife there. I rededicated my life to Christ there. I can’t describe to you the feeling of nostalgia and happiness I have when I drive into camp!
I became a Christian when I was 13, and then I committed my life to Christ to go all in when I was 17, a senior.
That was the year that Steve Yokomizo was our cabin leader, and he was really into prayer. When I first got there, I thought, “This guy, he’s a nut job. I don’t want to pray.” I had been so far away from the Lord that year before I got to Mount Hermon, so prayer was the farthest thing on my mind. I was really there because it was a punishment my parents gave to me, and they thought it would be good for me.
The day before Mount Hermon, I had come home really late from visiting my girlfriend and hoped that my parents would be really mad, ground me and not send me to camp. But they didn’t. They just woke me up real early in the morning and told me, “Here’s all your bags,” and took me to the church in San Diego where somebody was taking a van. And I just remember being in the van, holding on to a stuffed animal that my girlfriend gave me and thinking, “This is going to be the longest week of my life.” I hated every mile we drove to Mount Hermon, a good ten hour drive for us from San Diego.
I walked away from church because there was a discipler who said some rather mean things to me. He basically said that I wasn’t a good Christian after he had been discipling me for a couple of years. And so, based upon that comment, I knew I could have done one of two things, I could have confirmed that he’s right, that I’m not a good Christian and tried harder. But I decided that if he thought I was a lousy Christian, then I would prove him right and I just walked away. And that’s why my senior year in high school, I decided to become the yearbook photographer. It gave me tons of excuses not to go to church, youth group meetings, Saturday activities, whatever. My senior year in high school, from a strictly secular high school boy standpoint, it was like the best year of my life. I loved it. I didn’t do anything wrong morally in terms of premarital sex or drinking or smoking dope or whatever, it was just a lot fun. I had tons of friends because everyone wanted to be my friend since they wanted to be in the yearbook. I went to a lot of different parties, football games, basketball games. You name it. It was just so much fun hanging out with people.
But at home, it was hell. My mom and dad feared for my salvation. I’d been going to church all my life. They just assumed that everyone on Sunday mornings went to church. “Every single God fearing American went to church every single Sunday”—that’s just how I grew up. So for me, not to go to church, my parents thought I lost it. “Oh my gosh, our son’s going to go straight to hell.” So, they would always make it a point to make me go to church which of course, for a 17-year-old kid, is not going to work. So, we just fought and fought at home. I belittled my parents, especially my mom. Both my parents are immigrants. I’d make fun of my mom and her lack of English, and called her a bunch of foul names, which I regret.
And so, that Mount Hermon…the reason it was so pivotal was that I had really turned away from the Lord. I had really gained just a tremendous sense of bitterness and hatred towards this one guy who was my discipler. And truthfully, if I could have hurt him physically and if I could have gotten away with it, I probably would have. I never hated anyone as much as I hated this person. As a 17 year old, I don’t think I had the communication skills to be able to deal with it. You know, I could have maybe talked to the person and said, “Okay, so you said you’d been watching my life, and you think I’m a lousy Christian, but you didn’t give me any steps to better myself. You just kind of judged me and walked away.” I could have said that, but I didn’t have the skills or tools. And even as an adult, I don’t know if I would have done that. But I figured, “You know me best, because you’ve been discipling me for the last couple of years. So if you think I’m a jerk, then I guess I’m a jerk.”
Now the redemption story is that that person that I so hated happened to be a cabin leader at the camp as well. Providentially, I wasn’t in his cabin, but Steve was my cabin leader instead. It took until Wednesday or so to really warm up to God and then it was Wednesday or Thursday night that I called my parents up and apologized for being such a jerk to them the whole year. Friday or Saturday, Curtis Yee (a fellow cabin mate) and I made a pact saying, “Okay, God is calling us to break up with our [non-Christian] girlfriends when we go home, so let’s do that.” I was very fortunate because my girlfriend actually wanted to break up with me; so we broke up within two weeks of coming back from Mount Hermon.
The last day of camp on Saturday, we had communion. And of course, as we’re getting ready to partake in communion, I see my discipler, and he’s there, and I just knew. “It’s kind of your turn to either put up or shut up. You need to go and make things right with him.” So before you take your communion, there’s always talk about how, if you have anything against your brother, to go and get that right before you come down. And as (the speaker) gave that appeal, I knew what I had to do. So I went down, and I found him. And he was looking for me too. I think he knew that he needed to reconcile with me. Only because on the very, very rare occasions I would see him at church, I would walk toward him and then get close enough where he was about to put out his hand and shake my hand, and I would just turn around and walk away. Because I just hated this guy. So, I think he knew. [laughs] I went up to him and said, “I just need to apologize ‘cause I know I’ve had some really ill feelings towards you.” And he also said the same thing, and we hugged. When we hugged, I literally felt this wall of ice just melt from my heart.
I normally don’t tell this to people who are becoming Christians because I don’t think it’s normative—but when I first became a Christian, and I finished that prayer, I had this Road to Emmaus burning in the bosom. That’s what I experienced; I just had this warmth in my chest that I couldn’t explain. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, is something wrong with me?” So I remember drinking lots of cold water and eating cold watermelon after we had finished our altar call to see if I could make this feeling go away. And again, when I hugged my brother and we were reconciled, there was literally this sense of warmth that just filled my heart again. And all this tension, that I had been holding on to, completely released, and I just lost it. I was just crying and slobbering, you know, the whole nine yards. And that’s when I could go and take communion.
After I reconciled with my discipler, I felt like that is when I could clearly hear God, “Okay, now that we’ve cleared up this mumbo jumbo, you’re here at the table, and you know what I stand for. Are you going to live your life for yourself, or are you going to live it for me?” And it was at that communion table, that I told God, “I want to live my life for you.”
Could that had happened if there was no Mount Hermon? Maybe. Maybe if I went to another camp he [the discipler] was at. But it was all those different variables, with Steve [my cabin leader, praying], who knew I had a really hard year. He had been warned. And I also told him straight up, “I don’t want to be here. I’d rather be with my girlfriend than the bunch of you guys here.” So they knew I was kind of hostile when I first got there. He prayed extra hard for me.
So that time in my life was so key, it always has remained such a foundational part of my Christian faith. Any time I would be asked by JEMS, “Hey, we need a speaker at the volleyball tournament, can you do it?” I had no problem saying, “I’ll do it.” Because I really don’t know where I would be, if I haven’t gone to camp and had I not been reconciled to this guy. I’d probably still be a very, very bitter person. Hatred, it grips you. It holds you. It kills you. I didn’t realize how much until I hugged my friend. And I really just felt like there was that wall of ice around my heart. Maybe I was hearing God’s Word, but it sure wasn’t penetrating because there’s this wall around my heart. Man, hatred and bitterness, it’s dangerous. It’s really, really dangerous.
That Mount Hermon in particular was my all-time high Mount Hermon, only because it brought me back to the Lord. And it’s the place where I really recommitted my life, where I wanted to live for Jesus.
Now since then, I do realize that there are times where the Lord will ask you throughout your life, “Just checking, you still with me? Or are you just going through the motions again?” And I can think of at least two or three times since I’ve been a pastor, when I felt the Lord saying, “You with me? I know you said you’re going to live your life for me? You still there?” And I feel like the Lord just puts that fork in my life again and says, “Ok, you gotta choose.” And I think it’s good. It keeps us honest.
For people who get discouraged with their walk for the Lord, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this. I feel like I’ve been a Christian for 20 years, and I don’t feel like I have any fruit to show for it…” But you know what? The real cool thing about God is that there’s always tomorrow. And if God is asking you today, “How are you going to live your life tomorrow? Are you going to live it for me?” It’s a brand new start. And you can move forward.
Rick Chuman became the Executive Director of the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society (JEMS) in 2009. Before this he was a pastor for 20 years with the OMS Holiness Church of North America.
His words have been condensed, edited and subtitled with permission.
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