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When did Mount Hermon start for you? What makes it so special for you?
For over 40 years now, JEMS has been a very instrumental part of my life, especially Mount Hermon. Not only did I become a Christian because of JEMS Mount Hermon, but the friends that I made in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s are still friends that I have now. I cherish those friendships and relationships.
What do you remember about your first Mount Hermon?
When I was 15, I was going into my junior year in high school. My older brother and sister had gone the year before and they encouraged me to attend was well. I remember the altar call that they gave during one of the evening services, but I decided not to make my faith decision at that time. However, in my home about a month later, on July 30, 1974, I accepted Christ with my brother and sister. That was pretty special and was a result of my experience at Mount Hermon.
At my first Mount Hermon, I met some of my very best friends, whom I’m still friends with today, 41 years later.
You just kept coming back.
I went for probably 15 or 20 years straight. Through all those years, I either went as a conferee or served at High School Camp, College Camp or Career Camp.
Other than the obvious social benefits, what drew so you and so many of your friends to Mount Hermon?
I think JEMS provides a platform for young people to become leaders. I started off as a camper or a conferee, and then became a cabin counselor back in college, and then went back and forth between counseling high school and and being a college conferee. Then I joined staff on one of the Mount Hermons for Career Camp, and actually spoke here and there at Mount Hermon. So I think it just provides that arena or platform for God to develop leaders.
Mount Hermon also seems to provide a lot opportunities to relate to various leaders.
I’m forever grateful for those pastors and lay people who have poured their lives into mine and also for the times God molded and shaped me within the various JEMS’ arenas.
Throughout my Mount Hermon years, I have met and been in relationship with many special “men of God.” One of them is currently the JEMS South America Missions Director, Pastor John Katagi who not only mentored me in how to lead a team overseas, but taught me about what it means to be a pastor and encouraged me in my personal and spiritual life as well. I am honored and glad to say that Pastor John is still a very good friend of mine to this day.
I think one of the greatest relationships I’ve been privileged to have is with Rev. Sam Tonomura, the former Executive Director of JEMS. I had gone to a JEMS young adult retreat back in the ‘90s, and at that retreat, Rev. Sam had spoke to me about considering a new ministry. At that time, I was a physical education teacher, and we talked about developing a sports ministry. Long story short, I left my teaching career and founded the JEMS Sports and Recreation Ministry back in 1990. I was fortunate enough to be a part of this fruitful ministry for eight years.
You’re a pastor now. How did you transition from sports ministry to a pastor?
Being the JEMS Sports Ministry Director enabled me to make an easier and smoother transition into becoming a pastor. At the end of those eight years, my home church, Cerritos Baptist Church, had asked me and another gentleman, Scott Kawamura, to pray about church planting. By God’s grace, I’ve been doing that since 1998. Looking back on how the Lord has led me on my career path, it is amazing to see how He used JEMS to bring me to where I am now as a pastor of Victory Fellowship.
I have become very good friends with many pastors of all denominations in the JEMS network. They have been a blessing to me both as friends and as co-laborers in Christ. And it’s cool because a lot of those guys that I looked up since my teenage years have been my mentors and are now my colleagues, fellow servants and brothers in Christ. It’s just a great feeling to be able to fellowship and worship together at places such as Mount Hermon.
Is there anything else you like to add?
I think one of the greatest joys is being able to bring my family to the JEMS Mount Hermon conferences. It’s probably been about ten years now we have been going to Mount Hermon Family Camp. My kids have all “graduated” out of family camp and are conferees in the three youth camps. They absolutely love it and view Mount Hermon as one of their summer highlights! It’s been such a blessing to see them establish relationships with other brothers and sisters from all over the West Coast, and even more so to know that they’ve maintained those relationships through social media and frequent get togethers.
I am grateful and indebted to JEMS (and to God of course!) for what has transpired in my life, and I can see the Lord now working in my children’s lives in the same way. My prayer is that God will continue to provide for and guide JEMS as they serve and minister to people around the world. I am thankful to God for JEMS, for all the men and women who have sacrificed much to build and develop this organization, and for all those who have influenced me and invested in my life!
Rick Matsuda is the Senior Pastor of Victory Fellowship in Torrance, California.
His words have been condensed, edited and subtitled with permission.
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