'The church is not a building'

December 05, 2007

By Rev. Motoe Yamada

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." (Matthew 18:20)


God of wonders, beyond our galaxy – You are holy, holy…” My cell phone ring tone woke me up in the middle of the night. It was one of the church members letting me know that the house next to the church was on fire. She told me that J. and K. could see a big fire flame from their house (one block from the church) and the church might catch fire. I quickly put on warm clothes and was on my way to the church. While driving on 280, I called Rev. Doug and Rev. Michi about what I had heard and told them I would let them know if three of us needed to be there.


During the rest of the drive, I kept saying the breath prayer, “Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us. Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us…”


Heading to the church, on Third Street, I could see clouded smoke over the sky. When I got to the corner of Fourth and Jackson, a police car was blocking the street and I could not go any farther. I parked my car in front of the Yu Ai Kai and ran to the church.


I have never seen anything like it in my life. Fire engines were all over Japantown and police cars were everywhere. Smoke from the house was three or four stories high and fire engines extended their cranes to water from the top. Firefighters on the roof of the church were hosing down the house.


I could not go any closer than the corner of Fifth and Jackson. I talked to a first response person, T.C., and he told me the church was probably okay but that he could not tell for sure, but would let us know when he heard more updates. A few minutes later one firefighter told me that from his experience, the church was 90% safe from the fire. He also told me that 11 people out of 12 residents in the house were fine but one was missing.


Rev. Doug, Rev. Michi and I went to the back of the church and we could see firefighters in the church fellowship hall. In the sanctuary, it was so dark that we could not see well but it looked fine and we were relieved. A firefighter, George, saw us in the sanctuary and gave us updates. We thanked him for his work and for saving the church and he told us that he was also a minister.


I am very thankful for the firefighters and police officers and all the people who helped and most of all for God – that the church is standing. However, it is a good reminder that the church is not the building but people. As T.C. said, “With Faith, you can always rebuild the church.”


We will probably repaint the wall and fix some doors but we will never stop worshiping Jesus Christ, our Savior.


This morning, the San Jose Mercury News reported that the body of our neighbor “Poncho” was found in the house. I pray for Poncho and his family, the eleven people who lost their home.


“I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together! The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.” (United Methodist Hymnal, #558.)