Rev. Motoe Yamada Foor: Abiding in Jesus, Anything is Possible with God!

May 11, 2023 | by Rev. Motoe Yamada Foor

Rev. Motoe Yamada Foor: Abiding in Jesus, Anything is Possible with God!

A story about the new director of adult discipleship, a Buddhist girl from Japan who became a pastor.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:1-7)

Did you grow up in church? Did your parents/grandparents teach you about Jesus? As a child, I did not know anything about Jesus. My family has been Buddhist for generations. (The ancestry list goes back to the 1200s). I did not see a Bible or go to church until my mid-teens. Also, I did not speak English at all.

It is only by the grace of God that I now serve as the Director of Adult Discipleship. In my wildest dreams, I never ever imagined that I would be living in the United States and working as a Christian pastor. What a blessing it is to have this opportunity!

I was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. Fewer than one percent of the population of Japan is Christian; therefore, growing up, I had never met a Christian. My father was a Zen Buddhist monk, although he was not serving as a monk when I was growing up.

A big shift happened when I was in the fourth grade and my parents divorced. My father moved out on Christmas morning. My mother’s boyfriend moved in a week later, and I felt like everything I believed in was broken apart.

I started to search for something to hold on to. In the midst of soul searching, I had my first spiritual experience during my first Christian worship. “I Felt My Heart Strangely Warmed,” just as John Wesley described his experience. I knew my troubles/problems (I did not know the word, sin) were taken away (forgiven) by God, and my tears did not stop. However, the Japanese cultural belief that strong people do not need religion was ingrained in me so deeply, I decided to ignore the experience.

Working at an international human rights organization to help people became my life goal, so I decided to study English. I moved from Tokyo, Japan, to Toledo, Ohio, to attend college. I did not speak English, and I did not know anyone. It was a difficult few years, learning the language and culture as a foreigner and a person of color at that time in the Midwest.

As college life got easier and I started to explore more, I met Rev. Denise Baker, a campus minister who led me to Christ. After more than a year of going to worship services and Bible study, I had a spiritual experience during my regular meeting with Rev. Baker. To many, that experience resembles a near-death story. From that moment, I knew that Jesus loved me before I was born; Jesus loved me while I was going through tough times; and Jesus will love me forever. Then I decided to be baptized.

Honestly, before baptism, I thought all my problems would go away once I was baptized. It was interesting to find out that baptism is not the end of the journey, but the beginning of the Christian journey as a disciple.

I am so thankful for the United Methodist Church’s connectionalism and resources. Because of that connection, I was able to participate in many organizations, such as the United Methodist Student Movement, the World Student Christian Federation, the National Council of Churches USA, and the World Council of Churches Central Committee.

Click here to read more.

Rev. Motoe Yamada Foor serves as senior pastor for Sacramento Japanese UMC, Sacramento, CA.