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At the Crossroads: Come, follow me


May 23, 2008
-Deborah Froese

“You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’” – Deut. 4:6

WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Given the chaos and confusing messages that surround us everywhere, what is it that calls the church to live and grow together as people of God? When pastor April Yamasaki was invited to address that question as a plenary speaker for the 2008 People’s Summit for Faithful Living, she knew how she had to respond.

“Jesus is what holds us together,” she says. “That may sound like an overly simple answer, but I think that is actually what we need.”

The Summit, a gathering of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada members from July 8 to 10 – which is preceded by the Mennonite Church Canada assembly, July 7-8 – will be hosted on the campus of Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg. The theme, “At the Crossroads; Promise and Peril,” expresses a sense of urgency and examines how the church can live faithfully in a global community bombarded with contrasting messages.

“We’re not at a simple crossing where you turn left or right,” Yamasaki reflects. “We’re at a much more complex centre, more like the intersection of a number of different highways. The super-charged highway, the information highway, the internet highway….it’s not a simple ‘this way’ or ‘that way.’ There are many voices and many different directions. I think that’s part of our challenge.”

Deuteronomy 4:1-9, which contains statutes for Godly living, is the biblical theme text selected for the Summit. Yamasaki finds a natural connection between that passage and the words of John 1:43-46 where Jesus’ invitation to “follow me” illuminates the pathway to faithful living.

Reflecting on her own life, Yamasaki says that God has led her to be where she is. An author, teacher and the lead pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Yamasaki did not grow up in a church-going family, but she was taken to Sunday School by friends and she did sense God’s love for her. She recalls hearing a “fire and brimstone” sermon when she was in high school that made her aware not only of God’s love, but of God’s justice. It opened her eyes to a new way of living and responding to Jesus’ call to “follow me.”

Entering ministry, however, was not on Yamasaki’s radar. She considered social work, but ultimately majored in Political Science at the University of British Columbia and obtained a Master of Christian Studies from Regent College in Vancouver. An internship at the Urban Reader magazine during her studies rekindled her love of writing and to date has propelled her to write four books about Christian living.

When Yamasaki and her husband Gary moved to Abbotsford to teach at Columbia Bible College, they found a home at Emmanuel Mennonite Church. As she became more involved in the church as a congregational member and participated in church services, others recognized her leadership abilities.

When the position for lead pastor opened up, Yamasaki was approached by the Search Committee to consider filling that position on an interim basis – but she was already happily engaged in ministry as a writer and teacher.

Still, the invitations to leadership continued and Yamasaki began to feel that God was speaking to her through her church community. She eventually took a leave of absence from her teaching position to lead the church, fully expecting to return to her teaching job in about six months. “But it didn’t work out that way,” she says. She has now been the lead pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church for 15 years.

Yamasaki will address the Summit at the plenary worship service on Wednesday, July 9.

April Yamasaki has published four books about Christian living; Making Disciples: Preparing People for Baptism, Christian Living, and Church Membership (Faith and Life Resources, 2002), Living the Vision: Leadership and Community (co-authored with Ken Hawkley, Faith and Life Press 1997), Remember Lot's Wife and Other Unnamed Women of the Bible (Faith Quest, 1991), Where two are Gathered: Readings for Shared Devotions (Brethren Press, 1988)

Publications by April Yamasaki at The Resource Centre