PSR alum helps youth find passion, serve through faith
Motoe Yamada moved to the United States from Japan during college to learn English and international relations. What she didn’t realize, though, was that her new home would inspire a conversion and an unanticipated life mission. “I was inspired, had a special moment, and decided to become Christian when I was in college and involved in campus ministry,” says Yamada, who grew up in a Buddhist household.
While studying at the University of Toledo, she joined Bible study groups, attended worship services, and served on the United Methodist Student Movement National Steering committee. “I wanted to provide young people that same space I had in college, where they know that God loves them, where they learn ways to make good decisions, and where they can go when they need God the most.”
After years of studying and working in the secular sphere, Yamada followed a call to enroll at PSR, where she earned her Master of Divinity in 2004. Although she intended to pursue a career in international faith relations, her time in seminary altered her path. “My experience at PSR and especially the field education experience inspired me to stay in a local church,” Yamada says. She is now the senior pastor of the Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church, where she leads a congregation of 600 and works with the community’s young people. Yamada always finds time to stop by the church’s youth basketball program, work with the Sunday school, and exchange high-fives at the children’s service.
The kids Yamada works with find themselves in a safe enough environment to explore big questions and look at their faith critically. “I’ve seen a wave, especially in the last several years, where young adults are passionate about tying their faith to action. They are asking themselves what it means to be a Christian and make a difference in this world,” Yamada says.
She encourages that exploration and spirit of service while cultivating the individuals’ unique skills and interests. “I believe that we all have a special gift from God, although sometimes we don’t know what that is. I hope that in a church setting, these young people will find their passion,” Yamada says. What’s more, she asserts that the church and Christianity at large can benefit from their youthful enthusiasm.
“Young people are future leaders, but they are also leaders now,” Yamada says. “We need their ideas, commitment, and leadership now.”