Xempt: A New Name And New Lease On Life

At the age of 17, Caleb Bloomfield found himself in the dark basement of his apartment no longer in control of his own life. He was reeling from two major losses: he and his girlfriend had just broken up after reaching the decision to give up their newborn son for adoption.

“I found myself in a very dark place,” says Caleb. “I was depressed and was diving deeper into drugs and alcohol as well as other women, trying to fill that void.”

Only God, he would discover later, could fill that void and give him a new lease on life—and even a new name. “I searched out all the ways that the world says brings you happiness,” Caleb says. “And I never did find that happiness until I found Jesus.”

That is the message the now 25-year-old Christian hip-hop artist wants to tell the world today through his music, starting with his recently released debut album Me Vs Me. The album is an ode to God’s redemptive love and the hope he has found in Jesus after years of wrong choices and painful consequences.

 

The Journey

Caleb was born in Canada and grew up in the Fiji Islands, where his parents were missionaries. His multi-talented family gave him not only a Christian upbringing, but also a childhood filled with music. Realizing he had a talent for writing lyrics and rapping, Caleb naturally gravitated towards hip hop.  “I had always wanted to be a rapper,” he recalls.

The young hip hop artist’s career started off well. His stage name then was “Tu K” a shortened version of “Ratu Kelepi”, which means “Chief Caleb” in the Fijian language. He started writing songs under that stage name, working towards his dreams of becoming a rapper.

At the same time though, he struggled to fit in with his peers and his relationship with God took a backseat. “The core problem was that I did not know who I was in Christ or who Christ called me to be,” he says.

When he was 15, during one of his family’s trips back to Canada, Caleb found the acceptance he was seeking from a group of hard-partying friends. It wasn’t long before he found himself doing things he never thought he would do, just to fit in. “I was dead set on finding a way to make me happy without God,” Caleb explains.

Drugs, partying, and sex became a part of his everyday life. When he was 17, Sara, his girlfriend at the time, gave birth to their son. After quarrelling over what to do about the baby, they decided that they would give him away to adoption. This eventually led to them breaking up. Depressed, Caleb sought solace in even more drugs, alcohol, and other women. On the outside, it looked like he was having a good time. But on the inside, all he felt was emptiness.

 

Photo by Xempt

 

Called by God

One particular day, a friend invited Caleb to a Christian conference that featured hip hop dancing. Figuring he would have a bit of fun with his friends, he agreed—even arriving at the venue stoned. Despite his blasé attitude towards God at the time, Caleb was immediately struck by God’s presence at the event. Over three days, he found himself responding to one altar call after another and unloading his burdens to Jesus. “All the pain and shame I’d held onto for so many years began to fall off.”

After experiencing the truth of Christ’s love, Caleb decided to dedicate his life—and his music—to God. That started a time of transformation, redemption, and restoration. Four years later, Caleb was reunited with Sara, his former girlfriend. They married and had two more children together. “God is using our story to glorify His name,” he proudly proclaims.

As God continued to turn his life around, Caleb began to see the truth of Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

But it wasn’t just a new identity that God gave Caleb: He also gave the hip hop artist a new name.

 

The Birth of Xempt

After God transformed him and Caleb began to use his music to honor God, he continued with his stage name, Tu K. However, he felt that the name carried a lot of baggage from his past life, which he had spent chasing after the pleasures of the world. “In all those bad things I was doing, people knew me as Tu K,” he says.

A memorable encounter changed all that. While he and Sara were choosing a name for their newborn daughter—whom they eventually named “Mercy”—Caleb felt convicted about the importance and power behind a name. Around the same time, he was also reading about incidences in the Bible when God had changed a person’s name to speak life and identity into their lives. “God spoke to me and said ‘Caleb, you have died to yourself and resurrected with me. I want to give you a new name. You have been exempted from your past and your past no longer affects you.’”

And so the name “Xempt” was born.

To Caleb, it is much more than a stage name: he sees it as an effective way to share his life story and identity in Christ. “A lot of people out there in the hip hop scene have been down the same roads that I have been,” Caleb says. “When somebody comes up to me and asks, ‘Oh, what’s your name?’, I can say ‘Yo, this is why my name is Xempt: because I’ve been exempted from my past’.”

 

Photo by Xempt

 

Me vs Me

Some four years after he changed his name, Xempt released his debut album Me vs Me in November 2017, which opened at #12 on the Canadian iTunes charts. The title was inspired by Romans 7:19, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

“If you listen through the songs (on the album), it’s a reflection of where I was and where God has brought me,” Caleb explains. From the recounting of his childhood in the opening track “Psalm 6” and the reality of spiritual warfare in “Shadows” to “Jehovah Jireh”, a song of praise that glorifies God’s work in his life, the album is filled with meaningful lyrics centering on the hope found in Jesus, solid beats, and moving melodies.

The album has a simple but powerful key message: “No matter where you may find yourself, whether you feel like the closest thing to God or the furthest thing from God, it doesn’t change the fact that He isn’t finished with you yet.”

That message is expressed especially in “Good Enough”, one of the most popular songs in the album. It was a deep, personal expression of Caleb’s journey back to God which almost was not included in the album. One of the lines in the song recounts the time he found himself sitting in the front row in a church service, feeling completely worthless. “It was a song I wrote out of a cry from my heart that I wasn’t good enough,” he says. “I found myself in a place where people would laugh at me and be like, ‘That’s not who you really are. You’re not a Christian.’ They would speak down to me and tell me what they thought I was—an addict.”

Listen to the song, however, and you’ll walk away with the overwhelming message of God’s grace and Jesus’ love. In a verse from the song, Xempt raps:

“For the seeds that I’ve sown don’t match the grace that He’s shown,
Now my mind is blown. No, I can’t comprehend.
Is it all pretend? His Son, did He really send?
Can He really be my Father, and my King, yet my Friend?”

Asked what he would say to anyone on the same journey, Caleb chokes up with emotion. With tears welling in his eyes, he proclaims: “Man, there’s hope. There’s hope and it’s found in Jesus Christ. To anyone who doesn’t know they’re worth, I just want to remind you that Jesus, the Son of God, came to die for you. No matter what situation you find yourself in, there is hope and there is a reason to live.”

 

 Me vs Me by Xempt is available now. For more info, check out xemptmusic.ca.

Hannah Yeoh: Becoming Malaysia’s First Woman Speaker

Written By Janice Tai, Singapore

Despite being the minority as a Christian Chinese female in Malaysia, Hannah Yeoh became the country’s first female speaker in a state parliament—and its youngest—at the age of 34 in 2013.

 

To date, Hannah has seen the faithful hand of God guiding her through a decade in politics as a representative for the town of Subang Jaya and five years as the speaker of Selangor State Legislative Assembly.

The former lawyer’s unlikely foray into politics started with a dramatic love story.

During a supper with a pastor friend in January 2007, he dropped a bombshell prophecy on her: You will get a marriage proposal in June.

“It seemed quite far-fetched then, as I was single and not seeing anyone. Even up till May, there was still no romantic prospect in sight,” Hannah tells YMI.

She continued to go about her daily life, helping her father and friends with his event management business and serving God in church. By then, she had stopped practising as a lawyer.

In June, Hannah, who was then serving in her church’s ministry for new believers, preached from the pulpit for the first time. Unbeknown to her, fellow church member Ramachandran Muniandy, an IT engineer, was sitting among the congregation and listening with rapt attention.

She had caught his eye, as God had been giving him visions in the last few months of his future wife preaching in church.

Ramachandran and Hannah were already friends at the time, but from then on, he saw her in a different light. He told her to pray about the next stage in her life. That same month, he proposed to her and she accepted the proposal 10 days later after praying about it. The prophecy was fulfilled. But God had even greater plans for the couple.

Hannah was then co-leading a cell group with a former schoolmate, Edward Ling. He had a keen interest in politics and believed in its role in effecting change.

Hannah, in contrast, had neither inclination for nor knowledge of politics. She was not even a registered voter. But she wanted to give him her support, so she joined the Democratic Action Party (DAP), an opposition party, with Edward.

In the meantime, God had spoken to Hannah and her fiancé and told them to get married in January. They did not understand what the rush was for, but obeyed Him and tied the knot on January 5, 2008.

 

Becoming Malaysia’s first female speaker

The reason for a contracted dating and marriage timeline soon became clear. Elections were called a month later and the DAP chose Hannah to contest the Subang Jaya state seat. They believed she would appeal to the young, middle-class professionals there. Edward became Hannah’s campaign manager.

“I had no political ambitions so it came as a surprise. But God provided me with a husband who prayed with me about it and supported me even though I felt ill-equipped to speak at rallies during the campaigning period,” says Hannah.

Hannah needed as much support as she could get. She was up against a seasoned female politician. During the campaign period, her opponent distributed a booklet containing a long description of her political experience; all Hannah had was a leaflet with her passport photo printed on it.

Many mocked her for being young and inexperienced but Hannah persevered and leveraged on her youth. She even came up with a tagline that said, “Yes, I have no experience, I have no experience in corruption!” At rallies, she also brought in young people to share their ideas and vision for the country.

Though she could cough up only RM700 (about US$170) from her savings for the election campaign, her supporters and friends raised more than RM100,000 to support her campaign. She won the seat with a majority vote of 71 percent in 2008; she was only 29 then. Hannah was re-elected in 2013 and also sworn in as speaker—out of the 56 state assemblymen in the state assembly—to preside over the proceedings of the House that year. 

 While elated and grateful for the honor, the ex-lawyer nevertheless found the post-election road a lonely one. Young people her age were free to hang out with friends after work, but her weekends were taken up by community events and other obligations.

“God led me on this path and I obeyed, but I also felt discouraged because I felt far away from my own dream to be a preacher,” she recalls.

Press Conference on introduction of Opposition Time in the Selangor State Legislative Assembly

Pressing on in Politics

However, Hannah persevered because she believed God had given her a larger platform to fight for honesty and integrity in Malaysia. Her party’s battle against corruption and race-based policies also resonated with her.

In the last five years, Hannah has pushed for more checks and balances in the political system by strengthening the role of the opposition in her state, though her party is the governing party there. For example, she introduced “Opposition Time” for the Opposition Leader to speak in the State Legislative Assembly before each adjournment of the House. She also saw through changes requiring the Opposition Leader to chair the Public Accounts Committee inspecting the state government’s spending.

In Malaysia, race, religion and politics are often intertwined. But Hannah, while a Christian, sought to institute fairness in land allocation matters. During her term, she successfully fought for land for places of worship for other faiths, representing the different stakeholders in her constituency who entrusted her with the mandate to be their spokesman.

At the same time, she remained passionate and vocal about her own faith. Three years ago, she launched her biography, Becoming Hannah, which traced the hand of God in her life.

Her detractors, however, used her book to play up religious sensitivities. In May last year, a university lecturer lodged a police report accusing Hannah of attempting to “coax, influence and instigate” people to convert to Christianity through her book. It came right after a well-known Christian politician in Indonesia, Jakarta’s former governor Ahok, was sentenced to two years in prison over comments about the Quran.

Hannah was questioned but no charges have been pressed so far. “My opponents usually attack me by playing the religion card, especially in the online space. I have learned to respond by setting the record straight on false allegations immediately and by keeping my hands clean so that they don’t have anything to use against me,” she says.

While numerous duties such as overseeing committees and hosting diplomatic visits as a speaker fill her days, Hannah still manages to run a home. She and her husband—now a pastor—take turns to pray with their two daughters, aged four and six, before putting them to bed every night.

Ask her if she intends to stay in politics for the long haul, and her reply is: “One day at a time, one election at a time.” Her desire, she says, is to stay in politics not one day longer than what God intends. For now, at least, she has discerned that God still wants her to contest the next elections.

Her parting words for young people: Never lose hope in God’s plans and purpose for your life.

Hannah says: “People have told me that it is impossible to stay clean in Malaysian politics and that the system will swallow me. But Nehemiah sought to rebuild broken walls despite the desolation and ruin. No task is too great if one trusts and hopes in God.”

 

Speakers’ Conference 2017 held at Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia, May 2017

Craig Greenfield: Family in the slums and urban fringes

Written By Janice Tai, Singapore

Seven-year-old Jaydan and his sister Micah, 5, bounded down the streets of Downtown Eastside in inner-city Vancouver.

The people hanging around those roads saw them and shouted to each other: “Kids on the block!”

Those who were using drugs started keeping their needles. Those who were fighting and swearing immediately quietened down.

But Jaydan’s eyes were sharp. He saw a needle packet discarded at the foot of a fence and pointed it out to his sister, who shrunk back in mock horror.

Later, the kids would tell the adults that they knew what the needles were used for—“to put poison into them”—and why people turned to them—“it makes them think about other things and nothing about the bad day.”

Jaydan and Micah are children of Craig Greenfield and his Cambodian-Chinese wife Nay, both 43. The parents were not afraid of bringing up their young children in the midst of drug addicts or former convicts. In return, the community was transformed by the presence of the children and altered their addictive behavior.

 

Sharing lives in Canada

Back in 2005, the family had moved into one of the poorest areas in Canada, where they began a radical social experiment by opening up their home to people struggling with homelessness, prostitution, and drug addiction.

Before moving to Canada, Craig had grown up in affluence in New Zealand. There, he had met his wife Nay, a refugee from the Khmer Rouge regime. After marrying, both of them had answered God’s call to serve and live alongside orphans in slums in Cambodia for seven years. They had made their home in two different slums there. Jaydan was conceived in one and raised in another, and Micah was also born in the second slum. Craig and Nay then felt led to apply what they had learned in the Asian slums to an urban area in an affluent, Western country.

While it seemed to be the exact opposite of where they had previously served, they saw that inner-city Vancouver had its share of physical and emotional poverty. There was rampant drug addiction, it had the highest Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection rate in the Western world, and four in five people lived alone.

“There are plenty of charities and soup kitchens there and people can get fed every half an hour. But such a charity model fosters a one-way relationship and a taking mentality,” says Craig. “We believe that people’s hurt and brokenness occurs in the context of relationships and often their families, and so healing and transformation will also come in the context of relationships—healthy ones.”

So, instead of handing out donuts in a charity line, he and his wife went to line up with everyone else to get the free donuts. As they got to know people, they invited them back to their home for meals or for a temporary roof over their heads. This was the basis of their Christian community, called Servants Vancouver which they founded.

The Greenfields now have two adjourning houses and two apartments. At any one time, they can house up to three families, four singles, and five children. “When people laugh together, do the dishes together, work together, play together, share lives together, we believe that there is something transformative about that,” says Craig.

In such a community, the children bring joy and companionship to the singles or drug addicts who have had their own children taken away from them. The adults are less inclined to indulge in addictive behaviors in front of the children, and become mentors to the young charges. “We want to practise radical hospitality, welcoming those who are not normally welcomed in this society, into our lives, into our homes, into our families,” says Craig.

One of the lives that was impacted by such a community was John, a former gang member who had been in and out of prison. He found a place where he was safe and able to stay clean from drugs, as well as a church family.

When asked if he was ever worried about his children being in such unusual company, Craig replies: “I would be more fearful bringing my children up in the midst of affluence and the kind of consumer society where they don’t get to mix with people of different socio-economic backgrounds and their only exposure to drugs is seeing Britney Spears and Paris Hilton on TV, glamorizing the drug using lifestyle.”

“My kids walk down the street and they see a guy lying there in the gutter like a down-and-out person, and they have no illusions on what drugs do to a person,” he adds.

The Greenfields continued to reach out to the drug addicts in the community for six years, giving them a place to detox and get back on their feet. Many of them needed a refuge while waiting to get into drug treatment centers, which had long waiting lists.

In 2012, a serious brush with cancer led Craig to think about what he wanted to spend his final years doing. Knowing that each of the men and women struggling with addiction, homelessness, or prostitution had started out life as a child longing for someone to love them, he decided to work with children, to try to address the problem at the roots.

So, in 2013, the family moved back to Cambodia, as they felt God’s leading to re-engage directly with the needs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable children in the developing world.

 

(From left) Nay, Micah, Jaydan and Craig.

 

Convicted in Cambodia

It was a return to the place where Craig had first discovered the value of setting up a Christian community. His calling to the urban poor in Cambodia grew from a short-term mission trip in Phnom Penh which he did during a six-month break from university in New Zealand. Craig, who majored in commerce, had been raised in a Christian family who freely opened their doors to the vulnerable in society.

During the mission trip, young Craig befriended people who were dirt poor and homeless and were not interested in an abstract theology that seemed to be disengaged from their physical needs. “I am very poor. What can Jesus do for me?” one of them asked Craig.

Craig, then 22 years old, also remembered coming across a beggar outside a genocide museum. The beggar leaned on a wooden crutch and thrust an upturned baseball cap in his direction. A faded and filthy red T-shirt hung from his body, and on the front of the T-shirt were four huge, peeling block letters: “W.W.J.D.”

Those letters haunted the young man. “When I was growing up, those letters were etched into fluorescent green rubber wristbands sold in Christian bookstores or printed on the front covers of upbeat Teen Bibles. But I had never seen those letters on the tattered T-shirt of a beggar,” he says.

Shortly after graduation, Craig met Nay at a church gathering and married her. Nay knew that one day she would go back to her home country and help her people. Similarly, Craig remembered the first stirrings to fulfill the Great Commission in Cambodia that God had placed in his heart during the mission trip. After some deliberation, he quit his job as a corporate executive in a successful technology start-up, and both of them moved into an impoverished Cambodian slum community called Victory Creek in 2002. Their aim was to serve Jesus by serving those in the “distressing disguise of the poor”.

A two-room shack, barely tall enough to stand upright in, with only one window and one door to let light in, was their castle. Craig and May lived alongside the poor, listened to their concerns, and tried to meet their needs.

In their time there, they realized that many children were put in orphanages because their parents had either died from Aids or did not have the resources to raise their children. In his work with international humanitarian workers and consultants there, Craig learned that orphanage care could actually be harmful for the children. For instance, research has shown that institutional care has a negative effect on the psycho-social development of children. It also fosters a sense of disconnectedness, as the community is not involved in the care of the orphans.

 

Craig and Nay in Cambodia

 

Equipping locals in Cambodia

So Craig developed a ministry to help Cambodian communities care for their own orphans, and it eventually reached out to hundreds of vulnerable children and sparked a mentoring movement called Alongsiders International.

The basic concept of Alongsiders is getting extended family members or local volunteers to foster or mentor orphans in their midst.

“Cambodians have a proverb, ‘It takes a spider to repair its own web’. Our growing conviction as outsiders is to equip the locals or insiders to become alongsiders in journeying through life with the vulnerable in their society,” says Craig. He has seen orphans who had benefited from the love and support of others become “wounded healers” and extend the same love and support to others.

Today, the Alongsiders movement has spread into many provinces of Cambodia, as well as India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Myanmar, and beyond.

Craig and his family are still in Cambodia leading Alongsiders international, which now has thousands of young Christians making disciples in 15 countries. He says: “Mother Teresa once said that loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is truly the most terrible poverty. Our mission is to train and guide young Christians in poor nations to walk alongside those who walk alone.”

 

Check out Craig’s latest book “The Alongsiders Story” or join the movement at www.alongsiders.org

Jonathan Hayashi: Gangster Turned Pastor

The photographs show a shirtless teenager with a head of dirty blond cropped hair, a toned body, and a pair of Ray-Bans. A huge tattoo of a pair of praying hands fills his back. A cross is imprinted on his right arm.

That was Jonathan Hayashi 12 years ago, a gangster who fought on the streets of Japan. No one would have believed back then that he would become a pastor in America today.

Jonathan Hayashi as a teenager

 

Troubles at home

 Jonathan’s troubles began at home—and with his father, a violent man who struggled with anger management issues.

He recalls times when his father would beat his mother in public at the bus stop because she was a few minutes late in fetching him. Once, his father even threw one of his brothers off the second floor of the house.

Jonathan was only six then. His second eldest brother, Kaz, had punched a wall that day and his father was livid. He dragged Kaz out of bed by his hair and hit him. Crying and pleading, their mother tried to stop her husband. But Jonathan’s father would not relent—not even with Kaz’s desperate cries of “I’m sorry, I’m sorry”. Then his father flung Kaz off the second floor of the house onto the first. Thankfully, Kaz did not suffer any major physical injury from that fall.

“Being at home was a terrible experience, there was always a lack of peace, of security, and of home,” Jonathan, now 28, tells YMI. “Growing up, I had a tremendous fear for my father. I never knew if his anger would lead him to try anything worse on me.” Describing his father as a “micromanaging dictator”, Jonathan says that he always felt distant from his father, who wasn’t a Christian.

On the other hand, Jonathan shared a close relationship with his mother, a Christian, and would accompany her to church weekly. Although he didn’t consider himself a Christian then, the situation at home drove him to his knees to pray daily for God to save his father.

But God didn’t seem to answer. “Even though I prayed so much, He just seemed very distant from me and I didn’t see my situation at home improve,” he says.

 

Troubles at school

On top of this, a hostile environment in school made things worse. Jonathan was born in Kentucky, USA, as his father had got a job there as a scientist for CorningWare. The family had moved back to Japan when he was three, so Jonathan struggled with speaking and understanding the Japanese language.

As a result, he was frequently picked on in class. His classmates would ridicule him with foul words in Japanese, knowing that he couldn’t understand the language. “At first, I was confused; then I felt really shameful for not being able to speak Japanese well,” says Jonathan. He was also mocked and alienated for being the only Christian in his class.

When he was in seventh grade, the abuse from his schoolmates turned physical. He recalls how, on one occasion, a group of seniors used a wooden Japanese sword to beat him up in the bathroom till he was left bruised and bleeding. He says: “I was just an easy target to everyone. Going to school was just plain dreadful and full of negativity. I hated school.”

 

Finding Solutions

At the age of 12, Jonathan got into bad company and joined a gang. His poor attendance at his high school got him kicked out, and he started smoking, drinking, and taking drugs. He found a girlfriend, started working out, and joined his gang for fights.

“I was trying to fill the void and emptiness within me with something, and I went for all the things of this world that promised me fulfillment and purpose,” he says. “I turned to earthly things rather than the Creator himself.”

“Growing up, I watched my father abuse my mom and siblings and naturally, I started to project that onto others,” he says. “I was deeply hurt by so many people, and the internal conflict turned into an external attack onto others.” He remembers one particular fight where he fought one-on-one with a rival gang member. It left him with a deep cut in the jaw that required four stitches and his opponent drenched in blood.

By the time he turned 14, he had stopped attending church. “Deep down, I knew there had to be more to life than these meaningless activities but at the same time, I felt that I couldn’t turn to God,” he explains. “I hated God.”

 

God’s Work

But God was not done with Jonathan. At the age of 15, he was arrested for stealing a motorcycle and being part of a gang. As he sat in the police car, God tapped on Jonathan’s heart, saying: “Jonathan, I have a bigger plan for you—this is not what you’re supposed to be.”

Jonathan was not convinced. “I swore at God, ‘You’re not coming into my life now, not after what you didn’t do for me. If you loved me, why didn’t you give me a dad that loved me? If you loved me, why didn’t you protect me from the bullies in school? If you loved me, why didn’t you protect my mother and my siblings from my father’s abuse?’” he says.

When Jonathan’s parents came to pick him up from the police station, the first thing his father said to him was: “You bring dishonor to the family.” That one sentence pushed Jonathan off the edge. He glared at his father in anger and retorted: “You were the one who taught me to be violent and rebellious. You have no right to be ashamed or upset.”

“I felt zero remorse or repentance for what I had done,” he shares with YMI.

At that point of time, Jonathan wasn’t the only one in his family in trouble. Jonathan’s eldest brother had left the Christian faith, walked out of home, and lived an “open, vile and rebellious life”. His second brother had beaten up a classmate in high school and left him hospitalized for a week. His sister, the youngest of his siblings, had dropped out of school.

Desperate, his mother sent him to a missionary home in Tokyo to stay. That’s when he cut off all contact with the gang and broke up with his girlfriend. But he wasn’t able to quit smoking and taking drugs.

While attending the church there, he was introduced to Pastor Kawamata.

 

Pastor K’s influence

There was something different, and special, about Pastor Kawamata. While other Christians despised and judged Jonathan for his past, Pastor Kawamata offered him words of encouragement. “Pastor K was the real deal—he was so full of joy and love,” says Jonathan. “He treated me as if I were his son.”

It was Pastor Kawamata’s love, he adds, that ultimately led him to Jesus. “I was drawn to this love that no other had showed me and I had to know his secret.”

At the age of 16, Jonathan opened the Bible for the first time. Although he had trouble reading because of his dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), his desperation drove him to read the Word.

The verse 1 John 3:1 convicted him and led him to accept Jesus into his life. In that verse, the apostle John writes that God’s love was shown to us when He called us His children. Gripped by God’s love for him, Jonathan began to see things in a new perspective. Jonathan says: “Everything changed when Jesus came into my life—I could no longer be the same.”

It was also at that point that he stopped smoking and taking drugs entirely. Instead, he set his sight on becoming a pastor like Pastor Kawamata.

 

Starting Afresh

After a few months, he followed the suggestion of his pastor’s wife and moved from Japan to Malaysia, where he finished high school at Dalat International School, a Christian school. While Jonathan was in Malaysia and away from his family, God kept bringing to his mind his broken relationship with his father. “I knew that in order for me to grow in my faith and to model Christ-likeness, I needed to forgive my father and seek reconciliation.”

So when Jonathan went home for one of his winter breaks, he asked his father for forgiveness and forgave his father. They also exchanged hugs—which is a big deal in Japanese culture—and said “I love you” to each other.

After graduating from high school in Malaysia, Jonathan did a degree in pastoral ministry at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, then a Masters’ in pastoral leadership at Moody Theological Seminary. He also met his wife, Kennedi at Moody Bible Institute. They now have two daughters, Kaede and Anna.

Today, Jonathan serves as a pastoral staff at Troy First Baptist Church in Missouri, USA, where he counsels couples with marital problems and students with depression. He is also pursuing a doctorate in biblical counselling. All his siblings also returned to the faith, and now serve as pastors, missionaries, or professors at a Christian seminary. Their father also came to know Christ five years ago.

Jonathan’s father getting baptized

Jonathan attributes a large part of who he is today to his mother, who never gave up on the family. “My mother was so faithful and persistent. Christ was evident in her, not just on her lips but also in her deeds,” he says. “From the lifestyle that she led, it was very obvious that Christ is center of all things in her.”

He recalls how she would wake up at 4 a.m. every day and spend time reading and praying for the family in the corner of her room secretly. She has also been helping the Our Daily Bread Ministries translate the Our Daily Bread devotional into Japanese for the past 25 years.

Jonathan is no longer in contact with Pastor Kawamata today, but he will never forget his love and kindness. He also credits the pastor for pointing him towards full-time ministry.

Another person whose life and words have played a significant role in changing Jonathan’s is the renowned American evangelist and publisher Dwight Lyman Moody, who started out as a poorly educated shoe salesman. “If God could use Mr. Moody, why should he not use the rest of us?” Jonathan says.

“My future plans and goal is to become a senior pastor and to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. I believe God is calling me to shepherd the flock. My dream is to proclaim His Name and preach the Word with all my might to see men saved, baptized, and added to the church,” he says.

Jonathan’s family photo