The congregation of Izumi Baptist Church in Japan will experience a Christmas service with “McAfee flair” on Dec. 23. Four graduates of Mercer’s McAfee School of Theology who are living and doing ministry work in Tokyo are teaming up to lead the Sunday worship.
Kei Jokura, pastor of Izumi Baptist, had the idea for the service and invited Laura and Carson Foushee to preach the sermon and LaTonya Whitaker to lead the gospel music. Jokura graduated from McAfee in 2002, Whitaker in 2003, Laura Foushee in 2010 and Carson Foushee in 2011.
“McAfee is a smaller theological institution, so the fact that four graduates are in the same city serving abroad and found the time to lead together was certainly an opportunity we did not want to pass up,” Laura Foushee said.
“We are excited to be able to serve a local church partner while also celebrating doing ministry with friends who share the same gratitude for being trained and reared through their education at McAfee.”
Jokura said he moved back to Tokyo in 2002 to put the insight and linguistic skills he learned at McAfee to use. He and wife Yuko, also a McAfee graduate, have a son and daughter.
Whitaker said she studied at McAfee at the same time as Kei and Yuko Jokura, and she and husband David relocated to Japan because of them. They went on a church mission trip to Tokyo after the Jokuras returned to the city, and before long, they were serving with Kei Jokura during his first assignment at Shimura Baptist Church. Today, they continue to work with him a few times a year at Izumi Baptist.
“Kei and Yuko are great friends, and we enjoy working and worshipping with them any chance we get,” Whitaker said.
The Whitakers have now lived in Tokyo for 13 years and have a 4-year-old son. Since 2015, they have owned Soul Food House in the Azabu-Juban district, serving everything from chicken and waffles, country fried steak and pulled pork to gumbo, jambalaya and red beans and rice. They host monthly Bible study and worship services at the restaurant, as well as gospel open mic events.
“It’s part of our ministry. Feed the stomach, feed the spirit, feed the soul,” LaTonya Whitaker said. “Our whole mission is for individuals to taste the love, based on the scripture ‘Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.’ We pray that when people come they can have a sense of home and family no matter what country they are from.”
Laura and Carson Foushee met while in school at McAfee, and they moved to Japan in 2013 as “field personnel” (or missionaries) for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). They served congregations in the cities of Kanazawa and Toyama until 2016, spent six months fundraising back in America, and then moved to Tokyo in 2017 to begin full-time study at a Japanese language school and work with the Japan Baptist Convention, a partner of CBF.
“The Japanese congregations have been so welcoming and offered us opportunities to use our gifts to engage people inside and outside the walls of the churches,” Carson Foushee said. “We, of course, have a passion for serving Japanese people, but as internationals we also understand what it is like to be outsiders in this largely homogenous culture. This has led us to build relationships with people from all across the globe … people with whom we connect on a different level in some ways, especially as we all struggle together to learn and express ourselves in Japanese.”
The Foushees delivered their first sermon in Japanese last month, which was a huge milestone in their Japanese proficiency, Laura Foushee said. The Dec. 23 Christmas service is another chance for them to put into practice what they have been studying, and they are grateful for the opportunity.
Jokura said the point of the service is to give attendees a diverse and unique faith experience. It will be similar to a typical Sunday morning service in America, although the Foushees said their team preaching and sermon style may be different from what most people have heard before in Japan.
Whitaker will lead a gospel choir in singing “This is the Day,” “Hallelujah, You are Big in Me” and “Mary Did You Know?” Jokura will preside over communion for all church members, children and guests. A Christmas party will follow the service.
Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, so people are able to spend more time celebrating together on the Sunday before, the Foushees said.
“McAfee has a presence in Japan and to be able to come together and share the love, hope and presence of God is awesome,” Whitaker said.