The Venice Free Methodist Church in Los Angeles, California, recently celebrated Senior Pastor Jim and Suzanne Miyabe’s four decades of service.
The Miyabes have led a fruitful period of ministry for this resilient congregation, which started out way before World War II but then had to regroup and start from scratch to minister to the many lost and confused but hardworking farm families that moved back to the Venice-Santa Monica area after they left the Japanese-American internment camps following the end of the war.
For this festive occasion with a Hawaiian theme, the church changed from its usually sedate atmosphere to a sanctuary alive with palm trees, a little grass hut, beautiful flowers of many colors and everyone dressed in casual Hawaiian wear. During the festivities, church members reflected on how the couple’s 40-year ministry has helped so many get over the rocky places in their lives.
Angela Meadows began the program by playing her ukulele and singing Pastor Jim’s favorite hymn, which states, “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.”
Denise Suzuki Tang shared the many positive experiences she had while growing up at Venice Church with Pastor Jim, Suzanne and the inspirational teachers that convinced her to follow Jesus. Denise and her husband, Rob, left their comfortable lifestyle in Los Angeles to spend the past nine years in Thailand protecting street children from being sold into sex slavery.
Larrow Kaufman told how Pastor Jim officiated at his father’s funeral while he was personally struggling with growing up with a father who was never there for him. Jim simply said to him, “Grace, Larrow, grace.” Growing up at Venice Church, Larrow knew that meant “forgiveness and love.”
It is now “politically correct” to have friends of all backgrounds and races, but Jim’s multiethnic ministry started with him, his wife and his family more than 40 years ago.
Kiku Kubo shared how much it meant to her for Jim to visit her and her husband when he was terminally ill with cancer and then tragically and more recently with her daughter.
I could identify because my husband went through a major heart attack when I flew to Dallas to care for my terminally ill cousin Jill. That was followed by 13 bouts of congestive heart failure over the next nine years and then a major stroke. Pastor Jim was always there to talk and pray with my husband. No matter how sick he was, his hands became very strong as he grabbed Pastor Jim’s hands when he entered the room. They both laughed when Jim said, “What’s going on here, Richard? Even cats have only nine lives.” Somehow my husband sensed Pastor Jim’s spiritual strength and love as he held my husband’s hands and prayed with him and for him.
Thanks to Jim and Suzanne Miyabe, many people at Venice have taken on the ministry of healing, compassion and love.
Cheri Sakai is a longtime member of the Venice Free Methodist Church. Her writing has appeared in The Rafu Shimpo, the nation’s leading Japanese American newspaper.