The UPPC Story Project: Hiroko Yaguchi

Since first coming to UPPC in January 2020, Hiroko Yaguchi has experienced the death of her husband and new life in Christ.  

Growing up in Japan, Hiroko has fond memories of summer festivals with fireworks put on by local Buddhist temples. Her experience with faith was formed by living in the Japanese culture where they “always believed in God, regardless of your religion,” she said. Her mother would often remind Hiroko and her two brothers that “God is always watching you!”

However, Hiroko’s first interactions with the Christian faith were negative.

“Every New Years, my family went to this one particular shrine because my parents owned a business and visiting this shrine was supposed to help the business prosper. And every year, there were people holding big signs that said if you don’t believe in Jesus, you will go to Hell. And they would blast those messages on the big speakers,” she said.

For young Hiroko, believing in Jesus sounded confusing and even dangerous.

Just months before Hiroko turned 19, she came to the U.S. to attend college. She attended several area colleges, eventually studying exercise science at the University of Puget Sound, later graduating from the school’s physical therapy program.

A year after arriving in the states, Hiroko met her future husband, Carl. In 2001, Hiroko and Carl were married, moving to University Place about 10 years ago. Around the same time, their daughter Lulu was later born, just three days before their tenth wedding anniversary in 2011.

Hiroko joined Carl and his family attended Catholic mass each week. Over time she started to enjoy the messages and began to think critically about her faith. When her daughter Lulu was baptized as a baby, Hiroko was baptized too. After a while, the family drifted away from the Catholic Church.

In January 2020, Carl was diagnosed with liver cancer that had metastasized to his lungs. During that same time, Hiroko started going to services at UPPC. Lulu had already been attending the Campfire kids ministry at the church for the past couple of years with a friend.

“She started asking me to take her to Sunday School. So, I said, ‘You go to Sunday School and I am going to go upstairs and go to the service’ and that is how it started,” Hiroko said.
Hiroko “really, really liked” how Pastor Aaron Stewart and Pastor Mike Moffit explained Scripture passage by passage during their messages.

“I was really learning something and it made me want to know more. It also made me think that maybe there is something deeper than just going to church on Sunday,” she said.

Soon after she started attending UPPC, the next round of Alpha classes was about to begin. Hiroko decided to invite a friend of hers who was also searching for a church community. One of the big draws about Alpha for Hiroko was that it seemed like a space for “exploring your faith and a safe place to ask questions with no judgement.”

Because of the coronavirus epidemic, Alpha met weekly through Zoom calls with a wide range of people coming from a variety of faith backgrounds. Some had Christian educations, some grew up in church, and some were new to the faith like Hiroko and her friend.

While learning more about the Christian faith, experiencing community and the beauty of prayer, as well as witnessing the Holy Spirit’s work within the Alpha group, Hiroko became more keenly aware of God’s hand in her life, even working in interesting ways to use the quarantine during Covid-19 as a blessing for her family.

With schools shutdown, Lulu was no longer at risk to bring a cold or other illness home from school and possibly infect Carl, who was undergoing chemotherapy. In addition, Hiroko’s work was shut down, but the family was blessed financially by unemployment benefits and the Care Act. This allowed the family precious time to be together during the last days of Carl’s life. And after his death in April, Hiroko and Lulu were given the needed time to grieve and be with each other.

“When I first started coming, since this is a big church, I didn’t know if I would get to know anybody because I would just come for service and then go. But, I actually really felt welcome, especially with what all the small groups are doing and what Alpha has done for me. I really feel like I can find good friends, faith-based friends that can support each other.”

In September, Hiroko will begin a new job in the Tacoma School District after a career working in hospitals, nursing homes and in-home care. As she continues to make UPPC her church home, she is excited to find her own small group and find more ways for her and her daughter to be involved and grow.

“I want to have a church home here and be able to share the faith. And, I want Lulu to learn that there is something bigger than you that leads you and guides you and is watching you. Here, she gets to play and learn more about faith and God. I just want her to have that assurance that you don’t have to do everything by yourself. You have God and the Holy Spirit makes this journey in kind of a mysterious way, but it happens because it happened to me. I feel like just even coming to this country and even before I found UPPC somehow everything had to happen to get here.”

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