I am a second generation Japanese American who grew up enjoying carne asada tacos in the suburbs of East Los Angeles. I have an undergraduate degree in Pastoral Studies from Vanguard University and a Masters in Counseling Psychology/Marriage and Family Therapy from California Lutheran University. As a licensed Marriage and Family therapist, I have worked with individuals, couples, families, and churches through my private practice of over 10 years. I have also served a diverse population of patients in settings such as hospitals, alcohol and drug rehabilitation clinics, juvenile detention programs, and foster care & adoption clinics.
Elizabeth Romero Watanabe:
I was born in Alabama and grew up in the deep south (hence my slight southern accent). I have a Bachelors in Political Science from Pepperdine University and a Masters in Sustainability and Environmental Management from Harvard University. My business background has primarily been in Finance, Business Operations, Investment Real Estate (I have a California Real Estate Brokers License) and Project Management.
We have two amazing daughters (Olivia and Jacklyn) who are both in their early twenties. We are empty nesters that have a passion to serve and work together in Japan.
Kenji and Elizabeth have been partnering with the local churches in Kumamoto, Japan as Missional Partner Associates since April 2018. They have a heart to serve the communities in Kumamoto through counseling, family ministries, and community development.
What would you suggest for people who sense God may be calling them into ministry?
Pray, a lot (especially for God’s vision for the people you have a heart for)... seek a lot of wise counsel from trusted friends and family, involve your church family, be willing to step out and risk, be willing to move out of your comfort zone, trust the process, and be open to God showing up in surprising ways.
Do you have a fun missionary story or cultural mistake you can share?
If you are wondering if “Wonder Bread” is actually wonderful... you’ll think this story is full of wonder. In the fall of 2005, Elizabeth lead a short term mission team to New Orleans, Louisiana to gut and clean out homes that were flooded and destroyed in the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. 10 weeks after the flood waters had receded, homes that were previously ten feet below the waters had crusty, black mold everywhere (drywall, floors, ceilings, etc.) that required demolition while wearing full, top to bottom hazmat suits. During the clean up in the kitchen area of one of the homes the team stumbled upon an unopened loaf of “Wonder Bread” and to their amazement the sealed 10 week old, flood survived, heat resistant, loaf was mold free and pure white. Doesn’t this kind of make you “Wonder” what is actually in that “Bread”?
When in Japan, be sure to...
catch the blooming of the cherry blossoms during spring (there’s nothing like it), try the delicious monjayaki on Monja Street in Tokyo, and definitely go to an onsen in Gifu or Kinosaki.
What are some important lessons you've learned as you have served in ministry?
Probably the most important lesson we have learned in ministry is to “listen deeply”… “Listen” especially when you think you have the answer… “Listen” particularly when you think you have the solution. Listening first tends to disengage our own biases and blind spots, then makes others feel valued and heard, and finally listening well often times helps us to ask better questions that often times lead to more helpful answers.
What are some hopes you have for the future?
We hope to deeply learn, listen, and understand the heart of the Japanese people. We desire to work hard toward language and cultural fluency and hope to clearly live out being a Jesus follower in Japan.
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