Mixing in the Melting Pot
Don Yoshida Jr. remembers as a child being intrigued by the rituals his maternal grandmother participated in at Shinto shrines in Japan. He witnessed her paying homage to divinities she believed were embodied in animals, the sky, trees, mountains, the country’s emperor, or deceased relatives. At a Shinto site, his Japanese grandmother tossed coins into a collection box, bowed, clapped twice, and bowed again before departing.
Repeatedly, Yoshida experienced this tradition to appease the “local god” because his father was stationed in Japan from 1957 to 1962 while in the U.S. Army. Yoshida’s grandmother also frequented a Buddhist temple, where the boy saw statues, mirrors, and incense offerings before an altar.
Although his father’s family had been in Hawaii since the late 1800s, Yoshida’s mother didn’t immigrate from Japan until 1951. At the age of 10, Yoshida returned to Hawaii, where he had been born.
“I had no idea what Christianity was about,” says Yoshida, 66.
At the age of 12, Yoshida went to vacation Bible school at Bethany Assembly of God in Aiea, Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. There he heard the gospel for the first time. After accepting Jesus as Savior, he became an ardent evangelist, testifying about Jesus to his schoolteachers during lunch hour and passing out tracts at a shopping mall after classes.
Yoshida’s parents discouraged him from attending Bible college, but he engaged in a variety of Christian activities at the University of Hawaii. After graduation, he obtained additional degrees from Northwest University and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.
In 1977, the year he obtained ministerial credentials, Bethany AG in Aiea — the church where he became a Christian — called Yoshida to be its youth pastor. He remained in the post for 11 years, adding duties such as choir director to day-care director along the way. Near the end of that stretch, Yoshida married his Caucasian wife, Diana, who had moved to Hawaii from Missouri in 1984. Upon seeing Diana for the first time, Don says he heard a voice in his head declare She’s the one.
Diana had made the radical relocation to be near her brother, who was stationed at Tripler Army Medical Center — where she currently works. Diana had started attending the nearest AG church, Bethany in Aiea, where Don served as associate pastor at the time. Although an ethnic minority at the church, Diana found acceptance teaching Girls Ministries.
In 1988, Yoshida planted Church in the City in Honolulu. In 1999, that church merged with Bethany in Aiea when Yoshida became senior pastor there.
Yoshida is in his 10th year as secretary of the Assemblies of God Hawaii District. For the past year, he also has been vice president of the AG’s Japanese Fellowship.
Hawaii is the most multiethnic state in the union, with a white population of only 23 percent. Hawaii also has the largest ratio of Asian Americans and multiracial Americans in the U.S. Yoshida’s heritage, including familiarity with Shintoism and Buddhism, helps him relate to various groups. The fact that he speaks Japanese and that his wife is Anglo likewise makes it easier for him to relate to others. He has Japanese, Chinese, Hawaii, and Irish ancestors.
“With so many ethnicities in Hawaii he just blends in with all of them,” Diana says.