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Bouncing Back from Twin Tragedies

Japanese pastor regains footing after the death of her husband and her own traumatic injury.

Cynthia Mitsue Ishihara wants to assure potential converts that the Christian life isn’t just about peace, love, and contentment.

Christians must withstand heartache and pain, and Ishihara has endured her share of both this year.

Ishihara’s husband, Abraham, started Calstar Assembly of God in San Jose, California, in 1985. Over the years, the church engaged the city in lengthy zoning battles before finally constructing a new building in 2002.

Many attendees of the small church have been international students, who return to Japan after studying in the U.S. Nevertheless, in three decades of ministry, Abraham baptized 100 people while pastor of Calstar AG.

On Feb. 8, Cynthia couldn’t find her husband in their home despite repeatedly calling out to him. She eventually discovered him in the attic, slumped over from a fatal heart attack at the age of 66.

Panicked, Cynthia fell through the slats in the ceiling, crashing to the first floor and breaking her back and right foot in the process. She spent four days hospitalized and more time in a rehabilitation center before undergoing surgery.

The series of events shocked and depressed Cynthia, who had continued to spend daily devotional time with her husband of 41 years before he died. But she returned to the battle of daily life.

“I trust the Lord,” she says. “The Cross turns minuses into pluses. The Lord has a wonderful plan for our church.”

In the aftermath of the tragedies, Assemblies of God ordained minister Dennis Ray Peters has been making a 3-hour drive from Sacramento to preach at afternoon services at Calstar following morning services he leads at a Japanese church in California’s capital. Peters, who spent a combined 30 years as an Assemblies of God world missionary in Japan and a U.S. missionary ministering to Japanese, is fluent in the language.

“We want to build the congregation back up,” says Peters, who also is director of Reaching Japanese for Christ. “The church has received quite a punch in the gut.”

Yet Cynthia Ishihara is accustomed to bouncing back. She became the first in her family to become a Christian in 1967 at the age of 17. She says she soon received a vision to preach, a call confirmed by the mother of Yoriko Yabuki. Yoriko was instrumental in forming the Assemblies of God Japanese Fellowship in the U.S. last year. Cynthia went on to graduate from Central Bible College in Tokyo.

In 1980, Cynthia was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a painful inflammation of the digestive tract. Both Abraham and Cynthia believed God had told them to move to the U.S., and Cynthia says Joshua 1:9 convinced them to obey the Lord and to immigrate. After they arrived, her Crohn’s Disease miraculously disappeared.

As Cynthia gradually resumes pastoral duties of her late husband, Peters says a goal is to make Calstar AG bilingual in the near future. Most of the households represented in the congregation have one parent who is an American. Their children speak English, as do the international student attendees. Currently preaching and worship are in Japanese.

“The Japanese-only language churches are just as hard to grow in America as they are in Japan,” Peters says. “But Japanese in the U.S. seem to be much more spiritually open and more likely to respond to the gospel. In Japan, there is pressure from relatives and neighbors not to attend church.”

Peters confirms that the disasters Cynthia suffered earlier this year haven’t diminished the pastor’s faith.

“Cynthia is a dynamo,” Peters says. “She is constantly thinking about outreach. It’s really an honor to work with her. She is a real woman of God.”

IMAGE - Dennis Peters (left) and Cynthia Ishihara are keeping Calstar AG on track.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.