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Reaching the Ends of the Earth — from the Lone Star State

Japanese couple lead ethnically diverse Chi Alpha chapter at the University of Texas-Arlington.
Shinobu “Shin” Yogo left her homeland of Japan to study at the University of Texas at Austin in 2005, with dreams of earning a master’s degree, building her résumé, and starting a business. But on America’s 9th largest campus, she felt as though nobody cared about her. Beset by loneliness, depression, and self-doubt, a plum internship fell apart.

Her only friends came from those in English practice sessions through UT Chi Alpha.

“People in Chi Alpha embraced me no matter what,” Yogo remembers. “They were patient with me, real friends, almost like a family.”

When she asked the source of the love and kindness Chi Alpha members showed, they shared their faith in Christ. In 2007, she decided to follow Jesus.

With her husband, Ryota, a fellow Japanese who came to faith in Christ through Chi Alpha at Sam Houston State University, Shin ministered on staff at the University of Texas at San Antonio. In 2018, the couple sensed a call to restart Chi Alpha at the ethnically diverse University of Texas at Arlington in metro Dallas-Fort Worth.

Ultimately, in contrast to Shin’s dreams of secular success, she became a stay-at-home mom of their children: Towah, 6; Ken, 5; and Ahsa, 3, whose names in Japanese mean eternity, devotion to God, and morning star, respectively.

With an ethnically diverse team of five, the Yogos prepared to minister. Then COVID-19 hit. The university restricted on-campus organizations, forbidding them to meet on campus with more than 10 people in a room.

“God said to me, This is not your battle. You don’t have to fight with your own strength,’” Ryota recalls. Subsequently, the Chi Alpha staff meetings began with “worship warfare” for an hour before talking about ministry or students.

The huge living room in the home the Yogos bought 10 minutes from campus was conducive to ministry in a pandemic. By opening windows and running an air purifier to accommodate pandemic protocols, their residence doubled as the ministry hub for worship, staff meetings, weekly student gatherings, and small group Bible studies. The backyard served for socials and meetings, including water baptisms in a galvanized stock tank. Ryota likened the outreach to the Early Church.

That meant Shin’s ministry as a mom blended well with hosting students for gatherings and meals, serving as a powerful witness to mentor students, many of whom come from broken homes.

“If our family represents what a God-centered family looks like, the students will be greatly impacted by our discipleship,” says Ryota, 38. “Students watch how we raise our children.”

Shin, 39, tells students the importance of yielding control of every area of life to Christ.

“These college students have dreams, plans, ambitions, and confidence, which is not bad,” says Shin, a U.S. missionary serving with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, a department of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions. “But ultimately they have to surrender everything to the Lord and continue to lead a surrendered life.”

While the coronavirus lockdown seemingly would have limited their ability to connect with students, Ryota says the 2020-21 school year exceeded expectations. UT Arlington Chi Alpha ended its first year with launching four Bible studies attended by around five students each. That enabled the Yogos to host a weekly worship night, during which students experienced pivotal moments in their walk with God: repentance, water baptisms, receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Seven students are training to lead their own small groups starting next January.

Ryota believes the ethnically diverse staff of the UT Arlington chapter represents God’s answer to his prayer to build a team that reflects his ministry vision from Matthew 28:19.

“If we want to reach this campus, we need this kind of team,” Ryota says. “Jesus said to go make disciples of all nations, not just the people we feel comfortable with. Our community should reflect every nation, tribe, community, and language. If we make disciples on this campus, they will make disciples of all nations.”

Deann Alford

Deann Alford is a journalist and author. She attends Glad Tidings of Austin, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Texas capital.