Delving into the rich history of her ethnic and spiritual heritage, Evelyn Shimazu Yee, MLIS, associate professor of University Libraries and head of community relations, conducted her sabbatical research on the stories of early California Christian missionaries. Titled California Missions: Historical Japanese-American Preservation and Research Project, her work records, catalogs, and archives photographs, artifacts, and other documents representing more than 120 years of history. The research focuses on Japanese-American Christian mission groups and may represent the first comprehensive academic faith-based ethnic archive of its kind.

Yee’s project, funded by a nearly $10,000 grant from the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, explores history from the late 1800s through the post-World War II era. On March 2, she presented some of her findings to the APU community in her lecture “Uncommon Brotherhood in Extraordinary Circumstances (Part III): Christians from Evacuation to Resettlement,” in which she chronicled the first Japanese settlers who came to America almost 140 years ago and the flourishing Christian communities that followed. She also highlighted the strong connection between these early missionaries and the Training School for Christian Workers (Azusa Pacific University’s forerunner), which included a significant Japanese American population.

The onset of World War II temporarily derailed the lives of these believers as they were forced into camps. Yee notes that in 1942, when the Japanese-American community members were forced to leave their farms, the Marshburn family, with deep connections to APU, paid them fair market value. This kindness and caring remains an inspirational part of the testimony of the Japanese American families who suffered tremendous losses but were sustained by their faith and the support of the Christian community. Years later, the Sakioka family honored that relationship by donating $100,000 to Azusa Pacific. Those funds established the Sakioka Computer Training Center in the William V. Marshburn Memorial Library.

Yee’s research weaves together individual stories of Christian servants into a cohesive tapestry of key leaders, such as the young Rev. Hideo Aoki, former APU faculty; Rev. Victor Fujiu, 1940s class worship leader who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama; Rev. Arnold Nakajima, past student body president and hostel leader; Maude Thornton and C. Dorr Demary, Free Methodists; Rev. Ralph Mayberry and Paul Nagano, Baptist ministers; and Cornelius P. Haggard, Th.D., former APU president, to name a few. God used each of them to strengthen the Kingdom by supporting the faithful Japanese-American and Anglo missionaries who established a thriving community of believers that continues today with approximately 100 affiliate churches and organizations.