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Sitting at a table at Little Flower Day Care, Mark Yamashita — with quick, smooth strokes — spelled out the name “Isaac” in Japanese calligraphy and in English on an origami hat.

He repeated the process several more times, writing the names of the other preschoolers and preschool staff members on hats created by Yukiko Yakawich and other volunteers from the Family Church. Yukiko is wife of the Rev. Mike Yakawich, pastor of the South Side church.

Wednesday’s visit was Yamashita’s second at the preschool, and he won rave reviews from day-care worker Barbara Johnson.

“He’s just great with the kids,” she said, as he was working on the hats.

Yamashita, 30, is a student at the Unification Theological Seminary in upstate New York. He will complete his studies next April, after 31/2 years of work, he said in an interview.

A native of Kakogawa, Japan, Yamashita came to the United States to attend the seminary. He has been a member of the Unification Church since the age of 18.


LARRY MAYER/Gazette staff

James Stethem, age 4, shows his origami hat.

ministered on a college campus in Kyoto, Japan, he decided he wanted to attend seminary to become a pastor. So he went back to Kakogawa to study English and prepare financially.

Until now, he has spent much of his time in the classroom. His 11-week Billings internship is a way for Yamashita to do some hands-on ministry, under the tutelage of Yakawich.

“Most of the time, I observe my pastor Mike of the Billings Family Church,” he said. “I always am with him and study his ministry to the community and to other ministers. Especially, I like kids — it’s very fun for me.”

Yamashita is living in the basement of the church during his tenure in Billings. He is married, but his wife has remained in Japan while he is attending seminary.

Yamashita is not the first intern to come to Billings from the New York seminary. In fact, it was the previous two seminarians who suggested that he come to Montana.

“I knew Mike from other students, and I heard from them that I would want to come here,” Yamashita said.

Yakawich said the advantage of interning in a smaller city, such as Billings, is that the students has opportunities to minister in many different settings, at the church, visiting patients in the hospital, attending meetings of elders and even learning how to keep financial records.

“Here, they’re able to do a lot of things,” Yakawich said.

Along with the work Yamashita is doing with Yakawich, the seminarian also is teaching martial-arts classes at South Park and teaching Japanese to children at the church two times a week.

As for the calligraphy, that’s a hobby Yamashita has been working at for years.

“I learned Japanese calligraphy from when I was 4 years old until I was 17,” he said. “It’s kind of an art.”

Yamashita hopes to bring his wife to the United States and work as a pastor at a church when he is finished with his studies. He will remain in Billings until the beginning of August and then head back to New York.Susan Olp can be reached at 657-1281 or at