Staff Posts



stories from our missional partners

Linda, Kohei, and kids stand in front of Ippo Ippo group building

By Linda Koyama

Hi, I’m Linda. Nice to meet you. I’m currently writing from Yamagata, Japan, where my family is partnering with a local church. You’ve probably never heard of Yamagata. Don’t worry, neither did I until it was presented as one of the potential prefectures we’d be serving in. 

So where exactly is Yamagata? Think north of Tokyo about 200 miles (300 kilometers), or a 4 1/2 hour drive by car. It’s in the southern part of the Tohoku region, closer to the Japan Sea side (rather than the Pacific Ocean side). It’s definitely not one of Japan’s hot tourist spots, but this region is known for its ski slopes, onsens, and delicious fruits.

Yamagata Japan Map Pink

We’re new to Yamagata, but not really new to Japan. Before we joined SIM/A3, we were in Japan from 2014–2019 with a smaller organization. What brought us here? Well, I’m glad you asked, because that’s what I was going to tell you next. 

A Desire to Serve

Not long after the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, my husband, Kohei, felt a strong pull in his heart to serve in some capacity the people and area that were affected by this triple disaster*. We had the opportunity to volunteer with CRASH Japan, which is somewhat like a pop-up organization that comes together in times of disaster and need to provide relief and other resources. During the two weeks that we served, God really challenged me to think,

What am I willing to leave for the sake of the gospel and God’s kingdom?

My heart felt torn, but nevertheless, Kohei and I decided to pray, listen, and wait on the Lord for six months to see if we felt like moving to Japan was a good next step in our lives. 

Crash Japan 1 Crash Japan 2

 Our time with CRASH Japan with other volunteers for the US

Discerning God's Direction

After returning home, we spent six months in the early half of 2012 praying, listening, reading Scripture, and talking to friends, family, and mentors about our potential move. We felt strongly that God was saying, “Go.” But of course, with any big decision, you always question things. (Well, maybe you don’t, but I do!) 

For Kohei and I, what solidified our decision was being able to say,

Even if things don’t turn out like we think and we find ourselves back in the US, we took a step of faith!

That in and of itself helped us feel like we had nothing to lose. Stretching our faith and relationship with God? Sign me up! 

(Honestly, in the beginning it was exciting . . . but boy, the hardship and heartache that came later stretched my faith and relationship with God far more than I could ever have imagined. Not in an “Oh, this is great and wonderful!” way, but in a truly excruciating way.) 

The Bumpy Road

So, in January 2013 we arrived in Japan on a vision trip. We visited different ministries, joined other volunteers serving in coastal cities, and considered where we wanted to serve and who we wanted to serve with. I had to end the vision trip early for a family emergency. Kohei stayed a bit longer and visited other ministries we had scheduled to see. Due to unforeseen circumstances, we delayed our departure from the US for almost another year and a half—because when is going overseas to serve in missions ever a straight trajectory? 

We finally made the move to Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, in July of 2014. From 2014 to 2019, we worked with the 3.11 Iwate Church Network and also helped out with whatever was needed at our church in Morioka. I say we, but it was mostly Kohei. I was busy learning how to be a new mom in a foreign country with unfamiliar or little support. Because of the language barrier and our need for medical services (I was pregnant with our first child when we arrived), we decided that living in the capital city, Morioka, would serve our family better than being on the coast where language help and hospitals were more limited. Thankfully, Kohei was able to join the Ippo Ippo relief team in the coastal city of Yamada, since he initially wanted to work with the communities that were affected by the tsunami. He traveled once a week to the coast and sometimes more if he needed to help with hosting volunteers or assist in other capacities.

Kohei Oura group

The community center Kohei volunteered at during his time in Yamada. It's a place where the kids could come and play and do/get help with homework. 

Ippo Ippo gathering

Last gathering at Ippo Ippo Yamada

Reflecting on Our Call

I should take a moment to say that although our journey to Japan seemed to start in 2011, that definitely wasn’t the beginning of our heart for missions. After Kohei became a believer in the US, he attended the Equipper’s Conference in southern California. This is an annual conference for Japanese who become believers in the US and for all who have a heart for Japan. During one of the meetings, in a surprise even to himself, he stood up when one of the speakers asked if anyone would like to commit their lives to full-time ministry. He’s always had a longing to share the love of Christ with other Japanese—especially since many of his friends and family still don’t know the Lord. 

My journey started in college when I had the opportunity to do various summer short-term missions. That coupled with attending the Urbana Missions Conference, as both student and staff, was where God started and continued to grow my heart for overseas missions. For me, however, Japan was never on my radar until probably 2012. 

The Next Page in Our Story

Okay, so back to our time in Japan. We served in Japan from 2014 to 2019. During that time our family grew and so did our needs as a multicultural family. The landscape of ministry in the coastal area was also changing—from relief work to longer-term ministry—so we decided to take a break and figure out our next steps. The five-year mark is also when US citizens in many cases need to go back for legal reasons, so all in all, it seemed like a good time to do our home service/furlough. 

(On a side note, I always wondered why missionaries needed to go back to their home countries. Yes, I know, totally horrible, but pre-missionary-experience-me, before ever having lived abroad long-term, thought, “Gosh, those people are weak sauce! Why not just stay for forever?” However, post-experience-me, after having lived abroad for five years non-stop, now realizes, “Wow, it’s a really good thing to go back to your home country, regroup, and get the support you didn’t know you needed!”—along with many other reasons.) 

So, we returned to the US at the end of June 2019. To continue the story, in “Decisions, Decisions,” I’ll share our next discernment process and how we joined SIM/A3. 

*massive earthquake, followed by tsunami, and then nuclear reactor meltdowns 

Linda Koyama


Linda Koyama Linda Koyama, an American born Chinese, is currently serving with her Japanese husband, Kohei, and young family in Yamagata prefecture. They are partnering with a local church to engage the community with and through Christ's love. 

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