Yuko Tonai-Moore often brings fresh air to Uniting Church WA gatherings. She’s bright, kind and gentle, and passionate about her journey with God.

Growing up in Japan, Yuko came to Perth, Australia, with her family as a teenager. She didn’t grow up Christian, but her childhood was influenced by Buddhism, Shintoism, and Christianity.

“My grandfather was a Buddhist painter,” she said. “So, I had lots of contact with Buddhist teaching and philosophy.

“Also, my mother gave me the story of the both the birth of Jesus and the story of what he did, and the story of Buddha and what he did. So, I had ideas of amazing people and an amazing God that appeared in the human race, from the time of a child.

“Also being Japanese there is Shintoism, which is a belief in lots of Gods. Some of the stories are very interesting; there’s a parallel to some of the things that Christians believe.”

When the family moved to Perth, Yuko connected with the Uniting Church without realising it, through friends in both high school and university. But it was after moving back to Japan that she became a Christian. Married with small children, Yuko started attending a Bible study group for young mums. She wasn’t particularly concerned with studying the Bible at the time, and was initially keen to go just so she could meet other young families.

“God changed the situation very quickly,” she said. “Through that Bible study I learnt who God is and that it’s okay for God to have a human character – that’s one way for us to have a close relationship with God. It’s not confining God, but opening the door to a way in which we can have a personal relationship with God.”

Yuko moved back to Perth while her children were still young, and then experienced the painful path of marriage breakdown.

“In that time, I was looking for the church and I thought, ‘well somehow, Uniting Church people have been in my life, so it’s time to go back to there.’ So that’s what I did.

“I went to South Perth Uniting Church and there I asked a lot of questions about marriage, separation, divorce, and what God is wanting me to do. I wanted to do the right thing and I wanted to make sure I was doing what the Bible says. So, I was looking through the Bible really hard and asking ‘What is the Bible telling me? What is God wanting me to do here?”’

While sitting with her minister, he encouraged her to listen to what God was saying to her, before opening the Bible.

“That was an indication for me to start the journey to have that personal relationship with God, and that God speaks to me, not just through the Bible, but through the conversations that we have with God,” she said.

“It was a really wonderful journey. Although it was very painful, I learned so many things: how to forgive, how to choose love instead of hate or anger.

“I’m still on that journey, it takes time. Forgiving is not necessarily an easy thing, but it’s not for the benefit of the other person, it’s really for the benefit of yourself. To understand that took me a while. It’s lifelong learning.

“I’ve found God to be quite humorous sometimes, and unpredictable. Sometimes that puts my world upside down – purposely, I’m sure. God is teaching me to be humble, to more and more relying on God’s provisions, and let go of my own control.”

While this was a painful time, it shaped Yuko’s faith immensely, as painful times often do. Yuko’s story was nowhere near over however, as she eventually remarried and moved to Bridgetown, in Western Australia’s South West. Yuko and her husband have lived in Bridgetown for 26 years, with much of that spent living on an 80-hectare property with another family, protecting the forest and enjoying an eco-friendly, simple lifestyle.

Yuko’s lifestyle is influenced by her parent’s commitment to the environment, and her faith.

“Buddhism and Shintoism connects to nature,” she said. “Nature has its own spirit. And if you look at the Bible too, the Gods created everything, and if everything comes from God’s spirit, God’s energy, then everything is God.

“So therefore, we’re all interconnected with everything. If you’re not looking after things around us, we’re not looking after ourselves in the long run – it’s all God’s, and we as human beings have a responsibility to take care of it as best we can.

“God is a wonderful ecologist. God doesn’t waste anything, and everything is for God’s beautiful plan. Everything is beneficial when it is being used in God’s work.”

In Bridgetown, Yuko became involved in the local Uniting Church and now is an integral leader in the congregation. She also works in a local primary school as a Japanese language teacher, and in the local high school as the YouthCARE Chaplain.

Years ago, the congregation could no longer afford a minister, so joined a ‘cluster’ with other Uniting Churches in the region. Yuko is a Lay Leader for her church, and says the small, rural Bridgetown congregation ‘minister to each other’ in an informal setting.

“I really believe that Jesus is wanting everyone to be a minister,” she said. “Everyone has a very special gift that needs to be exercised for God’s purpose – God’s plan.

“Ministering to each other doesn’t need to only happen on a Sunday. It happens everywhere, in different forms and shapes. That is something we need to explore: how we can look after each other, and minister to each other and the local town.

“So therefore, we’re all interconnected with everything. If you’re not looking after things around us, we’re not looking after ourselves in the long run – it’s all God’s, and we as human beings have a responsibility to take care of it as best we can.

“We are committed to wonder together what Jesus is all about and how to live the way Jesus asks us to live today.

“I really believe everyone has a gift and whatever we do – no matter how small an act of kindness or love – when we do it in the name of Jesus Christ it’s all going to be wonderful and it’s a very important part of God’s kingdom.

“I also organise really great different ministers to come and give us a formal service sometimes. For some people that beautiful formal service is still very precious to us.

“We need ordinary people to be extraordinary with God. We need ministers, deacons, pastors and all sorts of different people being part of God’s body and using whatever gift they have to support and help each other.”

Yuko began her working career as a high school science and mathematics teacher, a career she had wanted since childhood. Now, years later, she feels she is still living out her childhood dream of supporting kids, as a YouthCARE Chaplain .

“I’ve been a teacher on and off for thirty years,” she said. “As a child, I remember what I wanted to be in the future, was to be in a job to teach children to keep dreaming, and have their dreams come true.

“I thought, at the time, teaching would be the easiest job – I was wrong,” she laughed. “As a child, that’s what I wanted to do, and I’m still doing that as a chaplain.”

Yuko said the role allows her to listen to the student’s dreams and hopes, and support them as they believe in themselves as somebody unique and precious.

“I like the idea of chaplaincy. It’s ministry of the present. You’re not there to solve the problem for them, but to be present in a moment of their struggles or their life and walk alongside them.

“It’s a different kind of ministry. It’s not a ministry to bring people into church, it’s a ministry of finding the real person. It’s a ministry of unconditional love, a ministry of hope, a ministry of letting people know they’re worth so much more than they know.”

As a member of the Uniting Church WA Thrive Committee, and the Assembly Standing Committee, Yuko also believes in the grassroots voice in the bigger picture of the church.

“I think it’s important to have a voice from a congregational point of view,” she said. “We often assume what people are thinking and where they are at, rather than actually asking. It’s important to always think about the grassroots and put different perspectives and views into a situation.

“When we get so used to one particular way we think everyone thinks a particular way. Having the opportunity to hear each other is really important.”

Yuko’s biggest passion lies in journeying with God, and being welcoming for others to join her in that journey.

“We actually journey with God and need to keep the light on for people to find the truth,” she said. “For people to find God’s love is still a very important part of me doing what I do.

“Keeping that light on inside of me is important. For that light to be seen is important, and an open invitation is important. So, the light is shared, absorbed, re-emitted, and strengthened to help us with our journey together. It is a great adventure. I am grateful for God placing people to journey with me.

“I am not sure what I will be doing in five years, ten years time. I know God knows and I am happy about that.

“I pray my inspirations, motives and actions are always from God’s love, and I keep moving with God to see the world around me more and more from God’s perspective.”

Heather Dowling

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