In 1874, three young Japanese men met at an American Congregational church in San Francisco. It was the dawn of Christianity among the Japanese people in the United States. The first Japanese church, called The Gospel Society, was organized in 1877 with the enthusiastic assistance of Caucasian-American church members who had led these Japanese to salvation through English study sessions.

In 1910, there were thirty-five churches with thirty ministers and a total membership of 2,618. In 1915, there were seventy-one churches, seventy-eight ministers, 2,165 church school children, and a membership of 4,391—this membership represented approximately five percent of the Japanese population in California (Horikoshi 1977:37).

The Sunday schools were formed first, where children were taught and nurtured in the Christian lifestyle. Then youth groups were formed to serve the needs of the young people. They learned not only the Bible, but also the Japanese language, because their parents insisted they do so. Since Japanese children were not then admitted to public schools, some churches built their own gymnasiums so these children and youths would have opportunities to play.

Women’s groups were founded next; wives met to discuss the education of their children and the mother's role in the family. Many mothers who joined the church were attracted by these activities. These groups undertook mission activities in addition to their own concerns. Finally, men joined the church through family ties.

The Japanese Church Federation was founded in both Northern and Southern California in 1910. One of the main reasons for establishing this organization was to boost the morale of the community in view of incidents of racial prejudice and persecution at businesses, schools, and work places. The Federation helped the larger Japanese community learn American principles and grasp social concepts, spreading its assistance over a larger area than any single church could handle.

Churches became the first organizations in the Japanese community to offer social services. These included assistance after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, help during the wartime emergency, and the providing of hostels during the postwar resettlement of the people. Churches also preached about social justice, the sacredness of family and home life, and the prohibition of smoking and drinking. Church activities, therefore, became central in meeting many of the spiritual and social needs of Japanese-Americans.

It has been over twenty years since anyone raised the issue of publishing the history of the Holiness Conference. Since then, several individuals outside of the Conference have written dissertations based on the Conference history. Brief histories of our Conference churches have appeared in the 1984 Conference Handbook and in local church anniversary booklets, but as yet no one has completed a comprehensive history of the Conference.

In early 1992, I was approached about writing the Conference history. I had been researching the history for over seven years as a partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Theology in Missiology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Also, since 1989 I had regularly written excerpts of the Conference history as a columnist for the Reisei. This familiarity with the subject, in spite of my obvious shortcomings as one of the younger Japanese-speaking pastors, gave me the incentive to attempt to fulfill this request. Publishing this Conference history—culled from the Reisei, the General Conference minutes, and local church anniversary books—hopefully will preserve an official record of the Holiness Conference.

In addition, this book intends to reveal the following matters: the uniqueness of the Holiness Conference; the importance of its history as a spiritual guide; the inspiration gleaned from our spiritual predecessors; and the significance of being a truly indigenous conference of churches.

Several Japanese words are used to differentiate among the Japanese-American generations. Issei refers to the first generation of Japanese-Americans: those who immigrated to the United States. Nisei are the second generation: the offspring of the Issei. Sansei are the third generation of Japanese-Americans.

Several other Japanese words appear in this book. Kibei-Nisei refers to those born in the United States but who prior to World War II went to Japan to live or study and later returned to the United States. Nikkei refers to Japanese-Americans in general. A Nichigo pastor is a Japanese-speaking pastor. Kachi-gumi are those who strongly believed in a Japanese victory during the war. Make-gumi believed just the opposite. Gaman refers to patience, and shikata ga nai is an attitude of “there is no way we can get out.”

For the prewar history of the OMS Holiness church, the Reisei is the only reliable source material available today. Of course a few Issei founders are still living today and the writer relied heavily on their testimonies. Another important prewar source was the 1938 Holiness Church General Conference minutes which record each church's budget and growth in addition to describing church activities. There are no other existing prewar General Conference minutes.

With regard to the war period, church bulletins published in the Poston Camp by Rev. Tameichi Okimoto, as well as those of certain other camps, were available. In particular, the Poston Camp church bulletin comprehensively recorded the movement of Holiness members to each relocation camp. Rev. Okimoto was the Executive Secretary of the Holiness church and was also the editor of the Reisei at that time. These documents were kept by his wife, Rev. Taeko Okimoto, a retired minister of the Whittier Japanese Christian Church in California.

The postwar period research was based mainly on the General Conference minutes and committee reports of the OMS Holiness Church of North America. All Japanese reference sources quoted in this book were translated by the writer.