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Jim Holway speaks with Myrna Ruiz after a fellowship meal at the Sunset Church of Christ in Miami. – PHOTO BY ERIK TRYGGESTAD

Minister recalls the long, strange trip that led to Christ

MIAMI — Jim Holway looks out of place at the Versailles Restaurant. His Asian features set him apart from the Cuban-American lunch crowd at this Miami institution — bordering the neighborhood of Little Havana.
When the waiter comes, however, Holway speaks in fluent Spanish, ordering a traditional Cuban stew and rice.
After the meal, church planters Carlos and Maribel Preciado join him. Holway floats between Spanish and English, asking about their children and the new congregation they serve in nearby Pompano Beach.
For the past five years, Holway, 51, has worked as field coordinator for the Latin American Mission Project, or LAMP, a church-planting ministry that targets Spanish-speaking communities.
It seems an unlikely ministry for the Korean-born minister, a self-described former hippie who lived in a constant state of rebellion and addiction.
Holway’s biological father was an American G.I. stationed in Korea. His mother, a Korean, “went through a lot of grief because she has this … mixed-race child,” he said. She put him in an orphanage.
At age 4, Holway was adopted and brought to the Washington, D.C., area by his new parents — a Japanese mother and American father.
“I was the only half-oriental or anything-close-to-oriental in our neighborhood and school,” he said. “I had a lot of self-esteem issues.” Life at home also was difficult, “so I found a home among the dopers and the drinkers … and I found acceptance.”
By age 13, he was using drugs. He developed a cocaine habit and sold LSD.
Despite overdosing multiple times, he managed to graduate from high school and got a job working at a sewer plant. One night, he sneaked away from work to party with friends.
“I ended up wrapping the company vehicle around a light pole,” he said, “and I was so out of it that I didn’t even realize that I had all this dope in my boots. By the time I realized it, I was in the back of a police car.”

Holway took a plea bargain to reduce his crime to a misdemeanor. He avoided jail but lost his job, his money and most of his friends. It was a rock-bottom moment, he said. For the first time, he considered faith.
He moved into a farmhouse commune with about 10 other people. One of them invited him to a Baptist church.
Holway thought of Christians as hypocrites, but visited anyway.
“Wow, these weren’t the kind of people I thought they were,” Holway said of the Baptists. “Maybe there’s something to this.”
A few months later, he found a flyer advertising a gospel campaign at the Manassas Church of Christ. There he met a group of students from Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn.
“My life is heading toward death and destruction,” he told the students, “and your life is heading toward joy and happiness. Whatever it is that you guys have, I need.”
At age 19, Holway was baptized. A week later, the students packed their things.
“Wait a second. You guys are my support base here and now you’re leaving?” Holway said.
“They said, ‘Well, yeah, we’ve got to go back to school.’
“And I said, ‘I’ll just go to this school with you.’”
He called Billy Smith, a registrar at Freed-Hardeman, who invited him to come, promising they would work out the details when he arrived.
A few days later, Holway walked onto the Christian university’s campus wearing cut-off shorts and a T-shirt that said “Jesus is the Solid Rock” — with hair down to his shoulders.
“Man, I’m ready to do this Christian thing,” he said he thought to himself. “And the dorm mother says, ‘Put pants on, change your shirt and cut your hair.’”
He thought about leaving but didn’t. “I guess that God’s grace covered me a little bit and gave me patience,” he said. “But I spent a lot of time that first year in the dean’s office.”
Holway began studying the Bible — a book he previously had not read. Slowly, the Word started to make sense.
Still, he felt as out of place at the Bible Belt university as he had in elementary school.
But “God had saved me,” he said, “and he wanted me to be involved in helping to save other people, so I was going to do what I could.”
He participated in gospel campaigns. North of Miami, in Lake Worth, Fla., he knocked doors with Kathryn Cozort.
“His life was so clearly made up of part one and part two,” she said. As Cozort learned about his past, “it was such a contrast to the Jim that I was beginning to know, who was so excited to reach out and share his joy and thirst for God with others.”
The couple married during Holway’s sophomore year.
“People have asked me how I, a young Christian girl from a Midwestern Christian home, ended up with Jim — a long-haired Asian hippie, a drug-using, carousing, rebellious young man who already had quite a history with the law,” Kathryn Holway said.
“I just tell them that I never knew that Jim. The one I met was a Christian whose life had been totally changed. The intersecting of our lives was truly a gift from God.”
Holway graduated in 1982 with a degree in Bible. He completed a master’s in religion at Harding University Graduate School of Religion in Memphis, Tenn., in 1987.
He and his wife hoped to do mission work in Korea but were unable to find an opportunity. Instead, they learned Spanish and joined a mission team in Argentina, where they served from 1983 to 1995, sponsored by the Vaughn Park Church of Christ in Montgomery, Ala.
Glen Henton, who also served as a missionary in Argentina, said that Holway serves as a model of faith that endures despite obstacles.
“Jim has never used his difficult childhood and upbringing as a reason for being bitter,” said Henton, who teaches missions at Freed-Hardeman. “He has turned potential bitterness to blessedness. He has been a blessing to me as I worked with him and I have seen the way God uses him to bless others. … Jim has allowed God’s grace to work and shine in him.”
After returning to the U.S., the Holways worked with Spanish-language ministry in Memphis, Tenn. In 2005, they joined the LAMP Miami church-planting project — a partnership among Christian universities and ministry-training schools. Holway planned to facilitate mission teams as they moved to South Florida — to plant new churches or train for ministry in the Spanish-speaking world.
The work has proved challenging, he said. LAMP’s first team dissolved before it reached Miami. Only one couple — the Preciados — moved to the area. Other teams have not materialized.
Holway now works with existing congregations in South Florida. He looks for potential church planters among the Christians already living here.
Gary Green, coordinator for the World Wide Witness ministry on the campus of Abilene Christian University in Texas, works closely with Holway and LAMP.
“Jim’s background gives him a special view of life,” Green said. “He sees value in all people and is able to talk with anyone. His authenticity has a way of disarming the prejudices of others.”
More than 60 percent of the people who live in Miami were born outside the U.S., Holway said.
“At a time when Churches of Christ are sending fewer missionaries abroad, God is bringing the harvest fields to this country,” he said. “Miami is an ideal site to do cross-cultural ministry within the borders of the U.S.”
Holway himself is foreign-born. Though he doesn’t look like many of Miami’s inhabitants, he believes that God has put him in a position to serve them.
“I sincerely feel that my story is really God’s story — how he took a multicultural orphan and is now using him to reach multicultural people in Miami.”

Filed under: Churches That Work

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