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Valleypoint Marshallese Church Blends the Spiritual with Their Culture

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Valleypoint Marshallese Church Blends the Spiritual with Their Culture

News Story by Mia Gallegos | FāVS News

A vibrant new congregation at Valleypoint Church is breathing fresh life into Marshallese traditions. 

Valleypoint Marshallese blends cultural heritage with a contemporary twist, crafting a welcoming space for youth and young adults to worship and explore their roots through a Southern Baptist lens.

“In very traditional Marshallese services, there are very few young adults or youth there. It’s mostly older Marshallese congregations. I wanted to make sure Valleypoint Marshallese was more modern and engaging for a younger audience,” Freddy Joklur Jr. said, the head pastor for the Marshallese sector of Valleypoint.

Valleypoint Marshallese Pastor Freddy Joklur Jr.

Joklur and his father moved to Spokane in 2013 after hearing about the significant number of Marshallese there are within the city. He explained that Marshallese people in the states like to move together. Upon hearing that many people with a similar background to their own were based in Spokane, they took their opportunity to join them.

“We moved from Everett to Spokane because my dad wanted to start a Marshallese-speaking church here. So, since then I had been co-pastoring with him,” Joklur said.

Joklur explained that he and his father bounced around to many different Spokane churches between 2013 and 2020. Because they did not have their own building where they could host services, they reached out to established congregations to see if they would be willing to rent out space each Sunday for a Marshallese church service.

“It often felt like a landlord-tenant relationship with these churches,” Joklur said. 

Arriving at Valleypoint Church

In 2020, Joklur and his father arrived at Valleypoint Church in the Valley after their previous host church had let them know that they were no longer able to use their space.

Pastor Jim Shiner, the lead pastor of Valleypoint, had been looking for a worship leader during the time that Joklur and his father’s Marshallese church were in search of a new place to host their services.

After being recommended by several friends who were unaware of the situation that Joklur and his father had found themselves in, Shiner called and asked if Joklur would be interested in leading worship in the mornings at Valleypoint.

When Shiner learned of the congregation that Joklur was the co-pastor of, he offered his church as a space for the Marshallese congregation.

“We always had to rent a space, but when we came here, that was not on Pastor Jim’s heart. He was like ‘let’s not go with that landlord-tenant relationship, but let’s partner. Wherever it’s Valleypoint, it’s also Valleypoint Marshallese,’” Joklur said.

Shiner explained his gratefulness for Joklur and the relationship they have been able to form through his opening of the Valleypoint doors to the Marshallese church.

Valleypoint Lead Pastor Jim Shiner

“I trust him as a person. His character is his heart for God. He’s a rare combination of a pastor, a worshiper and a leader. Most pastors have a lot of knowledge, but Freddy is always asking questions yet is still a great leader,” Shiner said. 

Joklur’s father passed away during the year in which the partnership with Valleypoint ensued, so he was the one who stepped into the head pastor role, following a few months of collecting his bearings and coming to terms with his new responsibilities. 

Past Experiences

Joklur explained that he had several initial reservations about this relationship that his congregation would be entering into with the English-speaking church of Valleypoint. Much of this apprehension stemmed from past experiences that Joklur’s congregation had dealt with at their various host churches preceding Valleypoint.

“There were numerous times where things would happen at previous church[es], and we would be the ones to blame,” Joklur said.

These accusations toward Joklur’s Marshallese congregation were eliminated upon their arrival at Valleypoint, where the idea of problem-solving was one that involved the entire church taking responsibility for changes that needed to be made, rather than figuring out who was at fault and how they could be punished.

“That’s when we knew Pastor Jim’s heart. We were very accepted, which was rare,” Joklur said.

Community and Ministry Before Valleypoint

Before Valleypoint Marshallese was organized, the Marshallese-speaking population within Spokane — with its numbers currently totalling around 5,000 — found other ways to form community and foster ministry.

“They had established home groups. They [were] not considered a formal church, but they’re a group of people that would do a Bible study in a home setting,” Joklur said. 

This was the only way for Spokane’s Marshallese people to unite and practice their religion with one another up until 2020, when Joklur and his father came and took the steps to gather these people into an organized setting where their community of faith could thrive collectively.

Sunday services at Valleypoint Marshallese are long and filled with traditional song, dance, hymns and worship. Aside from Sunday, there are weekly gatherings of fellowship for different types of people within the Marshallese congregation. The women of the congregation meet on Thursday evenings, the youth and young adults on Fridays and and the men on Saturdays.

The young adults night is what inspired Jumon Kios, a young adult Marshallese member of the church, to look into Valleypoint Marshallese. The community he found there was what has kept him as an active member of the church community to this day.

Valleypoint Marshallese Youth Night Photo from Facebook / Contributed

“My cousins would kind of force me to go to church. But I went to youth night this one time, and I actually liked it. They were very welcoming, which was big. They just made it feel like we’re part of them,” Kios said. 

There is often an element of food to all of the fellowship events at Valleypoint Marshallese, which is a significant aspect to the culture as a whole.

“We’re islanders, so we like to eat,” Joklur said with a laugh. 

Respect Between the Congregations

The Sunday services at Valleypoint Marshallese are said mostly in the native language of the Marshallese attendees, which comprises around 250 to 300 parishioners. However, the preachers will incorporate English into the service for anyone who is there from the English-speaking congregation that makes up Valleypoint Church. 

Respect and shared understanding is what Valleypoint and Valleypoint Marshallese are working to build with one another. When English speakers attend a Marshallese service, they are sometimes taught basic words from the language.

“There are some Marshallese words that we teach them. So if the [English] greeter sees a Marshallese, they’ll say ‘iakwe’. That’s our saying aloha, hi and goodbye,” Joklur said. 

He explained the excitement that overcomes Marshallese parishioners when a member of the English-speaking church is making strides to speak in their native language.

The induction of the Marshallese section of Valleypoint has come with benefits on both sides. 

The English-speaking church has gotten the chance to witness and participate in a rich culture outside of their own, and the Marshallese members of the congregation are getting to experience a welcoming religious environment within their city. 

To attend Valleypoint, visit their website to see a list of service times and weekly opportunities for fellowship.

Mia Gallegos
Mia Gallegos
Mia Gallegos is a junior studying Journalism and Digital Marketing at Gonzaga University. Her love for journalism began in high school within her hometown of Broomfield, Colorado. She has written for the Gonzaga Bulletin since she first began at GU. Aside from writing, she is a passionate dancer and member of the Gonzaga University Bomb Squad, GU’s exclusively Hip-Hop dance team. Mia is a dedicated Catholic and is excited to be interning with FāVS during the Spring 2024 semester. She is looking forward to learning about religions aside from her own and to gain more journalistic prowess by working with the skilled reporters of FāVS.

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