OBITUARY: Paul Nagano, 98; Noted Theologian, Founder of Evergreen Baptist

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When Rev. Dr. Paul Nagano was conferred Chapman University’s first Doctor of the University in 2012, he spoke of love and redemption.

Rev. Dr. Paul Nagano (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Nagano passed away on April 13 at age 98.

Nagano was a student at Chapman studying psychology and religion when war broke out, forcing him to discontinue his studies. Incarcerated in Poston, Ariz., he served as a pastor in Poston III, where he met Florence Wake, who was the church pianist.

The couple married in September 1943 and left for St. Paul, Minn. He started two missions for Japanese Americans in Minneapolis and St. Paul, many of whom were from the Military Intelligence School (MIS) at Camp Savage and later Fort Snelling.

In 2012, Nagano said: “Not only were my studies curtailed, but 120,000 Japanese Americans, because of their inheritance of a Japanese background, they were placed in America’s or United States concentration camps … So I say that this is a tremendously redemptive experience when Chapman University, the faculty, staff, all that are connected to the university are saying to the government, ‘It was not right for Japanese American citizens to be placed in concentration camps here in the United States.’”

With the end of the war and the closing of the camps, Nagano was asked by the Los Angeles Baptist City Mission Society to return to Los Angeles to help those returning to resettle.

Nagano began the Los Angeles Japanese Baptist Church, later named Evergreen Baptist Church, in 1945 on Second and Evergreen in Boyle Heights. The Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society (JEMS) was founded in the 1950s and Nagano volunteered to be its first executive minister.

In 1954, he was asked to serve at the Makiki Christian Church in Honolulu, which needed a Japanese American pastor. After nine years in Hawaii, the Naganos returned to Southern California and continued work with JEMS.

He served at Seattle Japanese Baptist Church (1971-1986), initiated the Asian American Ministries and the Asian American Caucus of American Baptist Churches, taught at the American Baptist Seminary of the West (1984, 1987, 1992), and served as interim pastor of the famous Oakland First Baptist Church. He was minister-at-large for the Northern California Japanese Protestant Churches (Domei) from 1986 to 2000 and interim pastor of many ethnic churches in Northern California.

Since 1989, he has been director of the Council for Pacific Asian Theology (CPAT). In 2011, Paul and Florence Nagano were recognized as Nisei Week Pioneers.

He is survived by his beloved wife of 75 years, Florence; sons, Jim and Steve (Patty Ito) Nagano; daughter, Janet (Mitch Werth) Nagano; granddaughter, Kelsey Iino; brother, Jack Nagano and many other relatives.

A celebration of his life will be held on Saturday, May 11, at 1 p.m. at Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles, 1225 S. San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead. The family requests no flowers. Casual/aloha attire suggested.

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