It's a story that could only happen in America.
A Japanese Southern Baptist congregation that rents space in a Korean Baptist church in Schaumburg and has an office in a Romanian Baptist Church in Des Plaines is building a church in Arlington Heights.
The Rev. Yugo Kobari's Chicago Japanese Mission Church has only 40 to 50 attendees on Sundays. But he intends to attract many more when the new church opens, hopefully in time for Christmas.
The location at 24 E. Seegers Road, just north of the Mitsuwa Marketplace at 100 E. Algonquin Road, is key, said the minister.
"Every weekend people come from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan to shop at Mitsuwa," said Kobari. "If they stay overnight maybe they will join us. People tell me they want to come to our church once a month."
He envisions the building serving as a cultural center for Japanese Americans as well as a church.
"We need a house of worship for Japanese and a nonprofit area for the Japanese community as well," said the minister. "Now we only have Mitsuwa."
The new sanctuary with a soaring wooden ceiling and built-in baptistery will hold 200 people, said Kobari. The church will have 4,300 square feet, downsized from original plans due to economic factors.
Helping Kobari is Larry Antemann, a Bartlett contractor who attends Medinah Baptist Church.
Recently Antemann was excited about the sparkling, granite-looking cross just installed on the east side of the church, not to mention the roof that went up a week ago.
Christians are very scarce in Japan, totaling less than 1 percent of the population, said Kobari, but the Arlington Heights area has the largest population of Japanese people in Illinois.
Most of the money to build the church has come from a few Japanese businesspeople, he said. Kobari also raised $5,000 from Korean churches in the Chicago area, and contributions from the Southern Baptist Convention include loans and expertise.
Antemann said there is almost enough money to finish the church, although prices keep rising. After that, the congregation will need funds for furnishings, equipment and landscaping. Eventually festivals will be held among cherry trees on the grounds.
Antemann is a paid contractor, but as a member of a group called Builders for Christ he also donates some time and is willing to work with volunteer labor, including people from his own church and from Wheaton College, particularly the baseball team. Kobari, who lives in Mount Prospect, has pounded nails himself.
One of the perks of participating in the project has been an introduction to sushi, Antemann added.
The contractor is also seeking donations of materials such as ceramic tile, carpet, drywall and light fixtures.
The congregation bought the 1.8-acre site five years ago and began construction last year. The property previously held three homes.
Kobari's fundraising efforts have been hindered by the time he has spent working on relief for victims of the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan. One of the minister's current projects is helping a group of 20 Americans from Three Rivers Church in Plainfield who will soon travel to Japan soon to clean disaster debris.
"I lost two relatives," Kobari said. "My mother lives 45 miles inland from Fukushima (where the damaged nuclear plants are)."
After a woman in Mississippi read Kobari's story, she wrote him and said his mother should come live with her.
"My mother was crying when I told her, but she is 80 years old and has family nearby so she won't move," he said.