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Local YWAM has cross-cultural, international focus

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By Caleb M. Soptelean

Valley Journal

PABLO – In 2005, Sika Ulutoa came to visit northwest Montana with plans to move to Japan. He never made it. 

Sika, a Samoan who moved to the Mission Valley with his wife, Rita, from her native Ohio, planned to go to Japan for missionary work. 

“The Native Americans changed my plan,” said Sika, 46. 

When they arrived in Lake County, his then-3-year-old daughter Tiana said, “Dad, are we home? Are we in Samoa?” Sika replied, “No. Why?” She said, “Those kids look like my cousins.”

“When she said that it struck something in me,” Sika said. “When I found out this was a reservation, I all of a sudden thought of myself as a tribal person.”

A tribal chieftain in Samoa, Sika approached living here in the Samoan way. He asked the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council for permission to live on the reservation. The request was granted, he said. “I told them the story of how the gospel helped my people,” he said, adding that the tribal council asked how they could get more Samoans here and wrote a letter of invitation to his people. 

Later, Sika and other Samoans held a luau with the tribal council and received their blessing. 

Initially, Sika said his group of 35 to 40 performed Polynesian dances, pig roasts, luaus and “Team Extreme” events from Elmo to Arlee in the summer. His team later ran the “Zone Cafe” at Lake City Bakery in Polson from 2006-2011 to provide a safe place for youth. Since then they’ve done “zone events” on a regular basis throughout the reservation. 

Recruited to YWAM

Sika was attending a two-year college in Japan when a couple recruited him into Youth With A Mission, or YWAM. That couple, Larry and Debbie Nicholas, were later instrumental in bringing him to the U.S. Along the way, while taking YWAM’s Discipleship Training School, Sika met his wife.

The Nicholases later moved from Colorado Springs to Kalispell. When they found out that Sika had plans to build a YWAM campus in Pablo, they moved to Ronan to help, Sika said. 

YWAM campus founded

The Ulutoas bought a house near the intersection of Farm Road and Courville Trail in 2007. 

“We bought it for ourselves not knowing it would become a base (in 2007),” Sika said. “We saw the need for training workers.” An office and classroom building were added to the 1.2-acre site in 2013. 

Discipleship Training School, which lasts six months, is held every year beginning in October. There are nine to 50 students on campus at any one time during the year, he said. Students, who raise their own support to be part of YWAM, typically live off-campus in the area. 

Some YWAM events are open to the public, including Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon during the school year. These typically include a prayer meeting, worship time or a Bible study, for example. 

Cultural awareness

Learning about one’s culture is part of it, too. Sika’s vision started with “Tribal Waves,” a cross-cultural organization he founded in 2006. After opening the YWAM campus in 2007, his vision expanded to include an international focus through the Watchmen for the Nations organization. 

“My own nephews and Samoan people came here lost,” he said. “After a little walk with them, they wanted to learn more of who they are. They didn’t know how to do luaus and celebration. Their parents wrote to me and thanked me for the changes in their children,” he said. 

Reflecting on what has happened, Sika said, “I like it. I would do it over again. I had a vision of young people and families reaching out to others. I didn’t know it was going to happen here.”

“It’s not just another church or mission,” he said. “I’ve seen so many different colors and people walk together and influence each other, empowering each other with the love of Christ. One boy was involved with drugs, and now he’s loving life. He found not only God but his expression of who he is in God.” 

Sika used to make one or two trips a year to foreign nations teaching and recruiting students. But in the last 10 months he has made seven trips, praying and helping build families and strong leaders in tribes and communities around the world, he said. Having a staff of 12 gives him the flexibility to travel more, he said. 

Sika – who also pastors Lighthouse Christian Fellowship at 207 Eisenhower St. SW in Ronan  – is currently looking for a bigger place for the YWAM campus and plans to begin fundraising this fall. 

For more information about YWAM’s Pablo campus, visit: 

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