RAYADO CREEK, N.M. (BP) – A couple of years ago, Jeff Ogata felt God calling him to plant a church in New Mexico. Today, he knows his role as pastor of Rayado Creek Family Fellowship happened because of God’s leading, but also the investment others made in his life and the sacrifice of a small, elderly congregation.
“God was so gracious to put men in my path to mentor me,” Ogata said. A self-described avid learner and reader, he listed a few of those who impacted him. The list includes Henry Hillman, a doctor in Miami, N.M.; Ben Jones, a businessman/evangelist based in Louisiana; and Carl Rice, longtime Southern Baptist pastor in New Mexico and “one of the toughest hombres” he’s ever met.
“There are too many to list,” he said. “The Lord has been gracious and I need all the help I can get.”
Most recently, Ogata pointed to the friendship he developed with Roy Mitchell, pastor of First Baptist Church in the town of Roy, N.M.
“My wife and I wanted to plant a church and check out other models,” Ogata said. The couple’s plan was to travel throughout the Southwest in late 2019 to do so. Their first stop was at First Baptist in Springer, N.M., to hear Mitchell preach. “We never went to a second church,” he said, laughing.
Mitchell and Ogata hit it off immediately. Ogata had received some experience filling the pulpit at the previous church he attended, First Baptist Cimarron, N.M., through its pastor, Rick Rinde. Ogata continued that training in the pulpit as a co-pastor with Mitchell at First Baptist Roy. Mitchell also served as pastor at the Springer congregation.
But a restlessness crept in, Ogata said, a commitment unkept.
“When I came to Christ, I found peace,” he said. “One Sunday in June 2020 I was about to go to church, but didn’t have a peace about it. My family asked if something was wrong with me. I told my wife that I couldn’t go to church that day and didn’t know why. I prayed and fasted about it, and realized it was time for me to plant this church.”
Soon after, the members of First Baptist Roy commissioned Ogata and his family to begin Rayado Creek Family Fellowship. On Easter (April 4), the members of First Roy traveled more than an hour to join the young congregation for worship. Mitchell prayed the invocation before Ogata delivered the message “You must be born again,” out of John 3. Mitchell then led in the Lord’s Supper.
“We just wanted to go over there and tell them that we support them in starting their church,” Mitchell said. “Jeff and his family doing that wasn’t a sacrifice on our part at all. It was the right thing to do.”
Ogata and his wife Misty have two older teens. Their son, Jesse, is a junior in high school while their daughter, Samantha, attends college in Las Vegas. Prior to launching Rayado Creek, other families discussed with Ogata the need for a different kind of church to reach young people. In turn, he encouraged them to read the Baptist Faith and Message.
“I said that if we can agree on that, we can start to meet,” he said. “I love the doctrine. If we can stay with that, we can keep the church on track. We ended up starting a Baptist church with hardly any Baptists. We have Presbyterian, Catholic, Episcopal and other backgrounds.”
Ogata’s background fits that mold. A native Californian of Japanese heritage, his father bought some land near the unincorporated community of Miami, N.M. in the early 1990s. Ogata moved there soon thereafter to work on the ranch, leaving a comfortable life working for welding distributors, mainly in and around Salt Lake City.
“I’d been fairly successful all my life but never happy,” he said. “My father needed some help so I joined him. I’ve only met one other Japanese cowboy in my life. He was in Utah and his dad had been part of the internment camp there. When it closed, the family didn’t have anything to go back to, so the father stayed as a cook on the ranch.”
In the late 1990s, Ogata heard the Gospel preached by Jones in a cow camp.
“I knew right away that I’d been living for myself and not for Christ,” he said. “My family was one of those that attended church, but not every Sunday.” With Jones’ message, “it just all started to make sense.” A few years later Ogata met Misty at First Baptist Springer.
Rayado Creek Family Fellowship’s location doesn’t check many boxes for a prospective church plant. The nearest Walmart is an hour-and-a-half away, though there’s a Family Dollar 12 miles north in Cimarron. Its best-known local attraction is probably Philmont Scout Ranch of the Boy Scouts of America, with the southern border of its 140,177 acres nudging up to Ogata’s home.
That’s convenient, because Ogata has worked at Philmont for 18 years, the last four overseeing the landscape and grounds. Some of his coworkers and their families attend Rayado Creek. With a core group of around 15 now, Ogata said a current focus on discipleship will precede a later emphasis on evangelism.
The building where they meet is a former mess hall built in the 1950s. Less than 300 feet away is the Kit Carson Museum at Rayado, managed by Philmont and an homage to the Old West figure. Lucien Maxwell, who founded Rayado, hired Carson in 1849 to provide security from Apache and Comanche attacks.
Rick Brittain, northern regional missionary for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, pointed to the value Ogata places on mentorship and how that has become a part of his current ministry.
“The origin of Rayado Creek Family Fellowship is the ministry Jeff and Misty already had – sharing Christ and serving and mentoring younger people in and around Philmont. It’s led to a greater investment called church,” he said. “Jeff is very practical while making disciples. He teaches these young men how to be husbands, dads, friends and employees the way Jesus has called them to be.
“Jeff’s credibility in being their pastor comes from the way he lives in front of them, with integrity, service and the fruits of the Spirit in play.”
Brittain believes the men’s responsibilities of bivocational pastors allow others to see Ogata and Mitchell in a different light.
“Like Roy, Jeff gets to pastor because he works hard at another job,” Brittan said. “But so much of the real ministry, evangelism and disciple-making these guys do is tied directly to their job. That context takes important things from theory to reality.”
This article was written by Scott Barkley, national correspondent for Baptist Press. It was originally published at baptistpress.com.