- Written by Rev. Mike Yakawich
Pastor Mike Yakawich (UTS '87) is among the many active alumni of UTS. Besides guiding his own congregation in Billings, MT, Pastor Yakawich is actively engaged in multiple community organizations in Montana. He has also taught an Intensive course on "The Dynamics of Church Leadership" here at UTS.
It was early in my seminary career that two professors taught me a great deal about community. It was Dr. Richard Quebedaux and Dr. Henry O. Thompson. They taught me about the social action, community service and working in the grassroots. Later, assigned to Montana, I realized the value of community work and service. From early on, we initiated food programs and basic home church based projects.
Often Father Moon would speak to us state leaders in meetings and ask us what we are actually doing for the sake of the kingdom building? He would often conclude his speeches with the imploration of us going back into out states to serve, make a change and make a difference. From these inspirational talks, his leadership and examples, we initiated many service based programs in Montana including The Annual March Against Drugs and Violence, the Annual 9-11 Community Celebration of Life, the Annual ACLC MT Conferences addressing drug education to violence prohibition. Clean up projects, assisting other organizations as Boy Scouts and ELKS Club and volunteering to join other Boards such as the Suicide Prevention Coalition for Yellowstone Valley, the South Side Neighborhood Taskforce, Black Heritage Association, school committees, and United Way Roots of Promise are some other examples. All of this would be the foundation and stepping stones to greater effort at public service.
It was then in the summer of the Service for Peace that I heard for the first time a speech at the MCI Center by Dr. Hyun Jin Moon. This message of service, core values and a new paradigm of community touched my heart. I knew my life would not be the same.
Later in Seattle, Washington, in 2005, Mother Moon, Dr. and Mrs. Hyun Jin Moon listened to a report on those activities from Montana which we were involved in. They were inspired. They suggested that I take this service to another level by running for an office. Over the four years I pondered and prepared with these seeds planted deep inside my heart. Nurtured by my wife, friends and family's support in May of 2009 I filed for candidate of Mayor for Billings, Montana. This was a major step. However, it was based on many conversations with many leaders in the community in the past four years. They all encouraged me to run. I talked with former Mayors, political organizers, teachers, community leaders, neighbors, family and friends. One retired President of the Rocky Mountain College suggested, "If you do not run, you will look back with regret." He was so right.
The filing for Mayor was Tuesday, May 12th, 2009. The TV station heard of my intent a week before and interviewed me. It was presented on the local Q2 TV station. A week later when I announced at the courthouse lawn, the local Billings Gazette ran a very positive story. Certainly, they clearly said I was a minister as well as a community leader. Then the weekly paper, The OutPost interview Mike and did a very nice piece by Roger Clawson. The run was well on the way.
A month before filing, a young 33 year old, Eran Thompson volunteered to by my campaign manager. He had introduced then Presidential candidate Obama to Billings and later had Mr. Obama over to his house to watch TV. Coincidentally, I had the opportunity to do the funeral services for Eran's Mom a few years ago. Eran energized our campaign and did a fantastic job. Then, our treasured emerged, Phil Oliver a local lawyer and father to my second cousin. Fortuitously, I too was honored to have conducted the funeral for his former wife a year earlier.
My wife, Yukiko, faithfully assisted and did most of the financial recording for the campaign. This was a huge help. Others emerged to help such as a former state legislator, businessmen, and a candidate for state legislator, a counselor, teacher, probation officer and retired psychiatrist. We had a great team from both parties, various ages and backgrounds. They wrote letters to the Editor of the local paper supporting my candidacy, helped me place the yard signs and did door to door with me handing out literature. They were a big help.
Over nine weeks, I focused on door to door. We handed out over 12,000 pieces of literature. I logged on over 220 hours (not counting all of our other volunteers) on the doors and approximately 110 miles walking door to door since I estimated one mile ever two hours as I knocked and talked with many people in that mile. Perhaps, one could gestimate that Mike knocked on over 8,000 homes. I covered all parts of the city from the Westend, Heights, Southside and Southwest, Briarwood, Blue Creek and downtown. A few days I walked from one restaurant, bar and business to another meeting people who commented, "We would never see a candidate in our business, you got my vote!" Bartenders would pledge their support knowing no other candidate had stopped by their place to talk and seek their vote.
We had 360 yard signs placed all thought Billings. These signs were approved ahead of time, confirmed and again the person was given a thank you card. It was amazing how they were protected by the homeowner. People would call asking for more signs even when we had no more signs to give out. A sea of signs stretched all through the city. Interestingly, the number 360 homes seemed fitting.
We had so many friends donate to this campaign. Their support and prayers were a great source of encouragement that I am very much indebted to each and every one of them.
Customers from Yakawich Gifts too got very excited. This business takes me to three counties and over 250 miles surrounding Billings. They would ask for a donation envelop and offer money in support of the campaign. Others would tell family or friends who lived in Billings to vote and even some got relatives to put up Mike for Mayor Signs in their yards. It seemed that everyone was excited for the campaign. Grandpa Joseph Yakawich, who lives in Butte, MT, would encourage his friends to support the campaign and even drove the four hour drive to be with everyone on Election Day. In fact that day he wore the Mike for Mayor Shirt and drove around with Mike and campaigned alongside.
One major lesson that I discovered was that people wanted to be engaged. They appreciate a candidate taking time to visit them. People valued the hard work of walking and seeking citizens at their own home. Soda, water, fruit, food and shade was often provided by the homeowner. A day would not go by without some door to door or I would feel something was missing. I wrote and mailed over 400 postcards to people who I met that day on the door. Later, people would run into me in another location and express their gratitude for the postcard and thoughtfulness.
We as candidates could speak at forums and be challenged by questions not known ahead of time and answers limited to one and one half minutes. One had to overcome intimidation and stage fright. As one advisor said, "Try not to lose any votes and even gain one or two and you can call it a success." It was an honor to meet the other candidates and discover that they all genuinely cared for their community and wanted to make a positive change, offer their assistance and support the city.
The day of the returns involved some final door to door in the downtown area. Even then, people were inspired to see me not giving up to the very end. One person noted that the leading candidate may have felt the potential in our campaign and he invested approximately $12,000 in the primary. Some votes were split with five candidates in the race. It was an unpredictable ending as we gathered at the War Bonnet Inn for election returns. It was the place we first meet as a group to decide about the run for Mayor. Grandpa Yakawich, 86, family and friends joined for the night's election returns.
The results came. Mr. Hanel, a former police officer for Billings and current realtor took first. Mr. Clark, a city councilman for eight years in Billings took second:
Tom Hanel 10,775
Dick Clark 3,269
Mike Yakawich 3,154
Christopher Cook 2,164
Ray Tracy 1,107
Our votes for second place came in short with 115. We earned the bronze! Yet, we won in so many other ways. People called our home from all over the city offering encouragement and gratitude for a well run race. The local paper, Billings Gazette, printed and editorial how this race was a well run and clean race. The area where Mike lived, Ward I, received the highest praise for the greatest improvement in votes made compared to the last primary.
On the next two days, when Yukiko and Mike spent over 11 hours picking up the yard signs, so many people came out of their home to wish us well, encourage us and thanked us for running.
Many community leaders called and thanked us for having the courage and making the commitment to run. It seemed on one hand that so many did not expect our race to have any success. Many watched from the side lines just curious what this pastor/community leader would do, what kind of campaign would he conduct and what effort would he invest? When over 3,000 votes came in for Mike for Mayor, so many were astounded that a new-be, untested candidate would run and gain so many votes the first time, it was a remarkable showing and many commented on this. Even losing to the second place candidate at such a small margin when he has been a city councilman for eight years, this was noteworthy.
So, after all of the signs were down and the elections over, it seems the credibility and respect achieved was outstanding. The opportunity to meet so many people and gain their trust was a special opportunity. It gave much inspiration to our family and to many friends and neighbors.
This encouragement to run from Mother Moon and the inspiration from Dr. and Mrs. Hyun Jin Moon was invaluable. His advice on one occasion regarding facing pressure and stress was so simple and profound. He said, "No words can really explain how to address stress and pressure as in the public forum. The best way to understand how to take care of it is to experience it." He was so correct. My confidence grew by leaps and bounds as I faced the various forums and speaking engagements. Intimidation was replaced with comfort and confidence.
I will remember the many days that my wife or son dropped me off for a three for four mile walk through the heart of Billings. I will never forget all our youth dressed in blue and white, Mike for Mayor, tee shirts and going as teams out door to door handing out campaign literature and then coming home all together to eat pizza and relax. There was almost a dog in every home. I came to love dogs even more. People were people whatever the socioeconomic situation, color or cultural backgrounds. They were in general very supportive and kind. Interestingly, after several types of conversations with people in which I never mentioned my faith background, people would comment, "I know you are a minister and my friends tell me you are a very good person and we should vote for you." It was heart warming how religion did not stop many from engaging and genuinely interested in meeting the candidate at their own door.
I am thankful to my family and friends who support me in this 2009 race for mayor. I am very grateful for True Family who trusted me and encouraged me. Such confidence was so much appreciated. With such an endeavor behind me now, I can now say to others I did it and so can you! We can bring our ideas, visions and goals to others through such ways. Finally, we never know what the next door that we knock at will reveal. As long as we are willing to go 110 miles, perhaps that 111th or 112th mile will even bring more adventure and possibilities. In all of this, I give honor and glory to our Heavenly Father.
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