Rev. James (Jim) R. Sandholdt, American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS) alumnus, passed away peacefully at the age of 74 on October 9, 2023 in Ajijic, México, after battling Alzheimer’s for many years. Jim was born on July 7, 1949 in Alameda, California to Robert and Gloria Sandholdt.
Jim grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, the oldest of five children. As a child, his parents and other significant people in his life had little or nothing to do with religion. In high school, his desire to be part of group led him to join an Episcopal youth group and subsequently an Episcopal church, however it wasn’t until years later that he became a Christian.
Following high school, Jim attended San Jose State University for one year before serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. After military service, he returned to school to pursue (and later, earn) a bachelor’s degree in biology at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
During Jim’s time at California Polytechnic State University, he met Alyce (Ali) B. Gross in a botany class. Both Jim and Ali had grown up mostly without a vital religious experience or commitment. During their time at Cal Poly, Ali’s classmate invited her to attend a Bible Study that moved her. It was primarily through Ali’s influence that Jim decided to become a Christian. From that time on they sought the Lord’s will for their life together and in search of a church relationship, they joined a Southern Baptist Church.
Jim and Ali were married on September 16, 1972.
Feeling the Lord calling to him in a more informed and purposeful way, Jim enrolled at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and graduated in 1976 receiving his Master of Religious Education (M.R.E) degree. After being a member of several Southern Baptist churches and serving on the staff of one of them, the Lord gradually led him to an American Baptist Church. He states: “Within the American Baptist family I found the ‘unity amidst diversity’, the broadness of vision, and the trust to venture out and seek the will of God without fear.”
From 1977-1978 he attended the American Baptist Seminary of the West and received his M.Div degree. Jim then completed the ordination process and was ordained on June 18. 1978 at the First Baptist Church of San Anselmo, California. Jim went on to accept a pastorate at First Baptist Church, Hotchkiss, Colorado.
Jim stated, “Ever since I became a Christian, I have had a sense of being part of God’s mission in the world. As I have seen the resources we have in our churches here, and as I have sensed the need for people to share in not just a local but a worldwide missionary enterprise, my sense of involvement in mission has matured along with the desire to serve the Lord in a foreign setting.”
On May 13, 1981, Jim and Ali were appointed by International Ministries for missionary service in Japan. Their appointment fulfilled a request from the Japan Baptist Union (JBU) for a missionary family to work in the fields of evangelism and church development. This was an exciting request since the majority of requests for help since WWII were for educational workers. The Sandholdts’ work experience gained from Christian Education work in California and pastoral ministry in Colorado made them a fit to work full-time in evangelism and church development in Japan. They traveled to Japan with their two young children, Daniel and Marin.
In July 1983, after completing formal Japanese language studies in Kobe they moved to Takatsuki City and began working with the Takatsuki Baptist Church on a new church development project. Following their home assignment in the States from 1985-1986 they returned to Japan as part of the new church plan in the city of Ibaraki. The Takatsuki Baptist Church had a vision for planting a new congregation in this strategic area which was about fifteen minutes from Osaka City by commuter train. Jim served as the pastor of this new congregation, the Ibaraki Megumi Christian Church until 1992. When they left the area for home assignment this new church had 30 members and a young, energetic Japanese pastor.
Following their return from home assignment in 1993, Jim was assigned to become the new Mission Correspondent and Ali, the new Mission Treasurer in Tokyo. As Mission Correspondent, Jim also served as the representative link between IM and the JBU. The Sandholdts combined these mission office duties with other church work in the Tokyo area. They assisted three other churches with outreach programs and Jim pastored the Suginami-Nakadori Church in Tokyo. During the Sandholdts’ final term in Japan Jim served as pastor of the historic Nemuro Christian Church on the island of Hokkaido.
During their two decades of missionary service in Japan, the Sandholdt’s ministry included the birth of a new congregation and the renewal of two others. Jim also served as mission correspondent, providing support for fellow missionaries and Japanese pastors.
In January 2002, following two decades of service in Japan, Jim and Ali resigned from service as missionaries with International Ministries (IM). Following their resignation from IM, Jim accepted a call to become the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kalispell, Montana.
Following his retirement in 2011 Jim continued to build on his beloved Montana homestead farm, enjoying the construction projects and livestock care that entailed. He also began to explore Orthodox Christianity, becoming part of a mission outreach in Kalispell that eventually became St Herman Church. He took to heart the words of Saint Herman of Alaska, “let us love God above all.” As his illness progressed Jim was determined to continue his service to God. He is best remembered during this time for his unfailing church attendance, warmly welcoming visitors and his sense of humor.
Jim is survived by Ali, his wife of 51 years, son Daniel (Oa), daughter Marin, grandson Noa James, brother Bill (Dorene) sisters Lori (Marc), Karen (Lon) and five nieces and nephews.
Jim’s funeral and burial services took place October 27, 2023 in Kalispell Montana.