From Japan to Glenside, Pennsylvania
November 30, 2013
Keiko Fukuda is finishing up a Masters of Arts in Religion this Spring. Her first taste of seminary training wasn’t at Westminster, but at Japan Bible Seminary in her hometown of Tokyo, Japan.
Upon graduating from Japan Bible Seminary, she was working at a church in Japan when she felt the call to further studies. “We had a church member who was in her 80’s who was the president of the Tokyo Christian Women’s University. There are actually a lot of Christian universities in Japan, started by Christian organizations or churches, but those universities have moved away from their Christian roots. The students who go to there all have to study Christianity, but it never points them to a relationship with God. She shared her vision of having real Christians in the academic world in Japan, and I caught on to her vision.”
Keiko continued, “One thing she did as the newly instated president was to start the academic faculty meetings with prayer, a move which immediately got much backlash. As she continued to display her faith and values as a Christian, she had to put in security in her house at one stage because she was receiving threats. But when she would speak at the university’s chapel meetings, she would preach the Gospel directly from the Bible, and the place would be packed.” Keiko saw the rich opportunities for Gospel ministry available. “I saw the possibilities in those universities. There are a lot of students there are asking questions like ‘What’s the meaning of life? What’s the meaning of my life? What am I going to live for?’ For me, teaching at a university would mean opportunities to point to the real living God that is involved with their lives.”
Keiko recognized that to teach at a secular university level in Japan, she would need to engage in further study. “At the time I was deciding which school to attend, I was still working at my church in Tokyo and I didn’t have a lot of time to look into different places. I ended up picking out a few that I knew some Japanese people had gone to.” One of those on her short list was Westminster Theological Seminary. “One of the reasons I chose Westminster was because, like Japan Bible Seminary, it valued learning the original languages to ground yourself in the Bible.” Keiko, from a non-denominational background, was also becoming interested in Presbyterianism. “I had the opportunity to be at Briarwood Presbyterian Church one year when they hosted the General Assembly there. I had also been to a “From Embers to a Flame” Conference on church revitalization by Harry Reeder. At the General Assembly, I heard a presentation on the theology of revival by Mike Ross, and a presentation on prayer by Archie Parrish. I was struck by how theology was mixed with the spiritual and the practical and became interested in how they did church and the theology behind it.”
Since she has been at Westminster, Keiko has appreciated that Westminster’s strong confessional heritage has given her a place to wrestle with her own theological beliefs and positions. “My first time at seminary in Japan, I just accepted everything I was taught. That prepared me to teach in a church, but to teach those who aren’t interested in believing, you need to be able to communicate to them with a deep understanding that comes from having grappled with the issues yourself on a personal level. Westminster has a very strong position and the professors are very confident in it, so they don’t feel the need to push their position onto you. They are comfortable that you will grapple with the issue and come to your conclusion. I’ve really appreciated that. If you have a strong sounding board, it’s easier to test your thoughts off of it.” Keiko’s professors have been willing to be that sounding board as she has grappled with different theological issues. “They have been more than welcome in sharing their time to talk about issues, pointing to Biblical passages and books that might help.’”
The Westminster community is also something that has been a positive experience to Keiko. “It’s a very small community. I’ve been in two prayer groups as my academic advisors changed, but [Professor’s wives] Mrs. Poythress and Mrs. Edgar both attended prayer meetings along with the students. And there is diversity to the student body - I’ve met people from Episcopalian backgrounds, or Pentecostal backgrounds, to name a few. “
Keiko plans to continue her studies at Th.M. and Ph.D. levels in the US, and intends to return to Japan afterwards, where the need for Christianity is great. “Japan is still a country where less than 1% are Christians, and 0.3% are Evangelical Christians. Christianity is very difficult in Japan because everyone is pretty moral, so they don’t really see the need for salvation. For the Japanese, there is no absolute – rather, the community decides what is good or bad, and it is a system that has worked for many years! But people there are starting to look for an absolute as community has started to disintegrate with the change of times and the influence of western individualism. They’re looking for something bigger than themselves, and they’re seeking it somewhere other than God. The message of the Gospel needs to be out there, and clearly communicated in a way to help people realize that this is what they need.”
Please join us in praying for Keiko as she prepares for future ministry in Japan through her studies at Westminster.