Hesston College faculty, staff and students support Risa Fukaya at her April baptism. For 2019-20, Fukaya has committed to a year of service in Mississippi through Mennonite Mission Network.
Risa Fukaya ’19 (Zushi, Japan) left Hesston College with a degree as well as expanded language skills, increased cultural understanding, influential friendships, and a new-found faith.
From the start, Hesston was an unexpected option. Fukaya was thinking about schools in New York and California, until the agent with whom she was working to navigate the process of applying to U.S. colleges, suggested Hesston.
“My agent said, ‘There’s this college in Kansas that has a lot of international students…’” said Fukaya. “They thought it would be a good option for adjusting to the language and culture.”
Fukaya was optimistic about what was to come. She earned a spot with Bel Canto Singers, and was paired with an American roommate, Madi Kauffman ’19, with whom she bonded quickly. Fukaya began attending church at Kauffman’s home congregation, Journey Mennonite Church, Yoder (Kan.) campus, and would stay with Kauffman and her parents, Dale and Vicki, during breaks in the academic year, even living with them through the summer.
It was the relationships Fukaya found at Hesston that would prove to be life-changing and lead her to dedicate her life to Christ and be baptized on April 21, Easter Sunday 2019.
Fukaya didn’t grow up practicing a religion, but Hesston College’s Christ-centered faith community piqued her curiosity.
“When I talked to my Christian friends about things going on in my life, their perspective and advice was so caring,” said Fukaya. “I was really interested in that spiritual perspective.”
Toward the end of her freshman year, Fukaya was going through a difficult time with a friend. During congregational sharing time at church, Kauffman encouraged her friend to share about her situation. Following the service, another friend from church asked if she could pray with Fukaya.
“As she prayed, I turned my situation over to God for the first time,” Fukaya said. “I can’t really explain how it felt, but I so clearly heard God speaking to me. That’s when I knew God was real and cared for me.”
Starting with that moment, Fukaya’s faith began to grow as she relied on God in navigating life, relating with friends, and serving as a leader among her peers as a resident assistant.
Those closest to her noticed the growth, and Dale Kauffman, who serves on the pastoral team at Journey at Yoder and became like a father to Fukaya, asked if she wanted to make a public statement of her faith through baptism.
So in a celebration of the new life found in Christ, the Easter morning sunrise service had an extra element added to it. The church family and many of Fukaya’s Hesston College friends and mentors were in attendance to celebrate with her.
“I had been thinking about my faith and what it meant for a year,” said Fukaya. “I knew I wanted to be baptized – to say this is how I want to live my life. I want to follow Jesus.”
Holding true to Hesston College’s tagline and commitment for students to “Start here, go everywhere,” Fukaya’s decision to attend Hesston was the start for a new kind of journey.
“These two years were such a time of growth,” said Fukaya. “God used my friends to deliver a message into my life. I want to continue growing that same kind of love inside of me and being ready to give it to people at any time and in any place.”