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A Tribute to Chō Takeda Kiyoko, former WCC president for the Asia-Pacific

Chō Takeda Kiyoko passed away on 12 April 2018 at the age of 100. She was known to describe her own accomplishments with the modest phrase “lifelong homework.”

27 April 2018

Chō Takeda Kiyoko passed away on 12 April at the age of 100. She was known to describe her own accomplishments with the modest phrase “lifelong homework.” Given that she lived for ten very full decades, that is indeed quite a lot of “homework!”

Let us briefly examine Chō Takeda Kiyoko’s life as a stellar example of what it means to be consistently, patiently and effectively on a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, not only in her native Japan but across the Asia-Pacific regions and indeed across the world. It is difficult to summarize a long life in tributes such as this, but let us start when Takeda converted to Christianity at the age of 21. She joined the Kobe Hirano Church and Kobe YWCA in 1938, a year after enrolling in the senior division of Kobe Jogakuin, a college for women founded by American missionaries in 1873.

She then continued her education at Kobe Jogakuin’s sister school in the United States, Olivet College. En route to the United States, Takeda travelled to Europe as part of the Japanese delegation to the first international conference of the World Student Christian Federation in Amsterdam in July 1939.

Takeda then attended Columbia University and Union Theological College, before choosing to return to Japan on the last International Red Cross Exchange ship in June 1942. Upon returning to Japan, she was recruited as the director of the Japan YWCA’s Student Section.

In 1953, Takeda resigned from her position with the Japan YWCA to take up an academic post at the newly-established International Christian University (ICU), where she pursued scholarship on the Japanese encounter with Christianity and led the university’s research programme in Asian cultural studies. She was promoted to professor before her retirement in 1988.

Throughout her many scholarly pursuits, she always strived to deepen her engagement with global ecumenical Christianity, first regularly attending World Council of Churches (WCC) international meetings, then serving as the WCC President for Asia-Pacific between July 1971 and November 1975.

Another phrase often used to describe Takeda, both within her religious and secular circles, is that of “unofficial diplomat.” This is because she consistently worked for improving mutual understanding not only between the people of Japan and its Asian neighbors but between diverse churches and communities across Asia and the Pacific region.

What if we, in our Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, work to honor and emulate Takeda? What if we, as she did, continue over decades to deepen our education, our sense of mission, our call to discipleship? What if we remain patient and focused even in a world torn by war and in which sometimes the wheels of justice appear to move very slowly, if at all? Takeda did.

We express our condolences to the family of Chō Takeda Kiyoko and our profound appreciation for her life and the relationships she built as part of our own foundation for peace. May she inspire us all to attend to our own “lifelong homework” as we thank God for the legacy she has left.