Walking in Faith: Alum Miho Yasukawa on Pastoral Care, the Power of Connection, and Returning to her Roots

Miho Yasukawa and a young parishioner share artwork at the front of the church
Above: Miho Yasukawa at St. Nicholas Lutheran Church in Fairfax, SC

For LSTC alum Miho Yasukawa, the journey from Japan to the United States to pursue her MA and MDiv at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago is a testament to the power of divine calling and the transformative impact of cross-cultural experiences. 

Yasukawa grew up in Kumamoto, which has been a hub of Lutheranism in Japan since the mid-19th century thanks to the South Carolina Synod’s dedication to missionary work overseas. It was here that Yasukawa’s faith journey began, nurtured by the Lutheran tradition. Though she showed an interest in studying related subjects at the collegiate level, including History, Yasukawa ultimately felt called, between her MA at LSTC where she studied scripture, and her MDiv, which she finished in 2016, to follow the path of pastoral work. After experiencing the call while sitting one day in a pew in her home church, Yasukawa didn’t know where it would take her. Still, she never wavered. “God’s call is like Abraham, you just go where it’s call[ing you],” she says.  

Yasukawa’s connection to LSTC was further solidified through her relationship with Dr. Yoshiro Ishida, a Japanese theologian who had pursued his own doctoral studies at LSTC, along with his wife Gloria. Dr. Ishida and Gloria played pivotal roles in Yasukawa’s academic journey, supporting her application to LSTC and laying the foundation for her eventual enrollment.

Upon her arrival at LSTC, Yasukawa was greeted by the warmth and hospitality of the school’s community. “When I arrived, the international student office had put up the bedding and some food in the fridge, so that I could rest. The hospitality I received is the first thing that made an impression on me,” Yasukawa says. This welcoming atmosphere set the tone for her time at the seminary, making her feel at home despite studying in a foreign country. 

LSTC provided Yasukawa with a unique opportunity to learn from renowned theologians such as Harold S. Vogelaar Professor of Christian-Muslim Studies and Interfaith Relations and Associate Director of A Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice Mark Swanson and Professor of Theology and Anthropology Linda Thomas. These academic experiences enriched her theological understanding and equipped her with the knowledge she needed for her future ministry.

However, it was her Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) experience at Rush University Medical Center that proved to be an important piece her journey. CPE allowed her to walk alongside people during crucial moments in their lives, deepening her sense of pastoral calling and nurturing her ability to connect with individuals in vulnerable situations. “My CPE experience challenged me in many ways,” Yasukawa says, “and I learned a lot through that experience that still helps me with my pastoral ministry.” From spiritually providing for people in difficult moments, Yasukawa learned a new way to connect with people from all walks of life and opened herself to experiencing God’s grace in new ways.

After completing her academic journey at LSTC, Yasukawa received her first pastoral call to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Lena, Illinois. It was here that she learned to become a minister, serving her congregation through the difficult early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, her heart remained connected to her roots in the South Carolina Synod, known for its historical missionary work in Japan. “By the end of the Pandemic, though I loved my congregation, I was longing for my roots of the Japanese Lutheran Church, which rest in South Carolina,” she says.

Driven by this desire to continue the legacy of the missionary work that so impacted her life, Yasukawa sought a pastoral call in South Carolina. She was eventually led to Fairfax Lutheran Church, where she currently serves as a pastor. The South Carolina Synod, with its historical ties to Japan, presented a meaningful opportunity for Yasukawa to honor her heritage and connect with a community that shares her values.

In her role as pastor of Fairfax Lutheran Church, Yasukawa finds the most rewarding aspect to be the opportunity to walk alongside her congregation through life’s vicissitudes. She values the deep connections she forges with her parishioners and cherishes the moments when she can witness God’s presence in their lives.

Yasukawa’s advice to other international students considering seminary in the United States is to embrace the journey with an open heart and a willingness to learn from many different kinds of experiences. She encourages students to appreciate the complexity of American culture and history, and to seek opportunities to connect with people from various backgrounds. Yasukawa also highlights the importance of the supportive community, both among faculty and staff, as a significant aspect of her LSTC experience. “I like LSTC,” she says. “And so I would recommend that anyone come to study at LSTC.”

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