The sun looms low in the sky, beginning its descent behind the Rocky Mountains, which gives the town of Centennial, Colorado, a golden-orange hue. Hiroyuki Fukuda’s mail delivery route may be predictable, but the routine doesn’t bother him. His drive is typically calm, passing through tranquil neighborhoods secluded behind tall wooden fences and punctuated by the occasional park or open space. Drained from a day of deliveries, he adjusts his cap and wipes the sweat from beneath its brim.
It’s Wednesday, the end of a normal workday, but Fukuda and his familyare just settling in to produce In Touch with Dr. Stanley for radio stations in Japan. Inside their home, red and white blankets hang along the walls to provide a measure of soundproofing, and thick rugs cover the low hums and white noise of any electronics that might disturb their production. On the desk in front of their computer, they arrange a microphone and headphones. Hiro is the voice of Dr. Charles Stanley, and he performs the final mixes for the audio program. His wife Satomi translates the sermons into Japanese, and their son Sho—the voice of the announcer—introduces the sermon.
The humble setting hides the immensity of what is taking place. Here in their home, decades of hopes and longings are being realized: Half the world away from Colorado, these produced programs will air for the first time on over a dozen radio stations across Japan. And yet uncertainty persists. Considering the demands of their everyday lives apart from this work, do they have the capacity to sustain this project? In a nation where the Christian population is shrinking, will the messages they produce have any impact at all?
Nevertheless, joining hands, the family prays, and then Hiro presses record.
Hiro and Satomi began their careers working in Christian media in the early ’80s, a time when discipleship materials in Japanese were scarce. Together, they sought opportunities to use radio to broadcast Christian programming across the country, sharing the gospel as effectively and clearly as possible.
Due to financial and cultural barriers, almost no options were available. In Japan, followers of Jesus remain a tiny minority, despite the country’s religious freedom and embrace of Western culture. Out of almost 130 million people, Christians make up less than two percent of the population.
Hiro and Satomi learned that the island of Guam, over 1,500 miles south of Japan, could provide a way to accomplish their goal. From there, they could use shortwave radio technology to reach portions of Japan’s islands. So in 1986, the Fukudas left their home to serve in Guam, producing radio programs for eventual broadcast. It wasn’t until six years later that they would move to the United States to pursue seminary education.
During the week, in between her part-time shifts at a local bakery, Satomi translates the sermons of Dr. Charles Stanley. The same makeshift studio used to record the radio programs is converted back into an office, and she works at the computer, translating his and other discipleship materials into Japanese. The office desk in front of her is strewn with notebooks, a Bible, and a Japanese dictionary, and she bounces back and forth between them as she types on the desktop computer.
Translating from English to Japanese is very complicated and time-consuming. Satomi knows that preparation and care are essential in sharing the good news. “I always start my translation work with the prayer, ‘Dear Lord, let me put the words into Japanese wisely so that every word You want to say to Japanese people will be there for Hiro to record!’”
Raised in a traditional Buddhist home and without a single Christian or church in his small hometown, Hiro wasn’t exposed to the gospel until attending college in Tokyo. “One of my friends, he was a strong Christian,” Hiro says. “And for three years I was stubborn. But finally, I became a believer.” Hiro was the first person in his family to give his life to Christ.
Hiro’s family was happy for him but not interested in hearing more. It wasn’t until his older brother was healed from a lengthy illness that his family began to take Hiro’s faith seriously. His prayers for his brother, and the man’s subsequent miraculous healing, caught their attention. Eventually they dedicated their lives to Christ.
Sho, a Maintenance Control worker at the Denver International Airport, spends much of his time on the phone, coordinating maintenance teams and aircraft inspections or repairs. Like his parents, he struggles at times to find a balance between making a living and fulfilling his passion to get the message of Jesus to Japan. “It is quite difficult,” Sho says. “However, our constant prayer is that we stay out of the Holy Spirit’s way, to let Him do God’s work through us.”
In 2011 a catastrophic tsunami struck the northeastern coast of Tōhoku. 16,000 lives were lost, and 200,000 people were displaced. To this day 50,000 still live in temporary homes. As victims received physical relief, they began searching for spiritual relief as well. “More people in Japan are looking beyond themselves and have been more receptive to the gospel,” Sho says. Radio stations not only became more vital and relevant, providing critical practical information to victims, but they also became more receptive to content revolving around grief, counseling, and comfort during traumatic times. After decades of hoping and praying, the gospel was finally accessible on FM radio.
After praying, the Fukudas begin the production process. Satomi is ready with the translated sermons, and Hiro looks over the document, making minute changes if needed. His eyes quickly scan each page as he prepares to record, practicing voice exercises to warm up his vocal cords. Sho records the introduction and closing, and Hiro works with him on his Japanese pronunciation if necessary.
As the Fukudas juggle their day-to-day tasks to make the production process happen, they are invigorated to know they are having an impact in their home country. This opportunity is not just a side project to work on in their free time, but a highlight of their decades-long labor of love. It is the culmination of fervent prayers for the lost in Japan.
Sho says, “Our radio programming reaching the Japanese people in ways we can’t predict is a great look into God’s plan, and it excites us!”
Photographs by Ryan Dearth