In the aftermath of the Second World War, Tokyo’s Waseda University didn’t have enough classrooms. The university decided to ease the problem by holding lessons on Sundays. A handful of Christian students opposed the move, but despite getting 200 signatures on a petition, the changes went ahead.
So the students started a worship service during Sunday lunchtimes on campus. Out of this gathering, two students began to meet daily to pray in a small shed.
Some in the foreign military community in Japan at the time had been actively involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) in the States. From them, the students picked up the vision of praying for their friends to hear the gospel. Not only that, they also picked up a desire to see similar groups formed on every campus in Japan.
In June of 1947 a weekly Saturday meeting for Christians from several different campuses was begun. Soon after, they took the name Kirisutosha Gakusei Kai (KGK), which translates into English as “Fellowship of Christian Students.” As KGK celebrates its 70th anniversary, there are probably around 350 campuses from Hokkaido to Okinawa with active KGK-affiliated groups and over 1,000 students involved from a wide variety of denominations.
One student on a secular campus in Chiba recently told me about how KGK had been a help to him. At the start of his university life, his discipleship was limited to Sunday worship and what he did at home. Contact with KGK was crucial in helping him connect the rest of his life to Jesus. He was thrilled when he heard of a new Christian starting at his campus this past spring, and he has now begun to lead a weekly Bible study from John’s Gospel. He is also eager to pray (and to mobilise prayer) for the gospel to spread within his university.
In other recent events, on one campus a group of students has started regular evangelistic Bible studies. On another campus, a student has shared his testimony with dozens of non-Christian classmates. Although KGK staff encouraged and prayed for all of these activities, students initiated all of the planning and organisation—a KGK value.
As I’ve talked about KGK over the years with colleagues and others, I’ve sometimes heard the criticism that there is little actual evangelism done by KGK students, but that they merely gather in a ‘holy huddle’. This may have been true at some universities, at some times in KGK’s history. Certainly KGK leaders are aware of such perceptions. But the stated spirit of KGK, and its renewed intention as it celebrates 70 years, is for campus evangelism to flourish, and for lifelong servants of the church to be raised up in ever increasing numbers. Soli Deo Gloria.
If you’d like to know more about how to get involved in any way, please do get in touch!
Richard East is an OMF missionary who, after 5 years of church planting work in Hokkaido, has recently been seconded to work with KGK in the Tokyo region. He lives there with his wife Catherine and two daughters.