Aiko Foster-Sutherland, a wife and mother living in Okinawa, Japan, recently earned her BA degree in Theology. A convert to Catholicism in 2011, she began her studies at CDU because she wanted to learn the truth from a Catholic perspective. Aiko worked as a portrait photographer and ran a guesthouse until last year, when she took time off to raise her 2-year-old daughter.
Aiko enjoyed the opportunity to interact with people she might not have met otherwise. “One can be in a classroom with a member of the military, a stay-at-home mom, a homeschooled teenager, and a brother who is on his way to priesthood! CDU is truly international and friendly to anyone who wants to deepen one’s faith,” Aiko says.
Far from being impractical, the study of theology helped Aiko integrate her faith with her work as a portrait photographer. “My main goal is to empower young women through photography to help them to know they are beautiful just as God made them, and they don’t need to be anyone else or try to fit into the standards of society.” I want them to understand, “you are precious in my eyes.”(Isa 43.4) “Learning theology changed how I approached my clients,” Aiko adds.
Learning about the significance of man’s body and soul in her Fundamental Moral Theology class struck a chord with Aiko. “The idea was not foreign to me when I read it, but it spoke to me,” she says. “Although physical beauty fades away, there is spiritual side that can’t be neglected if one is to be the kind of person that God wants one to be.” Aiko says it was a bit difficult at first because her business was to sell beauty, but she knew in her heart that her work and faith could not exist separately.
Aiko has also handed on the faith to others. She was at a party mingling with prospective clients and began a conversation with a woman in her mid 20s. Their conversation led to friendship; Aiko shared her faith with her new friend and was able to answer questions she asked about Christianity. “A year later, she got baptized in the Catholic Church,” Aiko says. “Because I was studying theology, I was able to share not only my experiences of God but also theological answers to questions she had.”
In Japan, Catholics comprise just 0.5% of the population. “In my church, you can count young families on one hand,” Aiko says. Many priests are from overseas, and there are few Japanese priests in her diocese. “There is an interesting history behind how the Catholic Church came to Japan, and it is profound to know how the missionaries did their work in such an unfamiliar culture,” she says. “It’s culturally challenging for Christianity to grow here. There is a lot of work to do in the Catholic Church in Japan.”
Aiko was Protestant before she converted to Catholicism in 2011. “I wanted to deepen my relationship with God but could not find what I was looking for and did not know where to look,” she says. Aiko started reading more books and realized that many were written by Catholic priests “by chance.” “I grew to love Catholicism,” she says. Aiko’s husband was raised Protestant as well, but a priest he met while working in Malaysia inspired him to consider the Catholic priesthood. He chose to marry Aiko instead. “We attended a Protestant church for a while, but both of us felt that we were led to the Catholic Church. After a year of examination and prayer, they decided to become Catholic.
“I searched high and low to pursue a degree in theology as a lay person, but I couldn’t find a school I was interested in. Then I found CDU, or more accurately, CDU found me!” Aiko says.
When asked what she enjoyed most about her education at CDU, Aiko mentions the weekly discussions. “Students have the same faith, yet they have different ways of thinking,” she says. “It was truly interesting to read other students’ posts.” She also appreciated the diverse makeup of students. “Most of the students are from the States, but some were from different parts of the world, and it made the conversations interesting,” she says.
While earning her degree, Aiko was working, studying, and raising a child, which was not easy. “But by the grace of God, I was able to graduate,” she says.
Aiko says that learning theology helped her to fall in love with the word of God and learn to serve Him better. “It transforms your approach to God. Studying theology will not leave you unchanged!” she says. “As St. Jerome said, ‘Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,’” she adds.