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Ambassador of love reaching out to heal old war wounds

Mrs Holmes (left) spreading her message of love at Changi Chapel. With her is interpreter Rachel Seah. — Living Hope Methodist Church picture

Keiko Holmes’ mission to reconcile former Far East POWs with Japanese people

KEIKO HOLMES, 54, was born in Kiwa-cho, Japan, after World War Two. She had not gone through any pains of war, but she was fully aware of the tension that resulted from all the brutalities and atrocious acts of inhumanity.

Since 1991, she has been travelling as the Founder-Director of AGAPE, to countries such as Britain, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and Singapore, aiming to foster reconciliation and healing between the Japanese and former Far East prisoners of war (FEPOWs).

Just like Nehemiah and Isaiah, the prophets of old, she stood in the gap, took up the sins of Japan upon her shoulder and repented before God and men on her nation’s behalf.

“I felt that God really wants to heal those who are suffering. I want to be His instrument. I was not born then, but time is not the issue,” she emphasised. “In the spiritual realm, even when we’re not born, we’re included — Jesus died for us 2,000 years ago. He did not just saved those who were alive at that time!”

She visited Singapore a third time in February. She found the Republic an important and strategic place – one with many Christians, who are able to understand each other and are supportive of the ministries of God.

Besides, Singapore is one of the key places in Asia where the atrocious acts of war took place.

This time, apart from the reconciliation service at Changi Beach where the Japanese massacre of Chinese civilians took place, she also attended two significant services held by Living Hope Methodist Church. The first service was held at St George’s Chapel, which was a former British military chapel, and the second at Changi Chapel (formerly the Changi Prison Museum Chapel).

The second service was conducted in English, Hokkien and Mandarin, representing the languages of the majority killed by the Japanese in Singapore. Members of the church came to share their experiences of the war and its adverse effects on their extended families. After each member has shared, Mrs Holmes would embrace him or her and apologised.

A church member said: “I felt that the burden that I had carried over the years regarding the Japanese Occupation lifted after the service. It is time to let go of the past.”

Mrs Holmes said that many people were ignorant of the suppressed feelings in their heart. “God’s plan is to heal every nation which is suffering because of war, especially because of Japan.”

She shared that her passion for the AGAPE ministry was two-fold: God’s love for her, which was also showered through her late husband Paul Holmes, and God’s compassion for His people.

“Paul was kind, humble, always putting people first. I am the opposite. I realised it is Jesus who lived in him who made the difference. I was once paranoid, but Paul said to me, ‘I love you as you are, do not change.’ I was touched.” Tears welled up her eyes as she shared about her late husband who died in an air crash in 1984.

“God just loves us the way we are, with the agape love. Yet agape is a challenge to me now, to love people as they are. This is my prayer,” she continued.

After the air crash, she shared how God kept her faith and strengthened her. In 1988, she revisited the memorial in Iruka, a part of Kiwa-cho, which contains the remains of 16 of the 300 British Far East prisoners of war (FEPOWs) who worked there during the war. It has been transformed into a beautiful resting place over the years with stone monuments and with careful tending by the residents.

In 1991, she attended a FEPOWs Association reunion in London. Although she was treated harshly, there was only one thing in her heart – to tell the FEPOWs about the Iruka memorial.

The breakthrough came and she was able to bring with her 26 former FEPOWs on the first Pilgrimage of Reconciliation to Japan. “There was opposition. But this is God’s call, no one can oppose Him. God did it,” she said.

Although she received an honorary OBE from Queen Elizabeth on April 28, 1998 in recognition of her efforts, she admitted that she faces constant struggles and oppositions. She said: “It is a battle!”

“Some former British POWs are really angry and are united in hatred. One of them has written nasty letters and accused me of being a Japanese government spy and a false Christian,” she said. “Then, there was a Japanese journalist who titled his article about me, ‘The Woman who Shamed Japan by Apologising’.”

Chen Yi Reng is a part-time correspondent for Methodist Message.