My calling into ministry did not come out of an excitement to serve God. It did not come at a retreat where I was set on fire for God and I wanted to zealously spread the Gospel. It came as a stumbling block. It was a wall placed to prevent me from going down the wrong path. It was God saying to me, “Stop running away from your past and your problems. Stop running away from Me.” If there is one emotion that encompasses most of my life, it would be fear. And my way of dealing with fear, with problems and difficulties, is to run away. Of course, my younger self would deny that. Most of my life, I hid this fear and I turned to things like heavy metal or pornography to make myself feel masculine, to feel powerful. Heavy metal induced feelings of anger and hatred, and that made me feel powerful. Porn would let me objectify women and exercise sexual fantasies that made me feel masculine and powerful. But when it came to actual real-life issues, I never had the guts to stand up and exert my “power”. I always cowered, hid.
This was very much the case when it came to my family relations, especially my dad. My dad is a very complicated and complex man. He is a pastor and has been serving in full-time ministry for 25 years. Let me start by saying that I know he loves me, my brother and my mom. I believe that he is a man of God who is truly called to serve in ministry. But he is also a broken man, with a long history of family wounds. His mother passed away when he was in elementary school. His father was a non-believer, a physically abusive man with a hot temper who had no problem beating my dad constantly. He shipped my 12-year-old dad to boarding school far away from home to Seoul as a punishment for disobedience. When my dad decided to follow his pastoral calling and come to America to study at Talbot Seminary, my grandpa chose to cut ties with my dad and didn’t contact him for years. Thus, my dad ended up releasing much of his family brokenness onto my mom and me. When he came home tired from doing ministry, the smallest things would set him off. He inherited his father’s hot temper and I saw him say and do many things that you wouldn’t expect a pastor to do. My mother and I had to endure his brokenness and we ended up getting emotional and spiritual scars of our own. I began to become very fearful of my dad, and I found it hard to see him as the loving person everyone else thought he was. My self-worth deteriorated and I began to feel powerless and weak. I took what he said in his anger and made it truth in my mind and heart.
When I started planning out my future life as a senior in high school, my main goal was to get away from my parents as quickly as possible. The path I chose was civil engineering; it was a stable career choice and only required a bachelor’s degree. My plan was to graduate quickly, get an engineering job as soon as possible, move to the other side of the country and live free and far from my parents. I wanted to run away from my past, from my brokenness, from reminders of my own powerlessness and weakness. When I got accepted into the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, I thought my wishes were granted. It is a top ten engineering school in the nation and was ranked 2 for my major. This was my chance to be free. Oh, how wrong I was. My first weeks at U of I, I fell into a deep state of depression. I started having suicidal thoughts and feelings of worthlessness overwhelmed me. Worst of all, deep down I knew that I was just running away from my problems and that ate at me the most. I lived on the 11th floor of my dorm and there was this window next to my desk. Daily, I would envision myself opening that window and jumping off. The only thing that gave me some comfort were my two small group leaders, Monica Lee and Jones Soetoyo. They were part of Covenant Fellowship Church at Urbana-Champaign and they loved on me so much. They would text me, asking if I was doing ok. They would invite me to come out to church events. They would take me out and buy me food. There was this one time where I got sick with a cold and they put together a goody bag with Nyquil, Tylenol and some soup cans. I wept when I opened the door and saw the goody bag hanging on my doorknob. I couldn’t understand why they showed such kindness to a nobody like me. The things they did weren’t groundbreaking. They were little things, but they meant so much to me.
One night, Monica and Jones invited me out to this revival that CFC was holding, and the dean of Wheaton College was the guest-speaker. He spoke on our calling as Christians, which is to go out and make disciples of all nations. He used Mary and Joseph and the disciples of Jesus as examples. When they received their calling, their immediate response was to obey. They trusted God, even though their path was fraught with danger and suffering. During his sermon, I remember getting this unexplainable feeling in my heart. I felt God speaking to me, saying “Look at the people around you. This is my Church and I love them. And I am going to use you to love them.” That broke me. This was God breaking into my life and flipping my world upside down. This was Him saying, “I see your brokenness and I am going to use your brokenness to spread My Love.” This was the stumbling block that ended up becoming a call to ministry.
My testimony doesn’t stop there but to cover the rest would take many more paragraphs and I feel I have already covered the essential part, which is my calling. To summarize the rest, I sought counsel from my small group leaders and from my old youth pastor. After months of prayer and seeking the Lord’s will, I decided to take a leap of faith and I dropped out of U of I. I took a semester off and I began the process of transferring to Biola University to finish my undergrad, not as an engineering major but as a Biblical Studies major. I wanted to learn more about the God that called me out of darkness and into His path. It is so ironic that I ended up going to the seminary that my dad went to and now I am serving as an intern at the church my dad was a pastor at. God brought me back full circle to face my past, my pains and hurts. I returned to the places where I have so many painful memories, only this time God is using them to teach me, to mold me. There is no neat ending to this. My life’s story is still going on. I am working on reconciling with my dad and that has been a bittersweet, but beautiful journey. But that is a story for another time. I would be lying if I were to say everything is great now. I still struggle with depression and anxiety and low self-esteem. There are so many mornings where I am overwhelmed with thoughts of panic. I would think, “What the hell am I doing at Talbot Seminary and at Bethel?” They are reminders of my past and it makes me want to run away again. I constantly find myself doubting whether I can be a good pastor. I’m not an extrovert. I don’t have good leadership skills. I am not a good public speaker. And yet, all I have to do is look back on the past 5 years of my life and see God’s fingerprints all over it. To be honest, I am not sure what the future holds for me. I still have fears and doubts. But God will be with me in the midst of those fears and doubts. And whom shall I fear when He is with me? I’ll close with a verse that Monica, my small group leader, gave to me when I told her I will be transferring to Biola.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)