“I now realize…”

“I now realize…”
(Acts 10:34 NIV)

— another Peter’s ‘Aha!’ moment — 

posted by Gun Ho Lee, PIN Vice-moderator

In the fall of 2002, “Peter” was praying in his study room when he got a call from Professor Syngman Rhee. His prayer was mainly about “life after school,” so to speak, particularly his recent decision to find a job beyond the academic setting. Just two days ago he gave his resume to Professor Rhee so that the latter could circulate it to his friends.

Surprisingly, Professor Rhee’s call came so quickly. Over the phone, Professor Rhee said excitedly, “Peter, I have now at my office a visitor, an Associate Presbyter from a presbytery in NC, who would like to meet you and talk about a job for you. Can you come over and meet him? He is looking for a pastor who would serve a New Church Development (NCD) Korean congregation in his presbytery.”

Peter replied somewhat reservedly, “Professor Rhee, I think I made it clear to you that I am not interested in serving a Korean church.”

Professor Rhee answered concurringly, “Yes, I know. I told the visitor that you wanted to serve as a missionary to Americans. I agree with you that there are many Korean pastors who are eager to serve Korean churches in the US. However, I think you’d better meet this person, for, even though his primary task is to find a Korean pastor, he believes that God has sent him to listen to you to hear about your multicultural vision of mission and ministry. Do not hesitate to talk with him.”

My multicultural vision?” In fact it was Professor Rhee who talked him into this new way of understanding mission and ministry in the US where reverse mission is on the rise due to immigration and where cross-cultural encounters need to be encouraged.

Peter’s first reaction, when he had heard from Professor Rhee about this new understanding of God’s mission in the US several years ago, was “Surely not me! I have never intended to stay in this country. I don’t think I am called to be a missionary to Americans. I will go home to serve my people.” Due to his father’s illness, he did go home – and found it was no longer home. So he returned to the US to make a home at least for his children.

On the 11th day of September in 2001, when Peter had just begun a first step of his academic career as a Teaching Assistant, he saw the tumbling down of the twin towers of the World Trade Center on the TV screen, not once but more than three times. The experience felt like a vision whose meaning he needed to discern. It took a year for him to realize that it was all about the falling of his academic Tower of Babel and the calling of his pastoral Ground Zero. There had been 10 years of hesitation and delay, but he finally got ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament on September 10, 2002.

Prodded by Professor Rhee’s urge, Peter met the visitor and inquired of the reason and purpose of the latter’s visit. The visitor told him about a very small group of Koreans in his presbytery who were in need of a full-time pastoral leadership and eager to hear what he had to say. Peter told him that even though he was not inclined to accept the invitation to serve a Korean congregation he would go with him to meet them to share God’s vision for multicultural mission and ministry. He decided to let the entire process of discerning God’s call take its course. And somehow God assured him that he should accept the call in 2003.

Peter’s message of multicultural mission and ministry did not immediately move the hearts of his congregants by the power of the Holy Spirit. Like many other first-call pastors, for the first couple of years he had to learn to balance his vision for and context of ministry, that is to say, to both be faithful to his vision and open to his context.

At the beginning of his ministry, he wished that there had been a chapel so that his congregation could worship God there at the same time when the hosting American congregation worshiped God in the sanctuary. But the church campus and finance put a definite limit to his vision. He prayed for it for a while, then left it in God’s hands.

It was only when he let go of himself and let God be God that God’s vision for multicultural mission and ministry became clearer to him as well as to his congregation. Years later in 2007, the hosting congregation relocated themselves and the Korean congregation followed them. During this process, a well-meaning thought about building a chapel for the Korean congregation was put on the table. The excitement and expectation went up among the leadership of two congregations.

Then a challenge came. The hosting American congregation realized they were not financially able to carry out the chapel project that they believed would make the relationship between the two congregations closer. Surprisingly, the Korean congregation stepped up to face the challenge and responded selflessly to take the financial responsibility for the chapel project in their hands.

No one, including Peter himself, could have thought that his congregation would blaze the trail of partnership in mission with the hosting American congregation with such determination and creativity. His congregation turned the chapel project into a mission project which would open a space of worship to a third congregation. Now at the same church campus 3 congregations (Spanish-speaking, Korean speaking, and English-speaking) live together with differences in Christ!

“Now I realize,” Peter says to himself, “that when God messes up my (our) plan, it is because God has God’s plan in my (our) life.” And he also realizes that living together with differences in Christ is a pretty messy business that requires of all congregations “grace — God’s free gift of love that I do not deserve and cannot earn“ (Belonging to God: A First Catechism, Question 3).

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