Last Thursday, I gave a talk at an online clergy seminar hosted by the Long Island East District, where Rev. Julia Yeon-Hee Yim is the District Superintendent. I wrapped up an hour’s lecture with a Bible verse from James 1:2-4. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” And I said to pastors navigating ministry in difficult circumstances, “In these trying times, do take time to listen and receive positive affirmations, because negative words are coming at you from all directions. Build a habit of listening, especially to God who speaks to you. Only by words flowing from him we overcome the challenges set before us.” And I added, “If it were up to us, our path would be straight and smooth. But God has higher and ultimately better plans than our own. God leads us along that narrow path, even through unpredictable traps and trials. But what gets us across to the other side is trusting and believing in God’s good plans, rather than insisting on our own.
We’re getting deeper into autumn, and my heart welcomes the tranquility of the fall season. I remember how Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28) Recently, one retired pastor shared a Facebook post that seems especially pertinent. With the title “The Truth About Human Life,” he wrote, “From personal experience, life is regretful not because it’s short, but because you realize what matters too late in life…Death is not the biggest loss in life. The biggest loss is having precious inner person buried and detached – dead within us.”
And he continued to describe some of the beautiful people he met on life’s journey: “The beautiful people that I’ve met are those who have thoroughly tasted suffering and defeat, those who have swum across the swamp of pain. Having lost everything, even health, they are those who have said a final prayer at the crossroads of life and death…People turn beautiful not without a reason.” I know his story. He’s in his mid-eighties now, and it was only recently that he began sharing his personal testimonies, after long remaining hidden from public view.
My childhood friend sent me a message the other day. One of our buddies passed away. The late friend and I commuted to a High School in the national capital together, which was a point of pride for small rural town boys like us. In 1971, only three of us from a farming junior high school from our town made it to that senior high school in Seoul. One of the three died early, burdened by poverty. The other, who recently passed, long struggled with illness after a business failure. The friend who informed me of the news was a former high ranking korean government cabinet member. Despite the fact that he was the most successful among our childhood friends, he has been always good at keeping us connected. I thought he would go into politics someday. I know he has been asked to run for mayor and for the national congress by the ruling party several times. But he never did. The kind of life my friend chose for life’s fall season is filled with family, friends, and service for the church and community.
I remember how one friend arranged a welcome get-together when I visited my hometown about 30 years ago. By the time we moved on to high school in Seoul, this friend stayed in Uijeongbu and delivered rice wine on his bike. But he grew up to become a large business owner in the town. In that welcome home party, he suddenly got up and said, “Chongho, it’s time for you to come back to our hometown and live with us.” So I replied, “Can you guys make me a congressman if I come home?” And even to that nonsensical joke, childhood buddies affirmed and said yes: “Sure, why not? Come live with us.” It’s a story from more than thirty years ago. Being called to ministry, I kept worldly ambitions hidden deep inside. But my friend who always had what it takes to enter politics has decided to live a life of service for the church and family. Catching up with him gave me a chance to look back at myself once again.
Lately, I’m learning to see life in a new light.