I remember the phone call from my eldest daughter about eleven years ago. At the time, she was working within Obama’s campaign team and I was growing impatient to hear her next plans as the president-elect had taken the oath of office. She reported via a phone call that she will be working at the White House, just as she hoped to, and lastly added, “Dad, you tell mom.” It was rather unusual of her since my wife has been her go-to person in almost every matter. And I, for some reason, thought of my own mother and called her instead of my wife. Mother said “thank you” to the news and those words stirred some deep-seated emotions within me. She had always been rather blunt with me growing up. “You were far from beautiful as a newborn,” was the way she reminisced about my arrival into the world. After being called to my high school in Seoul, mother said, “I am not having expectations about you from now on,” with her gaze fixed away from me. I might have made her rethink those words through ministry, but a part of me would always wonder because mother always kept any positive feedbacks to herself. When I was starting out as a young pastor in a newly planted church, my mother-in-law suggested that perhaps family members could join in and help out by participating. My mother disagreed: “Why should I join his church? And I can’t stand the idea of a pastor who needs his family’s help to get by.” That’s the kind of mother she was, but she was tender and soft-hearted as a grandmother. Mother prayed for grandchildren more than their parents could ever do.
That girl, who made my mother say “thank you” to her son, brought a newborn baby of her own. I held my grandson, and after saying a prayer of blessing, I imagined myself standing by my parents’ grave and reporting to them, “Dad, Mom, I am a grandpa now.” Feelings get deeper with age, it seems. My eyes teared up for mixed reasons: with gratitude for the grandson but also out of emotions running back to my parents. I can still vividly remember how I first held my baby, but now she is a mother and I’ve become a grandfather.
“God will help when morning dawns,” sings Psalm 46:5. No matter how dark the night, God’s faithfulness is new every morning. Jesus said, “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” There are many things that are seen in this pandemic. It’s the fear and anxiety, the reality of suffering and death. But there are also many other things that are yet unseen beneath the frailty of human life– things that must be nonetheless built up through prayers and faith in the word of God. Much like sowing tiny seeds across the field, as our church members told me after coming back from our Retreat Center/Farm last Friday. Planting can be laborious and time intensive, but there is also a joy because of hope and expectation for tomorrow. I’ve tasted some of that joy myself while planting brussels sprouts and radishes in our church container garden last week. And I sense that I’ve become more confident and expectant with container gardening this time around: I saw my seeds sprout roots, grow into edible greens and even yield fruit thanks to the sun, rain, and soil.
One pastor I look up to recently left me a Facebook message: “Try to see the beauty in everything. Walk tall, Chongho, and take the lead.” It was Rev. Park, who’s already 90 years old. He has been good to me for almost 40 years now; and as much as I admire him, I can’t help but notice all the pushback he’s receiving after posting favorable comments about Jun Kwang-hoon – the far-right pundit pastor at the center of much controversy in Korea. And I also notice Rev. Park’s Facebook friends, all at least 80 years of age, who are busy disagreeing and arguing with him. “Jun doesn’t deserve to be called a pastor,” “Don’t fall for fake news and speak what is true,” they write. Beneath their heated debate, however, I see the common understanding and friendship that goes back to their youth. Beneath the apparent fragility of age, they are strong because they share love for the church and their country. For a moment I wished I could be in that world with them, perhaps treating them with iced coffee and summer fruits to cool down the heat a bit.
We see problems around us, whether in Korea or here in the U.S. Jun’s ultra-right-wing political crusades, colliding with the coronavirus, remind so much of Trump who manipulates the support of white evangelical Christians for his political agenda. Jun’s unhealthy collusion of church and politics has resulted in a flood of unfair criticism heaped upon all Christians in Korea. But I believe and hope that God is going to do something new and that it is already happening. While not readily visible to the naked eye, there is a stream of God’s prevenient grace and sustaining work that faithfully surrounds us. As John Calvin once wrote, we will see the unseen through the spectacles of God’s word. And with faith being the evidence of things not seen, we will continue to sow with hope.
I believe and hope that a new dawn is breaking, nonetheless.