I grew up in the mid-cities between Dallas and Fort Worth. The most defining part of my childhood and my spiritual journey was the divorce of my parents when I was four. This defined my childhood because a boy growing up fatherless also grows up without many other things—money, security, confidence, a sense of safety. This defined my spiritual journey because in the churches we attended my mother was “the divorced woman” and we were “the kids of that divorced woman.” Church was not a place for loving acceptance and healing, but a place of judgment and condemnation. There is an old saying, “The Church is the only army in the world that shoots its own wounded.” We were all badly wounded and the churches we attended just kept taking shots.
Regardless of this, mom insisted we go to church every time the doors were open. If there was a special service we went, and if an evangelist came for a week of meetings we would be there as well. At one church, we attended an evangelistic crusade when I was twelve. One evening, I sensed strongly my own sinfulness, my need for forgiveness and for a savior. However, along with this feeling, I also felt that if I surrendered God would make me be a preacher. While I strongly desired salvation, I refused to respond to the message. Because I saw the two as a package deal (salvation meant I would have to preach), I ran from God. Before long I wanted nothing to do with Him or His people. As soon as I was old enough to decide for myself, I swore I’d never go back to church.
The sense of being wronged and the excuse of blaming my rejection of God on the conduct of the church caused me to become very harsh towards anyone who dared witness to me. Though I could never bring myself to say anything derogatory about Christ, I had no problem verbally eviscerating his people. I remember one elderly woman asking me, “Do you know where you will spend eternity?” I responded, “In Hell! And if it means I don’t have to spend eternity with the likes of you I can’t wait to get there!” In time, I developed a general loathing for people.
After High School, I joined the Army and served with the 82nd Airborne Division
before being sent to serve in the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment at Camp Casey, Korea. I became known for all the things young soldiers are known for. However, God had a plan and brought into my life a strong little Korean woman. She had grown up in church, but had walked away because of issues in her own childhood. We were introduced and, in time, got married. This started a two year roller coaster ride in which God shook my life to the core, leaving me in a broken heap, while also drawing my wife back into fellowship with Him.
When we left Korea we were stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. After the birth of our first child, my wife recommitted her life to Christ at a local Korean Church. I was still not even close to ready. My time didn’t come until we were stationed back in Korea where our second child was born. I was on the DMZ (the fortified border between North and South Korea) when a phone call came in that changed my life. On the other end, my wife was crying. Our new baby girl needed heart surgery quickly (no later than a month) or she would die. This was a hard blow to take. I still remember the scenes: walking into the Command Post, picking up the phone, hearing my wife’s voice. The next memory is of sitting on the edge of Warrior Base—green tents and sandbag bunkers behind me, looking out through the razor wire over rice patties in the setting sun. I cried. By that point I had tried several spiritual options and had settled upon agnosticism. I wasn’t sure God existed, or that it would ever be possible to know. I had buried these thoughts by keeping my mind on the present. Now, the present was shattered.
There on that hill I called out to God. I didn’t strike a deal, nor bargain with God. I promised Him nothing. I didn’t try to negotiate for my daughter’s life with promises of religious behavior. I simply said, “If you are there, please help my little girl.” What happened next was nothing less than a personal miracle. No, the clouds did not part. No, my little girl was not miraculously healed. No, God did not appear to me. Instead of these things, I simply felt an impression in my heart as if someone was saying, “She’ll be fine.” No, I did not hear audible words in my ears. I’m not saying God spoke to me audibly. I’m not even saying He spoke to me inaudibly. I had a strong abiding sense of peace come over me and the words seemed to echo through my heart. From that moment on there was such a sense of assurance about me that some questioned my appreciation of the gravity of my daughter’s situation. My next memory is of walking into my tent for the night. My Platoon Sergeant asked if I was alright and I told him, “She’ll be fine.” Some thought I was in denial because I no longer seemed upset or worried at all.
To make a long story short, I didn’t surrender at that time, but I had concluded God was real and was going to take care of my little girl. On the way to her surgery, she had to be evaluated in Hawaii. While there I decided the Lord who gave such comfort and assurance deserved my service and worship. I didn’t offer it in some attempt to manipulate God, but it sprang forth naturally out of love for the one who had given me such peace. I knelt to pray in the base guesthouse. I had grown up in church so I knew what was involved in “getting saved.” I didn’t need anyone to guide me. All I had was my own broken heart and a Gideon Bible.
After surrendering and asking forgiveness, I felt a need to tell someone—anyone! I ran out into the hall of the guesthouse, but quickly realized that it was after midnight and no one was around. Rather than running through the guesthouse beating on doors like a madman, I sat down and wrote two letters. One letter was to a friend who had witnessed to me at Fort Lewis. The other letter was to an old friend from high school, telling him of my conversion experience and encouraging him to come to Christ.
From there we went to San Francisco for my daughter’s surgery. Later, my wife and son joined us there. One night my wife saw me reading the Bible and asked what I was doing. When I told her I was reading the Bible, remembering my previous animosity to Christianity, she asked “Why?” Prior to this, she had only seen me open a Bible to ridicule or refute it. She was happy to hear about my experience but it took some time before she was convinced of my conversion.
Over the next few months, we returned to Tacoma, where I found a local church to attend—it was a Korean American Church so there were services in both our languages. One morning while driving to work listening to Christian radio and praying, the Lord called me into ministry in a way I couldn’t refuse. From then on I was sure that the only option for me was to preach. I went from being the guy who would rather die than speak in public to the guy who couldn’t refuse any opportunity to speak.