I’m pastor Jin Eun Jung of Korean Sarang Church of Knoxville, and I’ll be guest preaching at CSPC this weekend. Here’s how God has been at work enabling me to live deeply.
The first thing you should know about me is that I’m a weak person. Yet God has called me to the challenging, vital work of pastoral ministry, which has taught me to live in dependence on Him. Really that’s been an ongoing process- it started about 20 years ago in my home country of South Korea. Every South Korean man must go into the military for two years. So when I turned 21, I had to serve in the Army. In my heart, I really didn’t want to go. I was just very scared because I knew how strict and tough it would be. The Korean Army is very different from the U.S. Army. At that time, it allowed violence toward new soldiers. Soldiers with seniority would hit me sometimes. Other times they would make me do unreasonable amounts of push-ups. The goal was to make a strong Army at all costs. My dream had been to be both a movie star and a director. I had gone to film school before I went into the Army, so I was entering quite a different culture. I had grown up in a very, very faithful Christian family, but I really didn’t believe in Jesus Christ. As I faced joining the Army, though, it felt like a crisis. So I prayed, ‘Lord, if you’re alive like my father and the other believers say, please show me. Please teach me that you’re the living God and you’ll always be with me. Change my life during this time in the Army.’ Our God loves prayers like that, and as I went through my time in the Army, He answered. I met Jesus Christ! At that time, they generally made it difficult to go to church if you were in the Army. But our general and all the commanders of my unit were strong Christians. The Army let me go to church, provided me with discipleship and let me serve in ministry. Trust me- it was a miracle. Army life was generally not like that! But I was surrounded by strong Christians who led me and guided me, and God just used that to make me a real Christian.
Once I left the Army, I sensed God calling me to become a pastor. After theological school in Korea, I came to the U.S. to pursue my M.Div. at Liberty University, where I met my wife. She moved to Knoxville to get her Master’s degree at UT and I would visit her here on the weekends. She attended the Korean church in Farragut at the time, which was PC-USA. About 11 years ago, some theological differences emerged over issues like homosexuality, and several people left to begin a church plant, which became Sarang Church of Knoxville. But not long after starting the plant, the pastor left. Sarang was a new, small church; only 20 people attended. It would’ve been difficult to hire a pastor from another city or state. But I was there, attending with my wife and pursuing an advanced ministry degree, so our leadership asked if I would pastor the church. At the time, my wife and I had a plan to go to Texas for more study. I wanted to get into a PhD program there. She had higher academic goals as well. We had gained admission into the school we wanted and were firm about leaving. We turned the church’s leadership down and said we had to go to Texas. But they asked again- because they really had no other choice! Maybe this was God calling us to something different than we had planned. So my wife and I prayed, depending on God for a clear answer. He ended up giving us the same heart of obedience. We gave up our plan and started serving Korean Sarang Church of Knoxville almost 11 years ago.
Taking over as pastor at age 31 was hard. In Korean culture, age is very important. The older you are, the more you’re respected. Every time newcomers visit our church, even though I’m 42 now, they still ask me about my age! Also, Knoxville has a very small Korean community- there’s not really anyone within it my age who’s a pastor friend. So I sometimes can feel very alone. These challenges can make it difficult to lead. But our congregation has been gentle, respected me, and served me very well- the church has become like family to me! I came into the job with no experience, facing these unavoidable difficulties. But as time went by, I realized any spiritual fruit that’s produced is not done by my work, but by the grace of God. I leaned into that dependence on Him even more deeply, and He has been at work! When I introduce Sarang to others, I tell them we’re a mission church- we’re sending people to the mission field. The reason? Our church is a church of Korean immigrants who miss their home. So it’s really easy for them to come to the Korean church here. When they come they can meet Korean people, eat Korean food. Over the past 10 years, so many non-Christian Koreans have come to our church and become believers! Many of them are young, study abroad UT students. We invite them to church, they come, we share the Gospel, and they accept Christ. So we’re a small church, but it’s an exciting and great place to be because of the spiritual work God is doing. We say that we’re a sending church. We only have 60 members, but we’ve sent out more than 150 new Christians to live out the Gospel all over the world. God has shown me that if I trust Him, He will work through me. It still surprises me every time someone becomes a Christian- I don’t really think I’m that strong of an evangelist! But God just sends the people, we share the Gospel and He does the work. I never imagined we would be here for 11 years. I’ve received calls from other Korean churches in other states, but we’ve always felt like Sarang Church in Knoxville is the mission field where God has called us to be.