From April 21 to 23 of 2017, after two years of daily debating whether or not I should, I finally set out to turn my fantasy of running 100 miles into a reality at the Jackalope Jam 48-Hour in Cat Spring, Texas. I would be covering a single-mile trail loop, 0.5 mile out and 0.5 mile back, as many times as I can within the given time frame. With only two ultramarathons, 51 miles and 50K, under my belt, I relied solely on my Father to control my pace and condition to radiate His presence through me. My objective of reaching the pinnacle of ultrarunning had recently shifted from a simple human desire to building an eternal testimony to His greatness, that in Him, I (we) can do all things; “This only means a lot to me if You do it with me. Allow me to use this journey as a testament to Your greatness for the rest of my life,” I prayed. The Holy Spirit had already repeatedly provided me with motivating verses in the Bible and sermons from my church for the race of my life, and, the day before the event, I was led to Deuteronomy 29:5-6: “Yet the Lord says, ‘During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet … I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.’ ” I replied, “I know You are the Lord my God, but let others see that through my journey.” Thinking of what happened to Peter walking on water the second he doubted, I reminded myself to always keep the faith. I believed He had already delivered 100 miles into my hands; otherwise, He would not have sent me for this task.
The race commenced the following morning at 9:00 AM, and, within an hour, the unshaded sun welcomed the brutal heat of nearly 90 degrees and humidity and made numerous runners slow down and re-strategize. I, one of only two participants residing outside Texas, should have been impacted the most but felt unscathed and had no issue with hydration, thanks to Him. After reading thoroughly Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run, I understood the significance of calorie intake in ultrarunning and, even when not hungry or thirsty, consistently put down food, Spring energy gels, and fluid, as well as salt tablets, to avoid any sudden unexpected shock. (Throughout training camp, He had taken away my craving for junk and unhealthy food and given me a sense of need for organic food; I felt the positive change in the way my body kept down calories in the race.)
I began to include brief walks after nine miles of easy jogging, reminding myself I was running four marathons, which would have killed the first-ever marathoner four times. Nonetheless, oftentimes when I started walking, I spotted photographers taking photos, prompting me to pick up running again. On mile 43, I sat down for ten minutes to conserve energy, as I was beginning to feel a sign of fatigue. When I resumed, I was pleasantly surprisingly rejuvenated and lightly ran the next two to three miles nonstop. One does not recover out of the blue like this past 40 miles, and I prayed, “Continue to add testimonies, God!”
As I anticipated, the true trial set in after the first 50 miles; I tried doubling my personal-record distance that immobilized me for days just over a year previously. I took a mandatory 30-minute break, lying down with my feet up on a chair and shoes off. The sun had set and temperature had dropped, and my body shivered viciously, making me question for the first time in the event if I could recover sufficiently to carry on. When I tried standing up to resume, a couple of volunteers came to me for a second time since mile 46 to examine my multiple blisters that formed on both feet under mile ten and progressively intensified. A fellow participant rucking had checked my feet and asked, “How badly do you want this?” and I simply replied, “I’m not quitting.” The couple popped and taped over some of my blisters and brought me more calories to consume. One of the volunteers put on me Trail Toes and a new pair of tighter socks for friction so that my blisters would not rub against my socks as easily. My feet were swelling up, and, although the experts found me two pairs of larger sneakers, I remained adamant to stick with the Nike my mother bought me for my 28th birthday until the end. When the couple suggested I take ibuprofen, I refused because I wanted no potential feeling of guilt I cheated. I walked the majority of the following 12 miles, to 100K, and took another short break. From this point forward, each stop of ten minutes or more felt like a risk, as my muscles swiftly tightened, knees buckled, and body shook uncontrollably and I had to drag myself for three to five minutes to be semimobile. Captivated by the gorgeous stars, I repeated, “Lord, You created all of this with mere words. As long as You are willing, nothing is difficult for You. Please help me.”
Around mile 75, when the sun had risen again and 24-hour, 12-hour, and 6-hour competitors were added to the course, I hallucinated at the aid station, seeing on the table two groups of numerous dots merging to the center. The thought of unexpectedly passing out intimidated me the most, but I also reminded myself with Whom I was running, that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). “The greater the adversity, the greater the testimony,” thought I. 18 miles to the 100-mile buckle, delirium hit me again, and a Christian woman running in the 12-hour, unaware of my symptoms, told me to walk with her; God had already planned her entrance for me here. I could no longer run at this point, and I had been limping since mile 51. I asked her if ultrarunners commonly hallucinate, and she referred to a scientific study that proved the human brain becomes “fried” and reacts similarly to drunkenness after 68 miles. Around mile 87, Race Director Rob Goyen told me, “You are about to do something very special,” encouraging me to keep grinding through the pain. Runners passing me continued to comment, “You are amazing,” “You are an inspiration,” “You are still going!” and many more inspiring words, and their sincere longing for me to fulfill my dream, constantly asking me which mile I was on, warmed my heart. One Christian brother I shared the course with often towards the beginning even said about me, “I am more excited to see him finish his first 100 miles than for me to finish this race.” Both seeing and hearing numerous people become emotional for me, I cannot remember the last time I was surrounded by such a humble group of individuals so genuinely interested in other people’s success, in spite of how they themselves were doing. Ultrarunning humbles and builds character.
On mile 91, I took a twenty-minute break, which recovered me enough for the next mile to feel less straining than the previous ten. Another Christian man, not even running in the race, volunteered to “guarantee [I] receive that buckle” by walking the rest of the 100 miles with me; again, God had planned his entrance then for my upcoming hardship. On mile 94, moving with him, I became delusional again and occasionally threw out arbitrary phrases. I even asked him, “Do I seem delirious?” to which he responded, “If you are asking that, that means you are.” On mile 95, I questioned myself, “Am I in a dream or is this really happening?” (On the bright side, while these symptoms lasted, the physical pain vastly escaped.) The pacer wanted me to complete mile 100 on my own so that I could reflect on this grueling journey, but at this point I was already out of my normal state of mind and had trouble comprehending I was on the verge of accomplishing a goal that felt like a fantasy for years. I envisioned breaking into tears receiving the buckle, but I did not even have the energy to cry at the buckle ceremony. (I was later told the race director stayed past his shift just so that he could present me with my buckle himself, which made me feel grateful beyond words.) Following, to test my absolute limit the Lord set before me, I covered two additional miles with a volunteer, making my total mileage 102 in 39:25:44 and me actually appreciate insomnia for once in my life. Throughout these two mornings, afternoons, and evenings, I felt not even a hint of injury, another visible showing of His protection considering my history with knee injuries in long-distance running.
I divide the victory of this seemingly unconquerable adventure into three stages. First, despite 99% of my close ones’ initial heavy opposition, I consistently prayed, believed God was leading me to 100 miles, and eventually registered for the Jackalope Jam. As my pastor Adrian Boykin said, “There is no failure in trying,” and, whether successful or not, my identity as a son of Christ does not change. Second, I had put my body through more than I ever have, cross-training between an hour and a half and three hours almost daily, covering up to 40 miles a week in addition to training on the elliptical, indoor bike, and treadmill, swimming, and technical muscle working. Even running back-to-back Friday half marathons and training in the sauna to prepare for the inevitable Texas heat at one point, I frequently felt verging on injuries but toed the line healthy. Third, I finally earned that buckle. A tremendous amount of prayers and support have come my way, all of which I felt more powerfully and realistically than ever, for my fantasy to materialize and I have countless people to thank, but I feel obligated to give one person, one of my faith mentors and mother’s best friends, in particular credit. The mentor told me to begin training half a year ago, that “If it is not meant to be, God will give [me] a sign.” Without this answer to my question, I would not have begun preparing for 100 miles and would still be thinking today, “What if?” Praying with her husband every day since, she even stayed up throughout my entire race of nearly 40 hours and fasted and prayed for me while tracking my performance on the live results page. Through my success, she and I, along with many others, have built a new powerful testimony to God’s greatness, that a person can overcome anything in Jesus and His will. On top of fulfilling my dream, I am truly thankful and honored to have met and befriended so many selfless and compassionate individuals, most of whom referred to me as “Nebraska(!),” lending me seats to relax, checking on my torn body, cheering me on, and giving my simple smile too much value. I will cherish this experience my Father coauthored with me for the rest of my life.
A little over a year ago today, I joined full-time the staff of the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) as an international recruitment specialist. Neither had I worked on a real-paying job nor recruited on any platform, major or minor. I felt nervous momentarily initially but then reminded myself even David did not count himself worthy to be anointed by God through Samuel, boosting my confidence; He decided to use me, and nothing can get in the way of His plans for me. I was merely delighted to finally have the opportunity to pour my workaholic and goal-driven energy into building my career from interning unpaid for two nonprofit organizations simultaneously for almost a year.
God placed me in the Midwest, which had not once crossed my mind prior to my discovering this position availability on HigherEdJobs.com, for a reason. Believing this, I solely cared about pleasing Him, executing my tasks to the best of my ability regardless of results, and letting my neighbors see His work through me; I prayed I progress only by and in His will. Even though new to the recruiting world, from the first day, I knew step-by-step what I had to do in order to commence and move forward, pleasantly surprising many of my colleagues. Recruiting takes time to simply lay a foundation and additional time to begin receiving clients: students, in my case. I rapidly formed, reinstated, and renewed partnerships with numerous academic institutions and agencies in Korea, and I continued to expand my regions of specialty and covered also Nepal, India, Bangladesh, China, Taiwan, and the United States. In most universities I have visited, I became virtual friends with the representatives, many of whom send UNK students primarily to help me personally score points. In less than a year, I brought to campus 66 students, a combination of degree-seeking, visiting, exchange, and short-term, a transparent miracle especially for someone with no prior background in recruiting, and I have faith that number will only multiply each semester. Every time an individual comments on the constant positive outcomes I produce, I use the stage to glorify His name; I am just a hammer of my Carpenter.
Upon arrival at UNK, I had no choice but to educate myself on Korean history. A vital and prideful past Korea shares with Kearney, Nebraska, had been virtually buried for almost a century until I unveiled the story. The Omaha World-Herald, along with local newspapers, published my interview and research paper on the topic, and from that exposure, I occasionally received requests to speak in various venues, requiring me to learn at a minimum the summary of the profound 5,000-year history of Korea, beginning Gojoseon, through the dynasties, to today.
Above all, He has been using me to rescue His lost sheep. In the first short-term program I directed, the Holy Spirit in me constantly made me say to one student what he needed to hear spiritually, resulting in his accepting Jesus towards the end of three weeks. Many neighbors were encouraged to rely more heavily on God by my faith. I half-jokingly told my close ones, “I’m not an international recruiter. I’m a Heaven recruiter.” I understood my purpose in Nebraska to be more than simply recruiting international students.
In spite of all the positive, this journey has been the furthest thing from easy, and I am still fighting daily to overcome my current adversity. I face no struggle fulfilling and even shattering my occupation expectations; however, like in most of my hardships, my trouble stems from people. In the past few months, I dealt with enough to consider walking out of my job several times; if anyone is aware of how much remaining in America and ultimately becoming a permanent resident and then a citizen means to me, he or she would understand how much I must have gone through mentally for abandoning my work visa, relinquishing the green card process, and leaving the States to even enter my head. Loneliness outside work certainly has not helped. Nevertheless, I had faith He will not let me be tempted beyond what I can bear, but when I am tempted, He will also provide a way out so that I can endure it, giving me courage, strength, and patience to stick around another day.
I have not the slightest clue how much longer I will be with UNK. If my environment turns healthier, I will likely stay longer than if not, but I have already experienced countless times God always guides and directs my path. If He tells me to stay, even if I try with all in my power to leave, I will stay. If He tells me to move on, no matter how much I might like to linger, I will be carried over to my next destination. Until then, I will continue to work on appreciating what I have rather than complaining about what I lack. How could I not be grateful for a job that lets me travel to Korea twice a year and stay with my family while working, an answer to years of my mother’s prayers? I acknowledge His plans far exceed my plans, and nothing will proceed by my will but only His.
To reflect on my 2015 in detail would require an anthology rather than a simple blog post; however, I feel obligated to leave even a brief summary of the year, an emotional roller coaster ride to say the least.
In spite of my belief Jesus had a plan for me in the United States upon my graduation from Emory University in May 2014, the longevity of my struggle of finding a company or an institution willing to sponsor me with H1B to legally work in the country appeared more than the maturity of my faith at the point could handle. For the first half of 2015, I grew more and more irritable by day; my complaining to my Father, especially at night when emotions are heightened, became louder and louder. When I acknowledged this, I felt the need to desperately travel to a nature-driven destination where praising God could come to me more naturally and easily, which turned out to be the turning point of this adversity. At peace and in awe of His creation of magnificent Iceland, I repented of all I had expressed to Him in frustration over the previous several months and opened my heart to what He wanted in my life instead of what my human heart desired. My Father within days of my turnaround presented me with a global entrepreneurial position, consisting of all I sought and hoped to do upon college graduation, in the Midwest. This reminded me, “Always be grateful for what I have. His plans are greater than mine. He is timeless; His time and my time do not always match.”
With the first half of my 2015 off aside from the two nonprofit internships for which I worked thirty hours a week on average, I, goal-oriented workaholic, needed to find a new arduous objective to overcome so that I would stop thinking I was wasting my time while most of my classmates had already begun graduate school or full-time occupations. The goal became physical, and I constantly challenged myself in long-distance running, what I despised more than any other activity until roughly four years ago, to see how far my body and mental toughness could push. This led to my running a 15K, half marathon, marathon, 50K, and 50-miler, all in 2015, which would have been unlikely to accomplish with a full-time job. (Let’s not forget all the required training for these grueling events.) Through these races, especially the 50-miler, I experienced God in ways I could not have imagined, and I have no regrets in my body having suffered various hardships and even injuries along the journey.
As grateful as I have been to God for my creative comeback story of 2015 He wrote, I firmly believe the author of my life has greater plans for me for 2016. I am honored to be starring in the 2016 Book of Jake Kim as the protagonist, and I cannot wait to witness firsthand how the story of the titular character unfolds.
For months, I remained adamantly determined to attempt a 100-miler at the Brazos Bend 100 on December 12, 2015, but instead eventually landed on a 50-miler in the same event after family, faith mentors, and friends almost unanimously opposed my initial deranged objective. Considering I had “only” completed up to a 50K previously, I convinced myself most likely finishing a 50-miler to be wiser and more rational than most likely DNF-ing a 100-miler. The race, consisting of a half marathon, marathon, 50-miler, 100-miler, and 100-mile relay, took place in Needville, Texas. Though I had never been anywhere near the state, the flat course with a cool weather in December and low elevation—according to my online research—compared to places where my body is accustomed to running felt ideal.
Because I was unsure whether or not my right knee had completely recovered from the previous ultramarathon, I trained “intelligently,” which most experts would advise against. On average, I ran three to four times a week, with the longest outside run lasting barely over an hour; that said, daily walking to my office and back to my apartment twice and all over campus added a minimum of twelve miles to my weekly mileage. Although I also applied inside jogs and sprints and technical muscle workouts, 50-milers are recommended to cover no less than 30 miles per week, and I barely checked that; however, I have been effective in predicting how far my body could push based on running for an hour and felt confident somehow I would carry myself to the 50-mile finish line. Furthermore, just this year, I had already run a 15K, half marathon, marathon, and 50K, all of which I certainly considered part of training camp as well.
“Oh, crap,” I instantly reacted to the unexpected heat and humidity stepping out of the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, as my body had already been acclimated to one of the coldest and windiest states in America in Nebraska. Unlike sleepless nights prior to most of my races, I managed enough sleep of six hours for my second ultramarathon, just as I had begged God for months; nevertheless, I woke up with a minor headache due to the constant flying from Nebraska to Colorado and then to Texas and driving the day before. I arrived at the starting line at six in the morning for the 50-miler that started an hour following and chatted with numerous avid veterans, many of whom I ran into, talked to, and cheered for throughout this daunting journey.
With the help of Coach Sage Canaday’s weekly training videos on YouTube, I prepared a different strategy for this longest race of my life from my previous running events. I acknowledged I could not run the entire distance of 50 miles and must frequently walk to leave sufficient energy to carry myself to the finish line. My clothes and hydration pack wasted no time getting soaked in my sweat in nearly 80-degree heat and 90-percent humidity; I could feel and see salt all over my hands and arms from dehydration and faced trouble inhaling all the way. I ceaselessly communicated with God, asking Him to never let go of my hand, declaring Psalm 23, and singing worship songs, which majorly contributed psychologically; “If the Creator of the universe has my back, what can’t I do?” thought I.
On mile nine, I felt an unusual pain in my right ankle, a sign of sprain; a potential ankle injury had never even crossed my mind, so I panicked and desperately pleaded with my Father to relieve the hurt. After stretching at the nearest aid station while refueling, the pain swiftly escaped. I began incorporating temporary walks near the half marathon mark not because I was fatigued but to preserve energy for the later rounds. Still, I completed the first 16.74-mile loop of three in roughly three hours. The crowd’s screaming for me and commenting on my smiling towards the end of the first loop raised my adrenaline, and I was mentally elated for the next loop.
I mixed more walking with running in the second loop, again to ensure my body would have enough to finish the race. At this point, I understood God answered my and close ones’ prayers and protected my right knee from this hazardous adventure; I had specifically asked Him to numb any of my possibly existing injuries during the run, as if I have trouble finishing due to an injury, I would always believe I could run farther without the burden and challenge longer distances in a healthy physical state. I deliberately took a long route to use the bathroom after the completion of this loop, mainly to elongate the distance because my brand new Garmin watch showed a slightly shorter distance per loop than what the race website claimed.
My true adversity began in the third loop. Despite the innumerable salt tablets my stomach absorbed, I could not force my body to get used to these unprecedented cataclysmic running conditions; I trained on mostly even roads in the cold and powerful wind, whereas the course took place in brutal heat, humidity, mud, rocks, and rain. Several times, as I was walking, my head bounced to the left for a split second and even became delusional, both symptoms of which I had never experienced. I admitted without the prepared salt tablets and gels, I could have easily lost consciousness or severely cramped up. About a half marathon to go, I was moving in sheer will. I tried to save energy to continue running, but the unforeseen vicious four-mile mud section from the heavy rain added four immense blisters to my feet and made my walking even more unpleasant than running on an even surface.
I soon ran into a runner who was also walking in pain, and we agreed to chat and finish the race together. “I am so thankful to God for placing you here at this moment. I would’ve been so bored without you,” I told the friend. With nine miles to “home,” we were joined by another exhausted man. The sun had set, and we could barely see three feet forward with our headlamps and flashlights. The additional seven-mile round of mud turned my mouth into trash; I could not refrain from grunting, complaining, and swearing. When the finish line became visible, I the traitor abandoned the two runners, garnered every bit of strength I had left, and “sprinted.” When I crossed the finish line with the official time of 13:07:12, 80th place out of 167 entrants, my Garmin showed a quarter of a mile short of 50 miles. USA Track & Field sanctions the Brazos Bend 100, implying the course underwent the most credible method of measuring distances; thus, I trust the director’s 50.22 miles far more than my Garmin that was likely interrupted by trees blocking the satellite signal, but, just in case, I told the volunteers to hold on to my finisher’s medal as I continued to run until my watch hit 50 miles. When I returned to receive my medal, the machine read 50.05 miles, to which a volunteer joked, “I think you ran 51 miles … we don’t have a medal for that, so you’ll just have to take this 50.”
Unlike in typical running events, I enjoyed and embraced the process to the finish line. I constantly encountered dedicated runners, most of whom older than I, with intriguing stories. One runner came all the way from Finland just to run this 100-miler. One runner ran the first half of a hundred miles dragging a tire attached to his back. Some runners ran in sandals. Some runners ran barefoot. We had legendary runners from the Tarahumara tribe, featured in Christopher McDougall’s 2009 Born to Run, join the event. I even spotted an alligator and a snake. Closer to the end, God connected me to a lady who was solely running the 100-mile relay to liberate her mind from the toughest time of her life. I consoled her and patted her shoulder to which she emotionally expressed, “Thank you. I feel better.”
Most ultramarathoners say, “Ultrarunning is all mental.” I was reminded of this when the second I told my mind, “The race is over,” I collapsed. My body brutally shivered in the windy high 70s like never before. My right knee could no longer straighten. My right ankle felt sprained. Parts of my body were bloodily chafed and had gained significant blisters. My head felt as if two monkeys were fighting over one banana. I could hardly finish half a ten-ounce steak after burning three days’ worth of calories. I had to be transported in a wheelchair from one side of the Denver International Airport to another the following morning. An IRONMAN who has run 50 miles told me he thinks the latter “is more difficult” on the body and to complete, and I believe him. Nonetheless, the more painful I feel after a race, the prouder I become. My being the second youngest 50-mile finisher in the event adds a bit of pride, or icing on the cake!
I sincerely appreciate my close ones passionately and consistently praying for me for months just so that I could materialize this ultracrazy dream. Moreover, if my former Division III runner-friend had not asked me if I were running the Publix Georgia Marathon earlier this year for a second time, I would not have considered running the marathon, which would have resulted in no succeeding ultramarathon goals; therefore, I thank her for playing a vital role in my becoming an ultrarunner. This race involved immeasurably more than just me.
Though I do not judge or hate on people who choose to be homosexual, I have been outspoken on my perspective on fake and ignorant “Christians” brutally attacking genuine and educated Christians who civilly disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage. Since America’s acceptance of gay marriage in all fifty states, countless individuals have been using an application to add transparent rainbows into their profile pictures on social media. For or against, most folks who have an opinion on homosexuality connect the matter to Christianity, which utterly contradicts the use of the rainbow as diversity to celebrate gay marriage.
Any competent person who has even skimmed through the Bible understands God detests homosexuality, resulted from the sinful nature of man. In the Book of Genesis, God creates the rainbow as a covenant between Him and Noah, that He will never again destroy all life with the flood of waters (Genesis 9:13-16). I spotted a girl’s photo of Gullfoss under a rainbow in Iceland on Instagram. She captioned the scene, “Even the nature agrees,” with a “#lovealwayswins.” Our Father, the Creator of the universe, formed this beautiful symbol of mercy, and ignoramuses reinterpret this sign into something He irrefutably opposes. I see innumerable “Christians” on social media using the rainbow the wrong way and dearly hope these people do not send the wrong message of Christianity to nonbelievers.
God has always pulled me through at the last minute, so often up to a point that I should have confidently seen this coming. While enrolled in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Program for a year starting June 16, 2014, I ultimately sought companies or universities to sponsor me with a work visa, the only realistic way for me to legally remain in the United States and look to eventually become a permanent resident. However, with rejection after rejection since college graduation, I gradually lost courage and wondered about my life’s purpose. Though willing to accept anything my Father assigns me, thinking about leaving the country where I grew up and received the vast majority of my education and most of my friends resided especially worried me. “I will do anything in Your will as long as You let me stay in the US” conquered my mentality rather than simply “I will do anything in Your will.”
Unsurprisingly, most of whom offered to help me find a job immediately forgot their promises, and my patience wore thinner and thinner. I was repeatedly misinformed a standard corporation could sponsor me by April 1 at the latest, any research-based institution or higher education by April 15—two months prior to the expiration of my OPT status—and international-student advisors will enter those who fail to be sponsored into the H-1B visa lottery, where one in three recent graduates will be selected. Thus, on April 15, I quit trying and hoped for the lottery to play in my favor until I found out no such system even existed. I was again misled I should apply for the green card lottery in spite of the ineligibility of South Koreans. Thanks to my research, I avoided giving up my debit-card information to scammers. I moved onto searching for opportunities in Western Europe and Australia, including applying to a graduate program in the United Kingdom. Although pessimistic as ever, I still believed somehow, God would prevent me from returning to my home country at the last minute; nevertheless, each time I felt this, I asked myself, “How? April 15 was my last chance.”
Around the time I booked a trip to Iceland to relieve myself from this intolerable stress and praise God looking at His awe-inspiring nature, I was encouraged to do my own research on visa sponsorships and instantly discovered the claim about a research-based company or university needing to sponsor me by April 15 at the latest to be utterly false, as either could sponsor at any time of year. I was riled up to be so boldly and continuously given false information, because if I did not think to Google this myself, I would have obliviously relinquished my opportunity to dodge my greatest fear. I went on HigherEdJobs and entered “Korean” in the search engine, as I figured this skill to be my best shot to get me sponsored. When I read the descriptions of “Korean-Asian Recruitment and Support Specialist,” one of the first results that popped up, I was hooked right away and spent nearly three hours polishing and submitting my résumé, cover letter, and application and praying specifically for this position unlike I had ever done.
While worshipping on top of Perlan in Reykjavik, Iceland, I reflected on my traveling and how God kept letting me find my way to my tours and museums at the last minute and imagined, “Maybe something will happen at the last minute with my visa status and I won’t leave the US.” More importantly, I for the first time started feeling inner peace and becoming open to temporarily returning to South Korea. When I had dinner with my brother and sister-in-law two nights following my arrival in America, they noticed my change in attitude and face. Right after that occasion, I checked an email from the University of Nebraska at Kearney for the aforementioned job. For a year, every time I saw an email from a hiring manager, I assumed it to be an automated message of rejection, but for an odd reason, I accurately expected to have gotten an interview. The search committee initially offered me a phone interview, and I told my close ones, “I wish it were a video interview so that it could be more personable.” A couple days later, the committee changed it to a video interview via Zoom. Based on the impeccable timing of everything since I sent out the job application, I had confidence I would be given the position even prior to the interview. The four members present were “all very impressed with” my answers to their questions and put me on the short list of recorded interviews to be viewed by the Assistant Vice Chancellor for International Affairs upon his return to the States from China. He, having enjoyed my positive attitude and high energy, called and gave me the job, and the human resources jumped onto the process of sponsorship straightaway.
God pulled me through at the last minute again. I knew He was training my patience all along and something would save me from leaving America, but the longevity of this mental adversity drained me to the brink of surrender. Seeing my problem resolved promptly after I genuinely thanked God and felt peaceful, I learned appreciating whatever circumstance to be key to making Him happy and thus success, as the Bible teaches, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
I rarely discuss gay marriage on any platform due to the immense sensitivity of the subject. I have and have had homosexual friends (a lot more than I thought I did now that each is coming out), and I never judged them by their lifestyle nor will I ever. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, and only He has the authority to judge. Thus, while my Facebook news feed became flooded with statuses on the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide, I refused to put up my own position on the matter. I have over 2,000 friends on the social medium, and anything I wrote about the topic would have created a riot. That being said, as long as I remained on Facebook, I read people’s one-sided opinions all day long.
Likely because I attended a liberal arts college, ninety-nine percent of posts I read praised this verdict that appeared to be inevitable for so long. The hostility against Christians speaking even remotely unenthusiastically about this result felt unfathomably hypocritical to say the least. I read “friends” commenting that a pastor should set himself on fire, a couple should get a divorce, churches should be ashamed, and so on. Meanwhile, the few posts I have read from genuine Christian friends had this same message: we should not judge and love them no matter what. Individuals fighting for gay marriage have always made themselves seem like victims of injustice with no right to voice any opinion, maybe rightly so, whereas, according to my years of observation, only supporters declared anything without controversy. My pastor Louie Giglio withdrew from President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony in 2012 due to gay rights activists’ uproar on Giglio’s comment on homosexuality from roughly twenty years ago. I have also encountered countless posts and comments from so-called “Christians” belittling, disparaging, and personally attacking ministers against gay marriage and the church as a whole. This, I cannot stand. Read Genesis 19:5, Leviticus 18:21-22 and 20:13, Judges 19:22, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:8-10, all of which suggest or specifically portray homosexuality as a sin. Without even getting into these passages, God gave the first man a woman, and, not only for the human species, that has been the nature of life since the beginning of time. For those claiming to be Christians who advocate for homosexuality and despise and strike those fighting against, I do not know in what sense I can consider them as Christians. When I temporarily registered for OkCupid, one arbitrary kid who claimed to take Christianity “very seriously” wrote to me, “Fxxx you,” solely because I answered “Yes” to the question “Do you believe homosexuality is a sin?” Another self-proclaimed avid follower of Jesus commented that if anyone opposes gay marriage, they have nothing in common, ridiculously comparing this to the civil rights movement. If these so-called “Christians” only believe what they want to believe and celebrate God only when convenient, are they really followers of Christ?
I read on Facebook a comment from a stranger, stating she would be “extremely disappointed in” her passionate Christian friend if he opposed gay marriage. When someone defended him, she replied, “I expect Christians to love their neighbors. It’s what the Bible says, no?” Why do you expect Christians to be anything when you do not even believe in Jesus yourself or know from where that teaching comes? Recently, I voiced my opinion on ESPN’s decision to award this year’s ESPY’s Arthur Ashe Award for Courage to Bruce Jenner over a nineteen-year-old girl who battled brain cancer while playing basketball for her college and raised $1.5 million for cancer research until she passed away. (Do not forget Sergeant Noah Galloway.) One girl I had not spoken to in ages instantly responded, “… it’s a shame you use your freedom of speech to tear other people down. Jesus told us to love one another. Not judge.” I found this claim entertainingly hypocritical, as she had just judged me and my opinion far more directly, does not even go to church, and most importantly, I was not talking about Jenner’s becoming transgender. I simply mentioned ESPN’s decision and my disagreement, but due to the sensitivity of the topic of transgender, she immediately took the negative route and accused me of “tearing other people down.” So what if I did? What makes so many supporters of gender equality think they have the right to make intolerable remarks about adversaries, but the second a person with an opposite viewpoint expresses even a civil opinion, he or she should be condemned and burn in Hell? Same with marijuana. What makes so many proponents believe they have the right to personally attack opponents, even calling a mother who lost her son to pot addiction a “failed parent,” but the second an opponent says anything, he or she should be berated? Better yet, how do these hostile sides have the guts to act as if they are the ones being mistreated by their opposing sides? I have yet to meet one person against homosexuality who says anything pessimistic about gay people. I know hardly any person who fought for gay marriage and did not viciously criticize the opposite side and Christianity.
No, I do not hate gay people. Like mentioned above, I have homosexual friends. Neither do I have the right to judge their way of living nor they have the right to judge my faith in my Father. I do have a problem with insincere “Christians” twisting the Word of God to whatever fits their cause and bombarding other honest Christians for following His way.
The Author of my life highlighted the chapter of 2014 to refine my perspectives on the world and society in which I live. I rapidly gained a diverse cultural panorama traveling alone to Italy, the Bahamas, France, Belgium, and other parts of the United States. Though I missed even the basic knowledge of these cultures prior to the journey, setting foot on these unfamiliar lands motivated me to explore not only their histories but also the world less familiar to me.
As I grew up in the fenced school atmosphere before graduating from Emory University, my parents have constantly brought up my lack of awareness and warned me of the “real” America. I had always refuted their theory, but applying for hundreds of jobs coming out of college taught me what my family implied. When I receive education, I pay and become a customer; therefore, the school is inclined to show benevolence. On the contrary, when I am the one being paid, the roles are reversed. Due to my status as an international graduate in eventual need of a work visa to legally stay in the States, occupations I attempted rarely considered me in spite of my exceptional academic accomplishments to avoid coping with additional governmental paperwork and spending roughly $5,000 to employ me. Originally longing to remain at Emory University to prolong my delightful memories with the school, I applied for its virtually every available position that fit my degree in English literature and work experience.
Oxford College’s Office of Admission first notified me of an interview. Though excited beyond measure, I was scheduled to go on a cruise to the Bahamas, and the office never followed up on the interview in the two weeks I patiently waited. I had no choice but to explain to the office administrators my vacation plan so that they would not appoint me an interview while I am gone. Their vice president replied the email I read “was due to a system error,” suggesting I was not actually selected for an interview. I was mind-boggled the office never considered revealing this issue until I asked. Disappointed, I decided to move on from higher education jobs several days before Emory College’s Office of Admission offered me a legitimate interview, where I would be required to give a presentation, with one day’s notice. I embraced the opportunity and met with five employers, divided into five sessions. I felt obligated to mention my irregular status with the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Program, that I could not be unemployed for ninety days and thus must find out the result as soon as possible. Two employers promised to let me know in a couple of weeks to no avail. I hesitated emailing and pressuring them to speed up the selection process, but I was left with no other option when nobody from the office contacted me for over four weeks. My instinct accurately guessed somebody was already chosen but the employers did not care to inform the other two rejected candidates of the decision. I was disgusted, and this vagueness’ stealing my only time prior to the end of the year to visit my family and friends in Korea especially riled me up. I removed my account from the university’s human resources and moved on, because I could no longer risk letting irresponsible and oblivious administrators damage my grateful college memories that stem from influential and affectionate professors and classmates. Two sales companies ultimately hired me, and I accepted one without realizing I would have to give up church. The hiring manager must have known this would have created a problem based on my résumé and interviews but refused to disclose the peculiar working hours until my initial day of training. I quit instantly.
Ninety days of unemployment since enrolling in the OPT Program swiftly approached, and I had to mentally prepare to return to my home country of Korea. However, God had a plan to rescue me. I arbitrarily wanted to surprise-visit my closest professor, Dr. Harry Rusche, whom I had not seen in over four months, without even remembering where he lived. I faced no trouble locating his home, and he and Mrs. Sue Rusche welcomed me with open arms. I shared with them my situation, and we immediately found a temporary solution: I would volunteer at Mrs. Rusche’s nonprofit organization until I discover a stable job that pays and will sponsor me. This experience connected me to the realm of politics and numerous individuals with unfathomable accomplishments, including President Jimmy Carter and a retired chairman and chief executive officer of United Parcel Service, Oz Nelson, who connected me to the president. With the right to manage my own work schedule, I also participated in two films as an extra and made friends with celebrated actors. I was reminded nothing happens by accident.
“2014 was a year of completion for our family,” expressed my father during my recent trip back to Korea. I completed my college studies on May 12. My brother completed his wedding on December 19. My mother, after twenty-seven years, completed her work at Merrill Lynch on December 31. I say, “2015 is a year of new beginnings.” Though I desperately need an occupation that will sponsor me with an H-1B (work) visa, I find confidence in knowing God has always led me to the right path even when I doubted Him. Whether or not I find a job in the United States, I am certain the Author of my life knows where to take me next. I cannot wait to witness what my Father has in store for me for 2015.
Seeing my brother serve as a volunteer chaplain assistant during his military service, I jestingly told my father I should pursue chaplain assistant as my military occupational specialty (MOS) a month prior to mustering in the Republic of Korea Army. The position of chaplain assistant is regarded as one of the most laid-back and physically unchallenging MOS’ and hence desired and applied to by countless Korean male citizens. My father did not believe I sufficiently comprehended the Bible to stand a chance against these competitors. As I approached the replacement depot on June 29, 2010, to begin the new chapter in my life as a soldier, I only had one wish: not to be stationed in one of the front divisions facing North Korea. I remember informing several friends in the United States awaiting my return on the possibility of my serving right behind North Korea, primarily to tease them to think of me. Coincidentally, to my fate, I was drafted into Cheorwon’s 6th Infantry Division, the very front division that includes the demilitarized zone. Arguably the coldest region in South Korea, Cheorwon in winter regularly hit negative twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit (and much lower in units at the top of the mountains), worsened by fierce winds. A drunk officer from this division fell asleep outside and froze to death, which testifies to this brutal cold.
My parents, though optimistic on the phone to add hope, hid their worries about my unanticipated circumstance. I was scared and dearly hanging on to the belief God will never leave me. My division did not consist of translating jobs, but a private assistant’s misinformation made me eager to utilize my unusually exceptional English skills as a nonnative to serve my country. Nevertheless, God had a different plan for me all along. I attended church two to three times a week during boot camp, and being unprecedentedly mentally unstable, discouraged, and intimidated, I cried a river worshipping the Father every service, while most comrades either slept or marched into their own little psychological realm. One day after service, the divisional chaplain asked the trainees if any of them had studied theology, and nobody raised his hand. He then wanted to know if any had lived abroad, and out of the hundreds of initiates, only I put up my hand. He carried on with a series of questions, leading me to reveal I had been living in North America for over half of my life and was enrolled in Emory University, with which he was familiar. He vaguely stated he would use me; little did I know then he was looking for a new regimental chaplain assistant. The 19th Infantry Regiment had recently replaced its Buddhist priest with a chaplain and become a Christian unit; therefore, the regiment desperately required a chaplain assistant. The divisional chaplain office contemplated promoting a volunteer chaplain assistant from the regiment, but the chaplain’s driver, my best Korean friend now, persuaded the chaplain to bring in a new soldier instead. My evident passion for God made the chaplain downright determined to recruit me for this newfound duty until he discovered my prominent politician family background. He said, “If you were a normal kid, I would have chosen you, but you are not, so I will have to pray more to make my decision.” He fretted the public would accuse me of abusing my family status to obtain this popular MOS. This chaplain still had faith in and fought for me in front of the division’s influential officers, including the two-star divisional commander.
A major called my platoon commander during an individual-combat training session to interview me, particularly about my perspective on North Korea. I honestly replied, “I don’t think North Korea as a whole is our enemy,” blaming the country’s regime rather than innocent and wretched civilians. Some officers also surmised I had psychological issues—a criterion unacceptable to becoming a chaplain assistant—because I refused to answer questions like standard Koreans would on psychology tests. The divisional chaplain, however, defended my cultural clash, expressing, “What is so wrong about telling it like it is? Who would like to be forced to serve in the army for two years?” The unit instead sought only “Yes!” and my brutal genuineness had numerous officers question my mental health.
The divisional chaplain ultimately convinced the skeptical officers, and I was welcomed as the regimental chaplain assistant for the 19th Infantry Regiment. He explained to my parents my God-loving face was “glowing” in boot camp and thus he felt the need to recruit me. Usually, to become a chaplain assistant at a regimental level, a candidate has to be attending theology school, take a test, and then be arbitrarily picked as in the lottery, none of which fit me. Statistically, one in two thousand applicants earned my position, and I had not even applied. Placed in a combat regiment, unlike typical chaplain assistants in the country, I participated in physical training, midnight guarding and patrol duties, promotion tests, and practically all activities a combat soldier would as well as fulfilling my assignments at the divisional church. I could have found a way out of these combat roles, but I embraced hardship and even volunteered for the toughest tasks available to create everlasting memories. Working with a despicably disingenuous, imbecile, and childish fraud as my superior seven days a week for fifteen months made the army experience indescribably tougher, as I had to find motivation to refrain from pulverizing him each day. God trained me in ways I would not have tolerated as a civilian; consequently, I am exponentially more disciplined, patient, grateful, and compassionate today.
The original divisional chaplain was replaced with a new chaplain, whose family my close Korean pastor had known for years. Although this family had already been praying for me, neither of us knew about each other initially. The wife claimed she knew someone with my name, and she was referring to me. We could only label God as “humorous.” The family graciously took care of me, and we still keep in touch and pray for one another. Though I at first had nothing but negative outlooks on joining the 6th Infantry Division, I learned God always remains many steps ahead of me in directing me to the path of His Glory.