A South Korean student at Michigan Lutheran Seminary shares her journey of faith.
I was raised as an atheist in an atheist household in a nonreligious country.
Early religious connections
The first real exposure I had with religion was my Christian elementary school. My parents agreed to send me there, because although they were not believers, they both believed that a Christian environment would provide good morals and education.
As an impressionable child, I considered myself a Christian—everyone at school was one, so I wanted to be part of the club. According to my teachers, Jesus loved me, so why shouldn’t I love him? My parents rolled their eyes, assuming it was just a “phase.” Life at school, a major part of my childhood, was filled with God, so it was enough to influence me on the surface. But I never really knew God, nor did I truly understand what being a Christian meant.
After graduation, I moved to a public middle school. I had Buddhist friends, Christian friends, Catholic friends, but mostly atheist friends. My religious friends didn’t talk much about their faith. Wanting to fit in once more, I became atheist again. I convinced myself that my faith and love for God were simply the influence of my elementary school; it really didn’t mean anything. By the time I graduated middle school, Christianity was completely wiped out of my mind.
Then came the chance for me to go to a high school in America, a thrilling opportunity that I had long desired. The only thing was that all of my school options were Christian, or more specifically, Lutheran. I had never heard of WELS. I wasn’t exactly overjoyed to go to another religious school, but because my experiences at Christian schools had always been wonderful, I did not care that much. Although I had thought that chapter in my life had ended, I didn’t mind opening it up again. However, I was determined not to be converted like I had been before. I wanted to stay true to myself.
Living in a different country was more difficult than I thought. It meant scheduling times to talk with my parents, watching old friends make new memories, and having my family gather for my favorite holidays without me. It meant watching my grandparents get older behind the phone screen and wondering each time if this was the last time I would ever talk to them. It meant avoiding looking at the family-filled stands at games or meets, knowing mine would never be there. It was feeling like an awkward intruder wherever I went and whomever I met. It meant being constantly and terribly lonely, whether alone in a dorm room or at a party filled with people. The worst part was that I felt like it was always going to be this way. It was a foolish notion, but I believed it with my whole, fragmented, and foolish heart.
My first year at Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS) in Saginaw was anything but sunshine and rainbows. With my insecurities added on to cultural differences and misunderstandings, I became resentful and angry toward myself, my school, and everyone around me. “There is no way I am going to be like them,” I told myself. “I will always be true to myself.” Little did I know that I was becoming more twisted; my true self that I was so desperately holding onto was in fact a dark, angry shadow of my actual self. I continued to be a lonely shadow my freshman year, having no one to rely on but myself—or so I thought.
Discovering a source of strength
Then one day during chapel, the preacher told us to stand up for prayer. Well accustomed to the routine, I folded my hands and bowed my head. After the prayer, he blessed us—in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It was a blessing I had received a hundred times before, but this time it was different. It was like a warm light had been cast into the chapel, telling me that I was blessed and that someone was looking after me. It was such a brief moment that I simply stood there, dumbfounded. I let go of the incident as a moment of confusion, but from that day, God had cemented himself in my heart.
Every Bible class I attended from then on expanded my mind, and I learned and understood the Bible more than I ever had in my entire life. Now I only had to believe. Fearful of being judged, I never told anyone about this battle of faith. Every single day, I struggled with this eternal question.
But God was always there for me even when I wasn’t there for him. He was there that night when I was sobbing in my room, sick of the constant feeling of not belonging. I remember resentfully gazing down at my Bible worksheet of the day—the last thing I wanted to do was homework. And there it was: the memory work, Deuteronomy 31:8, telling me that he will “never forsake me.”
He was there during chapel sophomore year, when the hymn “I’m But a Stranger Here” reminded me that, of course, I did not belong here; heaven is my home.
He was there when my parents chose to send me to MLS.
He was there when my mother assured me that she did not judge me for my faith but was happy for me.
He is in the voices of my host family, best friends, and teammates as they cheer for me not only for races and performances but also throughout my life.
He is in my teachers who continue to teach me more than I could ever imagine.
He is in the hallways I walk, the voices that chatter; in the tears that fall and the smiles that rise. He is in my despair and my joy.
I had spent my whole life searching for a source of strength—that golden fountain that pours out the courage I lacked but desperately needed. I searched for it in books, movies, friends, family, myself; it was never there. I was lost until that one moment, that one day when I was blessed. It was then when I saw a speck, a hazy shimmer of that fountain.
Every day and every moment in my life, I have been blessed. I am grateful for my tumultuous journey, for its hardships brought me closer to God. Only now do I understand that God, and only God, is the fountain I have been so ardently seeking.
I am still a doubter. I doubt myself, and I doubt my faith. Am I worthy to be a Christian, to be called his child? But at the same time, I am not a doubter. Everything has never been inexplicably clearer. I know that I will never be worthy—none of us are—but we still belong to him. And that is what makes it so wonderful to be his children.
Author: Gabby Kim
Volume 111, Number 01
Issue: January 2024
- Confessions of faith: Matt and Danielle Cosgrave
- Confessions of faith: Gary Lupe
- Confessions of faith: Nick and Lacey Wagner
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