Eugene Cho

spirit 105.3 interview

Here’s the interview conducted by a reporter for Spirit 105.3 here in Seattle detailing a little of my story: 

My interview with Pastor Eugene Cho of Quest Church occurred in the homey, warm atmosphere of Q Cafe.  The warehouse on 15th Ave. in the Interbay area of Seattle is a church on Sunday, but during the weekday it is decorated with couches, chairs, and computers.  It is filled with the sound of music, milk being steamed for lattes, and the voices of different groups of people within the community that have chosen the spot as a meeting place.  In order to gain a broad understanding of Quest where is coming from, I asked Pastor Eugene to take me back to the very beginning, starting with his conversion to Christianity.

CONVERSION AND CALLING | “I’m Korean-American,” he began. “It’s something I talk about a lot at church because it’s been very formative.  Immigration and being a minority has been a huge part of the way that I see the world.  My family and I immigrated to the United States when I was six years old.  I did not know that we were coming to the United States.  So it was a very shocking, eye-opening experience to get off the airplane and just see a lot of white people.  A few days later I ended up being enrolled in public school.  It was very tumultuous not knowing any English, being very shy, adapting to a new culture, surviving as an immigrant, and trying to make ends meet with our family.  It’s a classic Korean-American story where my parents, my brothers and I worked extremely hard in the family business in the grocery store.  Through it all, I really struggled with identity.  Who am I?  Am I Korean, or am I American?  Why are people making fun of me?  Why are people picking on me?  Why am I getting beat up?  I really struggled with what it meant to have this Korean-American bi-cultural identity.  I began to wrestle with different venues of acceptance.  You know, you do things in order to be accepted.  I wrestled a lot with some drug abuse, and so forth, and basically became a very angry, confused young man.” 

It was during this time of frustration, right after graduating from high school, that Pastor Eugene met a man named Raymondo Gonzales.  Raymondo was a custodian at the IBM complex where Eugene’s mother had a deli.  He spoke only Spanish, but coincidentally Eugene had labored through four years of Spanish and AP Spanish in high school, and was fluent.  The guy had, from an external perspective, nothing going for him,” Eugene recalled.  “But he just had something about him.  It was magnetic, it was fragrant, it was intoxicating, it was scandalous.  It made you angry, because he had something that you didn’t have.  He and I became very good friends, and he would always say, ‘Eugene, you need Christ in your life.  He loves you.  He’s the way, the truth, and the life.  And no one comes to the Father except through Him.’  And he would always invite me to accept Christ at work, and I’d always say no.  But sometime in that summer, in the privacy of my room, in a very unintelligent, broken, simple, organic, mundane prayer I said, ‘God, I need You.  And I want to believe in You and follow You.’”  Up to that point, Eugene’s mother had been the only believer in the Cho family.  She had been praying for them every day, and that summer she saw every member of her family come to Christ through different means.

Pastor Eugene’s call to be a pastor came later on, in college.  His decision to pursue the ministry was controversial.  His parents had hoped for him to be a doctor, and even his mentors discouraged him.  “Having made some very shady decisions early on in my faith in college,” he explained, “when I went to my pastor and my elders, they refused to write me a recommendation.  And that was really painful because I realized, maybe I’m just not worthy to be a pastor.  And everytime I went to speak with other pastors in that city, just for feedback, all of them had had a pretty divine experience. A dream had come to them, or a stranger had come to them, and it was very clear and divine for them.  So I specifically prayed for something divine to take place, and again it was depressing because none of those things took place, even though I felt something in my heart.  The last pastor that I spoke to said something I thought was pretty blasphemous.  He said, ‘What do you want to do?’  And I just thought, excuse me?  He said, ‘If you could do whatever you want for the glory of God, what do you want to do?’  And I said, ‘Is that a fair question?  I mean, shouldn’t we be pondering not upon what we want, but what God wants and God’s will?’  And this pastor said, ‘You know, Eugene, the Holy Spirit dwells within you.  If you could do whatever you want, what do you want to do?’  And I’d never heard a question like that, and I just said, ‘You know…I want to be a pastor.’  And I remember just uttering those words for the first time.  And I was flooded with peace and joy.”

A CHURCH BIRTHED FROM BROKENNESS |  Pastor Eugene and his wife Minhee had been comfortably pastoring a homogenous, Korean-American church out in the suburbs. After two years they received the calling to head to the city and plant a multi-ethnic church that was committed to social justice.  Quest Church started out as a weekly Bible study at a café in the University district, and eventually became Sunday worship services.  It has grown tremendously in the past couple of years, and will be celebrating its five year anniversary in October.“I think the most difficult time in our history was more on a personal front,” Eugene explained.  “It seemed like everything I had planned or wanted to come to pass did not come to pass.  All of our supporters, people that had committed to offering financial support, all of that just fell through the cracks.  It basically came to a point where, I really needed to support my wife and kids.  I still remember the night, it was about the weekend before the baby was born, I was in my room just kind of crying quietly, because I didn’t want my wife or kids to know that I was crying.  I ended up saying, “God, I feel so upset, because I feel like I’ve lost control over my life.”  And I think that was the epiphany I needed.  God allowed me to go through a lot to understand that I don’t have control over my life.  To submit to His sovereignty.  And so two days later, Minhee gave birth to our baby.  The next day I finally got a job, and even that job was difficult.  I worked as a custodian for about eight months, scrubbing toilets and vacuuming at a Barnes and Noble store out in Lynnwood.  But even that job was good for my soul because I worked there early in the mornings, and it really revived my prayer life.  What do you do at six o’clock in the morning, when you’re scrubbing toilets…you just clean.  And so, that was really important for my wife and I.  It humbled us. God really used that to restore our soul.

Q CAFE | One of the distinctive qualities of Quest Church is its consciousness of the fact that as Christians we are called to walk with God more often than on just Sunday mornings.  “I think, part of the danger is that we have Christians who think that all we have to do is just go to a church on Sundays to fulfill our religious exercise,” Eugene mused.  “People look at church as an event, as opposed to something that they live out.  It’s very aligned with our consumer mentality.  We come, and we listen to our three-point sermons.  It’s very production oriented.  Then we go back and I don’t know how much of our faith impacts all of our lives.  And so, what we’re trying to convey to people is to realize that Sundays are very important, worship is very important, but it’s really futile, if it’s the only thing we do to engage worship.  You worship corporately, but true worship will happen when you walk out those doors, and you make a decision to live out your faith.  And I think that’s really the only way, as I see it, that the church will have an influence in the larger culture.  Because people aren’t necessarily going to come, you know.  It’s hard for churches to grow, because there’s just so much disillusionment and antithesis towards churches. I think when people live out their faith at their schools, at their workplaces, and it’s relational as it was a long time ago, when people understand that, I’m very hopeful for this church.  And not just Quest church, but the church in general.”

Quest has put a lot of effort into living out this vision of being relational.  During the week, the folding chairs that fill the warehouse that is Quest Church on Sundays are replaced with couches and a corner for kids to play in, and it becomes Q Café.  Pastor Eugene explained the dream behind this unique arrangement:“I’ve always dreamed about the church having a presence in the neighborhood.  I’ve always attended, or even been part of as an associate pastor, these churches that were just a building.  They didn’t have any relationship with their neighbors at all.  And that has always puzzled and frustrated me immensely, that cars would come in, cars would come out, and it was just a church with walls that stood there from Monday through Saturday.  And so I think even from the beginning when I began my relationship with Christ and especially when I received my call to be a pastor at the age of 21, I started dreaming about what it meant for a church to have a.

The history of our café, is that we started a non-religious, non-profit café, and received a lot of criticism.  When we say we’re a non-religious café our values still come from our faith in Christ.  But at the same time, we want our neighbors and our customers to know that our agenda is not to convert them.  Our agenda is not to put something in their latte to dupe them or dope them.  But we want to bring you salvation from the gospel.  Our values come from our church.  It’s family-friendly, it’s about integrity, it’s about community, it’s about education, it’s about arts and live music.  So all those things are things that we share within our church.  Our vision here is to be a great neighborhood, community café.  We host a lot of classes here.  We teach a computer class for senior citizens, and every three months we teach a program for children.  It’s not a Christian arts camp, but we’re using it as a means to build relationships with people.  And it’s great.  We have so many kids from our neighborhood come out to that.  We do the homeless outreach where a lot of our customers bring in clothes and blankets and so forth.  Arts and live music is a real big thing here.  A lot of the art that adorns our walls comes from local artists.  We have musicians come in on Friday, and most of them aren’t Christians. But for us it doesn’t matter as long as they abide with our policy, that it’s a family-friendly place.  And again it’s just our desire to build relationships with the larger neighborhood, to serve them in some way.  And sometimes it’s amazing when people do get inspired by that and are drawn to the church whether or not they come here.  Oftentimes I receive letters or emails from people that are drawn to Christ and the Gospel.  And we hope that God’s work is being done here in ways that are beyond our understanding.”     

THE VISION OF QUEST | “When people ask, ‘What’s the vision of Quest?’  I just think, to be the church.  That in itself is an extremely inspiring, scandalous vision.  We don’t want that vision to be institutional or organizational.  We really want to be incarnational.  We want to live that out.  What does it mean to be the church today, in a very busy, complex world.   “When we did Bible study, we spent about four months just simply teaching about Acts 2:42-47.  And we just talked about the early church and what they did.  And it basically said that they got together, they shared, they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, to fellowship, to prayer, to the breaking of bread, and so those four things I think are very important components of a church.  It’s worship simplified in these ways.  “We’re not afraid at Quest to build a relationship with the larger culture.  When people ask us what neighborhood we are trying to reach out to, we say ‘our neighborhood of Seattle’.  You know, we’re trying to reach out to Seattle and beyond.  And we hope to do that not just through church on Sundays, but Quest beyond Sundays.  In our small groups, through compassion and justice, through reaching out to the homeless, through arts and music, and through the café.  So all of those things, very strategically, are our attempt to live out our faith.  And that’s how I would define what it means to be incarnational, is how you live out your faith.”

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One Day’s Wages

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As we honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., don't forget the God behind the man. The one true God who deposited this dream into MLK is still speaking to us today. Are we listening?

Be courageous. Be brave.

Being invited by the King Family to speak at the MLK worship service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2016 remains one of the most unexpected honors of my life. On the right is his daughter, Dr. Bernice King and his sister, Dr. Christine King Farris. Walking throughstreet markets in different parts of the world is the best. Soaking in the culture. Listening to the local language and music. Enjoying the amazing cuisine. Meeting new friends. Praying for the Gospel to penetrate. #ChiangRai Blessed be the local, indigenous leaders for it is they who live in the very communities they seek to love. For it is they who understand their context and culture...better than a Westerner ever will. For it is they who will continue to tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love when visitors like me leave.

Yes, blessed be the local, indigenous leaders. What an honor and privilege to celebrate with the on-the-ground local @thefreedomstory team to celebrate the recent opening of their Education and Resource Center for the local youth in Chiang Rai, Thailanf. This was made possible through a partnership and matching grant by @onedayswages and The Freedom Story.

While it was an honor to be there to cut the cord and say a few words, this is an example of collaboration. Much love to the Freedom Story team including their co-founders Tawee Donchai and @Rachel Goble, to their staff who live in the community, who understand their context and culture, and who tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love. And of course, much love to the students themselves for they each matter. Finally, to each person that donated to @onedayswages to make this grant possible.

May hundreds and even thousands of youth be impacted, encouraged, and mentored. May they capture a glimpse of God's love for them.

Photo: @benjaminedwards Part 2 on my wrestling with the complex issue of human trafficking. In part, documenting my trip to Thailand for @onedayswages...to listen, learn, and visit one of our partner orgs @thefreedomstory. More to come.

There's such painful and poignant irony in pursuing justice...unjustly. One way we do this is when we reduce people into projects...and thus, propagating the dangerous power dynamic of US as heroes and THEM as helpless and exclusively as victims. So dangerous.

Human trafficking is not just an issue. It’s ultimately, about people. Depending on the sources of statistics, there are anywhere from 29-40 million people in some form of forced labor and slavery, including sex trafficking.

And one thing I’ve learned, personally, is how easy it is easy to reduce people into projects which is why mutuality, reciprocity, and dignity are so vital. These are critical because God never intended people to be reduced into projects.

We forget this and we indirectly foster a culture and system of victimization or worse, the pornification of the poor or in this case, "the trafficked." And when you start dehumanizing the poor or trafficked, you have no genuine desire to build relationships with them. You believe or build stereotypes in broad strokes, singular, black and white narratives that have been told about them. You believe the lie that they have nothing to teach us and are incapable of contributing to the larger society.

Lord, break our hearts for the things that break your heart. Give us eyes to see others through your eyes. Give us humility so that we acknowledge our own need to learn and grow. (Photo via @thefreedomstory) May our hearts break for injustice and exploitation - whether abroad or in our own backyard. Spending a few days for @onedayswages in Thailand. Along with one of our board members, I'm traveling with a group of 10 others to learn, listen and visit a few NGOs including one of our partners, @thefreedomstory. Couple days ago, we spent an evening walking through Soi Cowboy. On a given night, about 10,000 people are in the ring of prostitution in Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza, and Patpong. Much of this is driven by the consumer demand. Approximately 70% of male tourists go to Thailand for the sex industry.

Human trafficking is complex. Anyone that says otherwise is lying or selling you something. 
To reduce it to simple terms, or simple problems, or simple solutions…cause harmful consequences. While we can all agree that it is sinful, egregious, evil, and wrong…there are many nuances and complexities. It would serve all of us to grow deep in the awareness not just of the larger issue but the nuances and complexities.

When people speak of human trafficking, they tend to be ‘attracted’ to the issue of sexual exploitation. Dare I say it, human trafficking has become trendy as a justice issue.

Clearly, it’s evil and egregious. But to reduce the entire issue of human trafficking into one form is not helpful. Because the mission is to fight the entire injustice of slavery. And if that’s the commitment, we have to not only combat sexual exploitation but engage in issues of poverty, forced labor, commercial exploitation in tourism, land rights and power abuses, organized crime networks, cultural and economic realities, etc.

Oh, it's so complex but we have to be engaged whether in Thailand or in our own backyards. May our hearts break for the things that break the heart of God... More thoughts to come.

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