Eugene Cho

No one is an island to themselves. Remembering my journey as a Korean-American immigrant. Rejoicing in God’s grace.

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I didn’t expect writing this post to get so emotional or for this weekend to be so emotional but such has been the case. I’ve been particularly reminded of my immigrant story – my personal journey trying to find my identity in a foreign country when I first came to the United States at age 6. After immigrating to the Land of Opportunity, I soon began to be pounded with questions like “Where are you really from?” and “Why don’t you go back where you came from?”…and of course, the mixture of insults which included words like chinks and gooks and commentary about my beautiful slanty eyes…

It’s been emotional as I’ve been reminded of the courageous story of my parents, the future for my children, and the investment of so many in my life.

It’s been emotional as I’ve been – again and again – reminded of God’s grace.

This weekend, Minhee and I are in Washington DC to attend a banquet to commemorate Korean-American Day in United States history (January 13). Be honest. You didn’t even know there was a Korean-American Day, huh?

Check it: S. RES. 283 of the 109th Congress:

Whereas on January 13, 1903, the arrival of 102 pioneer immigrants to the United States initiated the first chapter of Korean immigration to the United States;

Whereas members of the early Korean American community served with distinction in the Armed Forces of the United States during World War I, World War II, and the conflict in Korea;

Whereas in the early 1950s, thousands of Koreans, fleeing from war, poverty, and desolation, came to the United States seeking opportunities;

Whereas Korean Americans, like waves of immigrants to the United States before them, have taken root and thrived as a result of strong family ties, robust community support, and countless hours of hard work;

Whereas the contributions of Korean Americans to the United States include the invention of the first beating heart operation for coronary artery heart disease, development of the nectarine, a 4-time Olympic gold medalist, and achievements in engineering, architecture, medicine, acting, singing, sculpture, and writing;

Whereas Korean Americans play a crucial role in maintaining the strength and vitality of the United States-Korean partnership;

Whereas the centennial year of 2003 marked an important milestone in the now more than 100-year history of Korean immigration; and

Whereas the Centennial Committees of Korean Immigration and Korean Americans have designated January 13th of each year as ‘‘Korean American Day”…

Each year, the banquet – sponsored by Korean Economic Institute –  honor couple Korean-Americans around a particular focus and this year, they focused their selection of honorees around humanitarian work and I was truly humbled to be an honoree along with Kyung Yoon (Executive Director, Korean American Community Foundation), and special guest, Dr. Jim Yong Kim (President, World Bank Group).

No such thing as a self-made person

It’s emotional for me – not because I’ve won some sort of prize or accolade but to be honest, I’m again reminded that I am not an island to myself. I am who I am – even in all my imperfections – by the grace of God.

I am nothing with God.
I am nothing without God’s mercy and grace.

And yes, I am not an island to myself. You see, there is no such-thing as a self-made person. Someone invested in you and that’s certainly the case with me. Many people invested in me and I hope that I can – be and do – likewise for others.

I’m thankful…

  • I’m thankful for my parents who came to this country only knowing a very words like “Thank You” and “Hello” and “Good-Bye” and yet, they ran a grocery store in San Francisco called “Royal Pine Market.” We lived the classic laborious and unglamorous Korean-American immigrant journey. They got up at 6am to get the store opened by 7am and closed the shop at 11pm. Our family ate nearly every single dinner at this store for several years until we sold it.  I marvel and admire my parents – now more than ever before – because I now know how difficult it is to raise a family (and I know more than 3 English phrases!). I admire their commitment, tenacity, and devotion to their children and family.
  • I’m thankful for my wife, best friend, and deepest advocate – Minhee.  A simple bullet point would not be sufficient to explain her inspiration in my life. So, feel free to read this.
  • I’m thankful for my two older brothers (Philip & Michael) – who bullied me, babied me, and brother-ed me. They paved the way so that the youngest (aka “Eugene), could have an easier path.
  • I’m thankful for my children: Jubilee, Trinity, and Jedi. I love them dearly and inspire me to live my life as a model for them so that they, too, might be inspired as I’ve been inspired by my parents. I often fear how I’m failing them. All I can do is try my best to love them, teach them, show them – both in failures and successes and everything in between.
  • I’m thankful for my teachers. I had some bad ones, some mediocre ones, and some teachers that I know cared for me deeply. They went beyond additions, subtractions, divisions, conjunctions, and punctuations. They built me up; Inspired me; Demanded more from me. And I’m serious: Teachers are heroes.
  • I’m thankful for my pastors, mentors, and spiritual leaders – for pointing me to the One that informs and transforms everything. I’m thankful not just for the content of what they shared and taught but the content of their character – the latter brought veracity to the content of their theology and teachings.
  • I’m thankful for my team – my staff from Quest, Q Cafe, and One Day’s Wages. Grateful for these brothers and sisters. Grateful for their love and support. Grateful for their prayers. Grateful that they trust me enough to work with me. Thank you Gail, Ray, Katey, Joanie, Jin, Pam, Aaron, Coby, Christian, Anita, Michael, Jill, Sun, Criss, Roxy, and Matt. Thank you Philip & Julia. Thank you to all our interns, baristas, and volunteer staff.
  • I’m thankful for my church – my spiritual family. Thank you, Quest. Minhee and I are truly humbled to have started Quest Church in 2001 and I am privileged to be one of your pastors.

I’m humbled and grateful for these people and more who are part of my life.

My prayer – Then, Now, and Tomorrow

As I express my thanks to many who have poured into my life, my prayer for my life remains the same as it was in 1989 when I became a follower of Christ:

Dear God,

My hope is that in all things, I may bear witness to you.
I want to make You known.
I want to reveal Your story.
Through my actions, words, and deeds
– and even through and despite my imperfect life –
may many be fascinated and drawn to Your amazing salvation and grace.

In Jesus Name. Amen.

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13 Responses

  1. Penny Hunter says:

    Not sure why – but your post moved me to tears. Perhaps it’s the awareness that we really don’t know each other’s stories — and if we did we may be surprised by the difficult path. I don’t often share my background – but find people often assume it has been an easy road.

    Reading about the courageous and pioneering chapters of your life and the lives of your parents was moving. I’m thankful for your story – thankful for the way you use your voice for others – thankful for the tenacity that is a hallmark of your life and ministry and likely wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for your path.

  2. KC says:

    The nectarine! Seriously, I had no idea.

    The rest is super-cool, too, and they should have also noted the culinary riches – such good food – but for whatever reason, the hard work, music/arts, engineering and medical advances, etc., were not surprising to me but the fruit was!

    Congratulations to you and to all those who have positively contributed to who you are! (and glory to God!)

  3. Randy Willis says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, and congratulations!

    Sadly, I didn’t know there was a Korean American Day. So, thanks for enlightening me. My wife and I adopted two children from Korea, now 5 and 3. Another reason for us to celebrate God’s blessings!

  4. daniel so says:

    Thanks, Eugene, for raising your voice and sharing your story. Thank you for showing us all — not only Korean Americans — that our ethnicity is a gift of God, and that our pain can be redeemed by Christ as it leads us to understand, empathize with, and serve others in need.

    May God continue to allow your story to move mountains for many more years to come.

  5. […] ( http://pregoandtheloon.wordpress.com/ ) or a young Korean boy on a journey to find his identity ( https://eugenecho.com/2013/01/12/no-one-is-an-island-to-themselves-remembering-my-journey-as-a-korean… ) or an orphan from Vietnam brought to America with Operation Babylift. All these stories are about […]

  6. I loved reading about your family and our culture’s rich heritage. I am Korean American and living in Bend, Oregon where the Asian population is miniscule but we visited Seattle over Christmas and I was in awe of how culturally diverse it was after living here for so long. I’m excited to hear you speak at the Justice Conference and thank you for all the work you do to glorify God in your life and in your community.

    • Eugene Cho says:

      Thank you. Looking forward to crossing paths at the Justice Conference.

      If you think Seattle is diverse, wait till you visit San Francisco, New York, or Vancouver (BC). I consider Seattle fairly homogeneous.

  7. Trine Smith says:

    Well Pastor I have had an affinity for Asians since I was a young child;the culture, the language, all so beautiful, of course as a child I was unaware of the many struggles which many other nations were experiencing, however, I did have some understanding of the African-American struggle. When I was born again in Christ, I often prayfor my Oriental Brethren. I love you guys and I’m proud and celebrate with you all. In the community where my family experienced gentrification is a Korean couple named Mr. & Mrs. Lee whom I’ve come to know and love, I still go by the store from time to time. I remember the first I heard of you some years ago, I forgot I told God I would love to meet you, but HE didn’t. I was so richly blessed and inspired at the JC in here in Philly, and I hope that our Christian connection grows stronger in the Lord, as we fellowship and fight the good fight of faith; we raise the biblical standard of justice for all mankind.

  8. […] I’ve shared before, no one is an island to themselves. There is no such-thing as a self-made person. Someone invested in you and that’s certainly the […]

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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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