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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People often ask, "How does one stand all that rain in Seattle?" Actually, it doesn't rain that much. I like the rain. Keeps everything "evergreen" and clean. Keeps our air fresh. What's challenging is the gray weather. Give me a few more sunny days. 99 more days to be specific. 
Regardless, still love this city. Checking out Canada in case I need to move up North after the presidential election. Just saying, eh.

Downtown Toronto. Fascinating architecture. Amazed by the diversity of this city. We desperately want our children to not just be captivated by the beauty of creation...but more importantly, to the actual Creator of all that is good and beautiful.

Actually, we want and need this truth for our souls, too. What a privilege. This isn't possible without all those who give, pray, and support the work of @onedayswages. This week, I signed and mailed grants to three partner organizations totaling over $170,000. These grants will empower people by supporting maternal health care, refugee relief efforts, access to clean water, provide education, etc.

Sometimes, the brokenness of the world feel so overwhelming but let's keep running the race with endurance. Let's keep pursuing justice, mercy, and humility. Let's be faithful and may we be spurred on to keep working for God's Kingdom...on earth as it is in heaven.

Again, thank you so much for your support for @onedayswages! My wife, Minhee, and I stand on the shoulders of praying mothers. I'd like to take a moment to honor my mother-in-law. It's hard to put words together to embody her life but she is a very special, anointed person. I'm so blessed to have her as a mother in my life.

She was a devoted wife until she lost her husband to cancer, mother to three daughters, and later became a pastor. She became a follower of Christ as an adult and as such, led her her family to Christ. In her late 50s, she obeyed God's calling to go to seminary and be a leader in the church. She graduated #1 in her class and reminded us that it's never too late to follow a new dream or calling.

As she'll soon celebrate her 80th birthday, I'm especially grateful for the ways that she poured into and prayed over Minhee and her other children.  Even though she's officially retired, I'm inspired that the concept of retirement is not in her vocabulary.  She continues to serve the local church, evangelize and bear witness to Christ, and goes to the early morning prayer meeting at 5am everyday to pray for our family, our church, and for others. 
Jangmonim, we love and honor you. 어머니, 사랑합니다.

Someday, I hope that when my kids speak of Minhee and I...above all, they would say with integrity that their parents prayed for them and kept pointing them to Christ. On this Mother's Day, I want to take a few words to honor mother.

There’s a moment from a few years ago that will stick with me until the day I die. It’s regarding Sung Wha, my mother.

Minhee and I were at a point of transition, between working at an ethnic Korean church in the northern suburbs of Seattle called Lynnwood and launching Quest in urban Seattle. As I shared earlier, I was in desperate need of a job. I had a mortgage to pay. A pregnant wife. A kid at home. 
Then, praise God, after months without work, I finally landed a job.

My mom was in between jobs at this point in her life. She was in her late fifties, but she had such bad knees and degenerative hips that it was, and is, difficult for her to walk. My mom is like a human barometer—when a storm is coming and when it rains, her hips throb. Although my parents lived in San Francisco, she was visiting us in Seattle to encourage us in this difficult season.

As I prepared to go to work one early morning, I walked downstairs to put on my jacket and shoes, and forgot that my mother woke up early every morning to pray. In fact, she had been praying for months that I would find a job. “Eugene, where are you going?” she said when she saw me.

I hadn’t told my mother the news that I had just recently been hired for the janitorial gig at Barnes and Noble. I chose not to because I thought she and my father would be devastated. I didn’t want them to think that after laboring, sacrificing, and doing so much for us over all those years that their son had failed them.

But I couldn’t lie to her, so eventually I told my mom that I got a job and was going to work. “Great! What job? What are you doing?” “Um, I’m working at Barnes and Noble as their custodian,” I said finally.

Without asking another question, my mother got up from the dining table where she had been reading her Bible and praying. She slowly walked slowly toward me.

She approached me, then walked past me without saying a word, and I realized she was headed toward the closet. She opened the closet door, put on her jacket, turned around and said to me (in Korean), “Eugene, let’s go together. I will help you.” This is my mother.

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