Dear Brothers and Sisters of Faith, I am humbled and honored to be called to serve as your associate pastor. My family and I are looking forward to moving to Houston in early July and joining you in God’s mission. Now I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and my family.
I was born in a small village in the Shanxi Province of northern China in 1966, the same year when the infamous ten-year Chinese Cultural Revolution broke out. Life was hard in my village, but I felt so lucky because my two brothers and I, unlike some other kids in my village, always had enough to eat. Another childhood blessing was that my parents valued education and always encouraged us to study hard and excel in school. My two brothers passed the provincial examinations and entered the same textile vocational school when they graduated from middle school (9th grade). I also passed the provincial examination but was denied admission to the vocational school because of my severe near-sightedness. I had no other choice but to attend a high school. Later I realized that my near-sightedness was a blessing in disguise. In 1985 I entered Northwest University in Xi’an, the ancient capital of China, and earned a master’s degree in literature in 1992. I stayed on in the same university and taught Chinese language as the second language to international students for five years. Some of my students were Catholic missionaries or Protestant evangelists. My first spiritual contact with Christianity was through reading Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s “Resurrection.” However, it was the personal contact and friendship with these Christian students that changed my thoughts and attitude toward Christianity. I began to read the Bible and will never forget the feelings of astonishment, attraction, and perplexity when I first read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It was like I saw large streaks of lightning flash across the dark and stormy sky.
In 1997 I came to the U.S. to pursue a graduate degree in Chinese literature at the University of Minnesota. Before I left China I told my friends, “I will study Christianity when the opportunity presents itself.” The opportunity did present itself much, much sooner than I had anticipated. To my own surprise, I was baptized at a Chinese Lutheran congregation near the University campus five months after I arrived in U.S. Seven months after my baptism I left the University and entered Luther Seminary at St. Paul. When I graduated from the Seminary in May 2002 I was so happy and excited to receive my first call from the South Dakota Synod.
Having served parishes in South Dakota for almost six years, a thought arose in my heart that it was time for me to reconnect with the Chinese Christian community of the ELCA. So in the spring of 2008 I went to Los Angeles to attend the assembly of the ELCA’s Association of Asian and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). After the Assembly I wrote to Dr. Pongsak, the program director for Asian ministries of the ELCA, and expressed my desire to serve a Chinese congregation. Dr. Pongsak told me there wasn’t any opportunity like that then. But my sense of calling to serve Chinese people did not go away. I prayed, and waited, and wondered. Three years had passed and I didn’t have the slightest idea how God would answer my prayer. Then I received a phone call from Dr. Pongsak in November of 2011. He told me that a congregation in Houston was thinking about starting a Chinese ministry. “Do you want to consider this opportunity?” I couldn’t believe my ears. I said “yes” and the rest is the story. The Bible says “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps” (Proverbs 16:9). How true it is!
Shortly before I graduated from the Seminary, a Chinese friend asked me a question during a Bible study, “Junfeng, what is first ‘not good’ in the Bible?” “It was not good for a man to be alone, Genesis 2:18.” “Well, you’d better find a wife and get married before going to parish,” he said half-jokingly, half-seriously. Several weeks later I met my wife Eunsook in Chicago. You see I went to Chicago to attend the AAPI Assembly. At the Assembly a good friend of mine, who is a Korean Lutheran pastor in Chicago, asked me, “Do you have a girlfriend?” “No. I don’t.” “Good. I want you to meet a girl, whose mother is a member of my church. I think she and you will make a good match.” I listened to him. Both Eunsook and I trusted and obeyed our matchmaker more than ourselves. Having dated for three months over the phone and through emails, we got married and moved to my first parish in South Dakota.
The great blessings that my wife and I have been graced with are our two sons, John, six years old, and Joseph, two. We made the decision to adopt when the doctor told us we would not have biological children of our own. We went to Korea, Eunsook’s native country, to adopt John in May 2007. Last June-July, the three of us went to China to bring Joseph home. Both John and Joseph get super excited every time we make a trip to Sioux Falls, which is the biggest town in South Dakota and about 40 minutes away from where we live now. Actually John used to dream of moving to Sioux Falls someday. Maybe he will when he grows up. Now, I think he and Joseph will love to live in Houston.
Looking forward to meeting you all soon.