Growing up as a pastor’s kid in a rural village of South Korea, I read biographies of missionaries and had a vague idea of becoming one – one day. During my four years of college, I diligently studied the Bible with Navigators International (an international Christian discipleship ministry). However, I fell into a spiritual stagnation when I found myself unable to escape from the constraints of legalistic faith. The more I tried to live devoutly, the more drained I felt.
One day, I prayed to God, saying, “Let me personally experience your love before graduation.” At that time, I went through a period of complete isolation because of physical illness. It was a time of tears and wilderness, where only the Word of God and prayer brought me comfort and sustenance.
Then one day, God spoke to me through the Book of Romans: “Love completely fulfills God’s requirements. Love is the only law you need.” God met me and healed me. Those words brought me immense freedom. I learned that any act of service that doesn’t begin with love is neither beneficial to the one serving nor to the one being served.
After graduation, I worked at a hospital while searching for an opportunity to become a single missionary. However, the doors didn’t open as I expected. In the meantime, I attended the Presbyterian Theological Seminary to deepen my theological foundation for missions and hospice ministry. That is where I met my husband Jay. After graduating, we applied with Global Ministries and were sent to the Philippines as global missionaries of The United Methodist Church.
New missionaries receive guidance in the Philippines
One important lesson I learned in the Philippines is to listen to the people we were sent to serve with an open mind. After arriving in the Philippines, Bishop Solito K. Toquero appointed my husband and me as associate pastors at Central United Methodist Church in Manila, where we learned more about The United Methodist Church. I learned a great deal from the lead pastor at that time, the Rev. Dr. Homer Refuerzo.
One day, I asked Pastor Homer, “What must I do to be a good missionary?”
He replied, “Since you asked humbly, I will speak frankly. Many Korean missionaries speak little English and don’t even try to learn Filipino. They come with a lot of money, build buildings, and then leave us. We want you to work with us, not just with buildings.”
I took Pastor Homer’s words to heart and made an effort to work with the people around me. His advice greatly helped us in our youth ministries. We emphasized self-reliance among the youth and made Korean kimchi with them to raise funds for youth activities. Over time, the youth fellowship was revitalized and became well-established.
Faith, thankfulness and new horizons
After we served in the Philippines for many years, I was struggling to regain my spiritual vitality and with a thirsty heart. Around that time, we discovered our eldest son had a pituitary tumor, and our whole family entered a period of wilderness.
While traveling back and forth between Korea and the Philippines for his treatment, the tumor began bleeding and required emergency brain surgery. Being a nurse who had worked in the operating room, I understood better than most the importance of having the best doctor in charge. We selected the best surgeon we could find for the operation. However, when the emergency surgery was needed, the doctor was on a three-month leave, and a young doctor took over instead. I was very concerned. But in that moment, the Lord spoke to me, saying, “Grace, are you looking for the best doctor to save your son? I am always looking for the best servant to minister to the lost.” His words humbled me deeply.
On the day of the operation, I heard God saying, “Don’t worry, Grace. You are sending your son to the operating room to save him, but I sent my son Jesus into the world to offer his life.” When I discerned those words, I cried out, “Lord, help me to love with your love. I will not shed these tears only for my children but shed tears for all the souls you entrust to me. Help me become a missionary with your heart.”
The surgery was successful, and as my husband and I contemplated the future, we were assigned to be missionaries in residence (MIRs) at the Global Ministries headquarters in Atlanta. As an MIR, one of the most energizing aspects for me is the opportunity to meet with missionaries who are actively serving in the world on a one-on-one basis and being in fellowship with them, sharing prayers. I have learned so much from both active and retired missionaries who offer diverse experiences.
As an MIR, the most important aspect of my role is to intercede for and encourage all missionaries to engage in their missionary work with overflowing love, maintaining a deep relationship with God. We believe that a vital lifeline in our mission is to abide in the Lord and be attuned to the Holy Spirit each day. “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
Indeed, we acknowledge that we cannot bear fruit as missionaries unless God’s love overflows within us. Mission work is not merely what we do but what the Holy Spirit accomplishes through us. God is continually searching for workers who will faithfully serve, even in the present hour. Each of us hopes to live a missionary life in response to the Lord’s earnest call, fulfilling our respective roles.
The Rev. Eunha “Grace” Kim Choi is a full clergy member of the Philippines Annual Conference. A native of South Korea, she earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Yonsei University in Seoul and Master of Divinity from the Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary in Gwangnaru, Korea. In the Philippines, she studied voice performance at the University of Santo Tomas. Grace is married to the Rev. Jae Hyoung “Jay” Choi. They have two sons, Soo Hoon and Ji Hoon.
This article was first published in Korean on United Methodist News Service Korean site on June 27, 2023, as “My journey as a missionary embraced by God’s grace.”
Global Ministries missionaries are a tangible connection between The United Methodist Church and mission. Through denominational or ecumenical ministries, missionaries bear witness to God’s presence all around the world. They are called by God and sent out to serve by the church, usually placed in a new cultural context beyond their country of origin. Missionaries engage in ministry that is defined by mutuality and partnership, seeking to expand the mission of God already present and active in people and places.
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