• 4. My Youth / "Are You Saved?" / The Fight with Sin


    My Youth


    I was born in the countryside of Kyungbuk Sunsan in 1944, during a period when our country was under Japanese rule. Our family was very poor, consisting of three sons and two daughters; five children in all. I was the second son of three, with two older sisters.


    My mother had attended church since her youth. Although she was unable to attend church after her marriage, I went to church under her influence. Most of the days of my youth were spent diligently going to church. War broke out on June 25th, 1950, and my mother passed away soon after. Much difficulty followed my mother's death. My older brother enlisted in the army, and my father fell ill and was admitted to the hospital. My sisters, my younger brother and I were cast into hardships, having lost our father, mother, and brother all at once. The four of us had to fend for ourselves.


    However, through all this, we attended church, and through it gained the strength to battle our situation and live happily. There were many ministers who had served as pastors at our church, but among all of them, the one that left a lasting impression was Pastor Duk-jin Choi. He had two sons and a daughter. His second son and I became close friends. I often went over to their house, ate and spent much time with their family. I noticed a big contrast between the pastor's family and ours. His household always seemed to be well organized, filled with harmony, piety, and love. Although I lived a difficult life, I was happy whenever I visited their house. The pastor and his wife took me in as a son of their own, and their eldest also treated me as his younger brother. My older sister also attended the same church. The life we both led in the church became a great joy for us.


    When I now look back, I remember how well the pastor and his family treated me. They lavished warmth and love I never dreamed of receiving. Although they provided me with all this that deeply touched my heart, I realized that they couldn't provide me with the spiritual things my soul was in need of. Even after becoming a pastor myself, when I think back to that pastor from my past, I become determined, saying to myself, 'Even though I may not treat people well in the flesh, I want to be a servant of God who can provide their souls with spiritual food and strength to revive,' and with this heart I prayed before the Lord.


    "Are You Saved?"


    It was when I was in Junior High, a missionary from the Netherlands had come to our church. His Korean name was 'Gee-soo Gil,' and he came to work at our church. Not only did he preach at the church, but also taught English at my school. Therefore, we naturally became friends.


    Due to his inability to speak Korean well, the missionary preached through a translator. As I heard his sermons, I found that his words were so different from those I was so used to hearing from other pastors. They were the same biblical words that were preached; however, they weren’t spoken by knowledge, but touched my heart. This all happened when I was young, so I don't accurately remember all that happened, but what I do remember is how the pastors and deacons of the church used to pray as if putting on a grandiose act at church. But as the missionary began to lead the church in prayers, he prayed calmly and quietly, in a doting manner as if he was speaking to his own father. This led the church members and me to believe that, 'there is something different about this missionary.' We were able to see this in how his life that was very simple and plain. He lived each moment depending upon God. Every now and then, as we went places together, he joked around with us and in many respects was an admirable missionary.


    One day, a few of my friends and I visited the missionary at his house and found him folding fliers in the living room. I also stayed and helped him fold the fliers that were used to witness. As I folded the flyers, I asked him, "What are you going to use these fliers for?"


    He responded saying, "Since tomorrow is a market day, I'm going to use these to go witness in the market place."


    "Can I go with you when you go to the market?" I asked. But as soon as I requested this, the missionary gravely turned to me and asked, "Are you saved?"


    It was the first time I had been asked such a question at that age in my life, and so I hesitated to answer. "How can you tell others to receive salvation when you haven't received it yourself?” he asked. That question still remains fixed in my heart. I had been so embarrassed that day; my face had turned bright red. Thinking back, I realized that I was the missionary's first opportunity he had to express his distressed heart when seeing the people in our church pray and witness diligently, while their souls were without salvation. When I think of it now, I feel as if I can understand how he must have felt.


    Of course we thought that all who attended church were saved. To attend church seemed to us to signify the belief in Christ and thus by accepting Jesus, we thought we received salvation. But the reality was that, although I was but a child, sin was in me and I didn't have a clue as to what to do about it. All I could do was to repent of my sins each day. I spent each day within uncertainty, not being able to believe that my sins were cleansed, nor able to say that they were. Because I had this sort of conflict within me, I was shocked when faced with the missionary's question.


    As the days went by, God continuously brought to memory that conversation we shared, in my heart. Missionary Gee-soo Gil had never planned on coming to Korea, but intended to go to Nepal. But through God's special grace, he ended up coming to Korea, and even after his arrival he was sent to our church, and as a result was able to propose such a shocking question to me. He didn't say another word after that. But as I grew up and fell deeper into sin, each word in that single question continued to make its place in my heart. That question enabled me to be free of the vague belief that, "Because I attend church and believe in Jesus, through that faith I have been saved."


    All of those around me thought that, "Because I attend church and believe in Christ, I am saved." However, after having been asked the question by missionary Gee-soo Gil and looking at myself, I definitely knew that I wasn't saved, and I did not have the assurance that I was going to heaven once I died. God woke me up to the realization that if I were to depart from the world that evening, I would be a person who would be    shamed by my sins, rather than to be able to assertively tell Jesus, "Receive my soul!" Wanting to guide us, God leads each soul one by one. This may be the same case for anyone. Thinking back, I was able to see how God had led even me as he leads others. You don't know the extent of the gratitude it brings.


    The Fight with Sin


    In following years, God has given me many hardships. There were difficult situations which I prefer not to think about. My life had no order, and I had become a person with no hope. It was only natural that I could not overcome the temptations of sin, as I grew up without faith in God. I would sin, and the sin would torture me, causing me to pray each morning and repent, as well as causing the repetitive life of going to church on Sundays. Many times I made resolutions to stop sinning, but my heart lacked faith in God and so His strength couldn't reach to its extent. Even though I couldn't overcome sin with my endeavors and efforts that weren't of Christ due to the barrier it formed between God and me, I continued to try to overcome the temptations of sin. Unable to realize all this, I spent many a day trying and determining myself not to sin, shedding tears, repenting, praying, and keeping vigils. I remember doing many other things as well. However, as long as the grace of Jesus didn't have a hold on me, the efforts and pains taken were useless and produced no result.


    Even as I grew, I attended church well and practically lived there, but still fell deeper into sin. Eventually, without even knowing, I couldn't help but become a two-faced, hypocrite. Within church I wanted to be seen as a fine person and strong believer in Christ, while, when outside of church, I led a life filled with drinking, fighting, and stealing, just like all my other worldly friends. I couldn't break away from that pattern of life. Looking back, after having received salvation and Jesus entered my heart, even though I didn't try to conquer those iniquities, the evil and wicked life just left me through Jesus Christ. Back then, because I didn't know God's grace and how to ask for help, and that there was sin which stood in between God and I me, I took much effort and pains to erase my sins on my own and as a result became lost in sin. This eventually served as my downfall into being a problem child.



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