AN INTERVIEW WITH PASTOR JONG PARK
What were you like as a child?
I was very energetic child, almost restless? Physical. I loved
sports - baseball, anything. I remember playing sports with the
neighborhood kids and then later on, playing a lot of little league
stuff. That was probably the strongest memory I have of my childhood.
What are some highlights from your high school years?
In high school, I wanted to try things. I partied a lot - going out
and hanging out with friends. I definitely had fun. High school was a
confusing time - I wanted to find myself. I definitely went through
identity issues, racially, culturally, etc. I was trying to find my
social niche, you know? Which group do I belong to and all that. Also,
my high school years were when I felt the generation gap between my
parents the most. I constantly wanted to go out and try new things. I’m
sure that wasn’t that easy on my parents.
Pastor Jung Lee and I went to same high school, believe it or not.
He claims he saw me walking down the hall with a black trench coat and
an attitude that I’m too cool for school. (Laughs) I don’t remember
owning a black trench coat, but maybe I did have an attitude. I guess I
lived for that image, that status. I didn’t know it then, but now I see
how much fear of people I had, how their opinion of me drove me.
Looking back, what I wanted the most was respect from others.
What are others’ first impressions of you?
It’s interesting - it varies. But I guess most people say that their
first impression is that I am a little intense? I think I tend to be
more task-oriented. My Mexico mission team called me Mr. Serious, but
really, once you get to know me, I’m really nice. (Laughs)
Who is your role model?
I think there are many people who were “arrows” in my life pointing
me towards Christ. When I was a non-Christian, there were many caring
friends who modeled for me that a young person could be radical for
Christ. There were many biographies I read that fueled the fire in my
heart to follow Christ.
My guess is that the other pastors said this too, but Pastor Min
(and Ms. Kim). I guess that’s why I’m here. During college, Pastor Min
was more of a spiritual father to me. Now, he’s more of a spiritual
older brother. He is light years ahead of me in terms of life and
ministry, but he treats me like a colleague in the kingdom (as I’ve
come on staff). I try to learn as much as I can. Here’s the thing. I
have “watched” them since 1991 when I was a sophomore in undergrad. For
them to still have an impact on me after all these years speaks volumes
about their lives.
Also, I would say my parents. Through them, I learned the value of
small faithfulness. I’ll always remember my mom and dad leaving for
work and coming home from work every day, supporting the kids no matter
what, and sacrificing their desires so we could go to sports camp or
whatever. It seems so ordinary, but it’s a great picture to give to
your kids, you know? Also, they became Christians after the age of 50 -
both of them. So old physically, but so pure like little babies
spiritually. I learned a lot from that too.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
My friends and I were stopped for indecent exposure during my high
school years. I know, that sounds terrible but let me explain. We were
playing basketball outside at a park, and it was late and hot. A
typical, humid Chicago summer. We were playing “horse” and if you lost,
you had to take off one article of clothing. I don’t know why we did
that! No, we were not drunk! But that night, my shot was on! I had the
3 other guys down to their boxers, and I was cracking up - I could not
be beaten! We were laughing and shooting baskets when we saw police
lights. We weren’t doing anything wrong, but one of my friends freaked
out. He turned toward me with eyes wide open and said, “RUN!” So
naturally, we all ran and jumped into these bushes to the side. We sat
there until we heard the policeman, “Alright, guys, come out.” Can you
imagine what the policeman was thinking? We explained we were just
playing basketball, and it was really hot. He gave us a dry look, and
said, “Get out of here.” I’m sure he wanted to crack up.
What is your biggest regret?
My biggest regret is not being wiser in my relationships when I
started to get really “blessed”. In my zeal to grow as much as
possible, I think some of my friends felt like they had been “dropped.”
I would’ve been more conscious and prayerful to share with them what
God was doing and to try to include them in my journey. I think they
were kind of turned off by my enthusiasm that seemed to lack a certain
sensitivity. I should’ve heard them out and met them where they were. I
think they would have appreciated that.
How did you become a Christian?
Growing up, I saw the church as a cultural/social thing. I always
believed in the existence of God, but never knew the person of Christ.
Anyway, I met these friends in high school. One day I asked them what
they’re going to do on a Friday night, figuring they’re going to a
party. When they said they’re going to church, it threw me. Not just
that they seemed to be wasting a Friday night, but they had such
confidence and certainty when they spoke. They made no apologies for
going to Bible Study. When they invited me later on, I went out of
curiosity. What I saw there it really moved me - how deeply they were
committed to this - high school kids raising their hands during
worship, studying the Bible, and praying like they meant it. I still
didn’t understand the gospel, but I kept attending for about six months.
When spring rolled around, they invited me to a retreat. I had heard
scary things about retreats - people crying and praying out loud! So
obviously I was reluctant to go. But after some persuasion from my
friends, I went. I was a junior in high school. At the retreat, while
singing a praise song, “I will serve you because I love you, you have
given life to me. I was nothing until you found me you have given life
to me. Heartaches, broken people, ruined lives are why you died on
Calvary. Your touch is what I long for, you have given life to me,”
everything clicked. I had a flash of all the things I did in my life,
and for the first time, I saw that I was a sinner. I saw that I had
been living for myself; I saw my selfishness and my pride. I had a
vivid vision of Jesus on the cross saying to me, “I died for you.” I’ll
never that moment when I experienced the internal calling of the Holy
Spirit and I responded by the grace of God.
What is the craziest thing you’ve done for God?
Witnessing with my friends, regularly every Sunday after service at
Grant Park in downtown Chicago. We would break up into pairs and just
talk to people about Christ. It was neat. People for most part were
pretty open. Once, we were witnessing to a man spending the night at
the park. He had just gotten out of jail and was going to sleep in the
park until the greyhound left in the morning. It turned out that he had
accepted Christ through Chuck Colson’s prison ministry, but had fallen
away quite a bit. An older college brother in our group invited him to
his apartment for the night. We all went there - bunch of youth group
kids and this man who just got out of jail! Unwise, but we were so
excited. (Laughs) We bought sandwiches from a convenient store and
stayed up talking, encouraging, and praying for one another. The next
morning we drove him to the Greyhound bus station. A few weeks later,
he called us to thank us and let us know he landed a job. He said he
had called his mom in Mexico and told her he now has eight new brothers
in Christ, and they were Asian.
Another time, I was watching “Entertainment Tonight” and they were
talking about a movie called “The Last Temptation of Christ.” It was a
pretty controversial film with a lot of unbiblical things. My friends
and I were outraged, so we drove out to the art theaters showing the
film. We would talk to the people standing in line, asking them, “Do
you know what you’re about to see?” One of my friends got really worked
up and jumped up on a car and started preaching away. People were
chuckling and heckling. But in our gung-ho and zealous spirit, we felt
like YEAH! We stood up for what we believed in. I don’t know if it was
the wisest thing to do, but we were definitely passionate.
How did you receive your calling?
It was the CFC revival meeting of fall 1990. I was a sophomore in
college. Up to that point, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I
definitely was not thinking about full time ministry, that’s for sure.
After the first night’s message, when the speaker said, “Let’s pray,” I
felt the presence of God - something was stirring me. I was bawling my
eyes out, while repeating: “I want to serve you.” Later that night, I
went home, thinking, what just happened? I remember writing in my
notebook, ‘Is God calling me to full time ministry?’ Next night, the
speaker wanted to pray for people who felt called to full time
ministry. I went up to the front, but I was still not 100% certain.
From that point on until my senior year, I prayed about it,
considered it, and received external confirmation from my spiritual
leaders, validating what I felt internally. I just couldn’t let it go.
God had pointed his finger at me and I couldn’t resist.
What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome so far?
Self-doubt. I had and still do have tremendous uncertainty about my
character and capability. ‘Can someone sinful like me be a pastor?’ I
took a lot of prayer walks during my undergrad years, not because I was
this great prayer warrior, but because I really didn’t know if I could
really serve him. My constant thought was “Are you sure Lord?” In the
process of praying and evaluating, I think I came to realize that its’
not about me. It’s not that God needed me because I have something
great to offer. No, he simply loved me and called me. I cannot do
anything apart from the grace of God. By the grace of God, I am called
and it’s a privilege to serve him.
What’s it like, being a pastor?
Well, there’s a great sense of privilege and joy. You get to be
involved in people’s transformation! To see people’s lives change
through the power of the Spirit… there’s nothing quite like it. But the
sense of responsibility as a pastor is pretty intense. The Bible is
clear about this. It would be so easy if all that being a pastor meant
was reading good books and preparing a inspirational speech for Sunday.
But it’s more than that - to actually be an overseer of people’s souls
- it’s a responsibility that doesn’t leave after you preached your
message. You have to really pastor people.
How do you think CFC has changed since you’ve been here?
I’ll tell you what CFC has not changed in - prayer and word. The
medium (the way we do praise nights, “How to Survive at U of I”, etc.)
has changed, but not the message. Everything is still the means to
getting the Word into the hearts of the people and calling them to
repentance and life change. We are definitely more multi-ethnic and I
think we are getting better at inviting people.
What is your future vision?
Campus ministry. For now it is through CFC, to help out in my little
way. CFC is huge in its scope and outreach and impact (all glory to
God) so I really am thankful for being able to help out here and there.
It’s an honor to be a part of CFC for as long as He allows me. Until he
gives me a new order, this is where I’m supposed to be for now.
Any special passages you’d like to share?
Psalm 84. One commentator refers to this psalm as the “Janitor’s
psalm”. A doorkeeper of the Lord who’s been displaced is reminiscing
and longing about the House of the Lord. This is the killer line:
“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. I would
rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the
tents of the wicked.” (10) It really speaks to me about doing ministry
for the Lord and not for myself. Would I consider it the greatest
privilege to do anything for the Lord? Whatever I can do to benefit His
people and bring Him glory, that’s where my heart should be. I need
passages like this to hold on to because I find myself often filled
with worldly ambitions and desires. But what a privilege it is to be
called a “doorkeeper” in God’s eyes.
Pastor Jong’s Picks
Favorite Food: Korean food, steak. And for a guilty pleasure?
A late night, big, fat, juicy burger with all the trimmings, french
fries, and a tall glass of Coke. How’s that for a heart stopper!
Favorite Book: In general, I like biographies.
Favorite Movie: There are many, but I will mention just a few: Glory, Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, and a slew of sports movies.
Favorite Verse: I don’t think I have a favorite verse, but
Matthew 6:33 is a verse I often refer to when I seem to be losing my
bearing on what life is all about.
Favorite Bible Character: Again, I don’t think I have a
favorite, but I’ve been thinking about Mark a lot these days. He
learned from his failure and proved himself to be useful for the
kingdom (2 Timothy 4:11).