As I am retiring this summer, this must be the last time for me to contribute to the magazine. And, I’d like to take this as an opportunity of sharing my journey so far since I’ve been in this country.
In March 1996, exactly 26 years ago, I arrived at Heathrow Airport with my wife and two children. We had no one to welcome us, no friends or relatives in this country. However, we were greatly welcomed by a man who was standing with a big banner ‘Welcome, Choi’s family’. He was a taxi driver from Bristol, arranged by the English language centre. That surprising welcome was the beginning of our new life in this foreign land.
“What brought you to this country?” has been the most frequently asked question to me. My answer was and still is ‘God called me”. This answer might be too pious to some, too trite to others, or a little curious to others. But, to me, it is a genuine answer. Apart from that, I cannot find any other reason to have come over to England.
In September 1995, I attended an event, called ‘the Early Morning Prayer Week’. Before the event, I was asked to submit prayer requests, one of which was ‘Help me, Lord, to escape from my work and go abroad to study’. I thought it was nonsense, although it did reveal my heart’s desire. Then, when the service began, I was completely struck down by the message to Abraham in Genesis 12, which was the theme of the event: “Leave your country and your people, and go to the land I will show you”.
Six months later, I left my country, giving up my job and the thirteen years I’d spent as a fashion director, leaving behind my friends and relatives who were worried about this seemingly reckless decision.
My only desire was to study Theology, without recognising it was part of the call. Wesley College, Bristol, generously accepted me to study, despite no background in theological education.
We hugely enjoyed our new life in a foreign land as if we were on holiday, even though I had to struggle everyday with ‘English’, not only the language, but also the people. But, this joyous time lasted only for eighteen months. It ended when the Korean economy collapsed during the Asian financial crisis in 1997. It was a hard time as head of the family.
However, it was then that I came to realise God’s call, and why he had called me to this country. It was Christmas time, but I was feeling depressed, with no light for the future. Then, I was so amazed and deeply moved by the huge amount of cards and presents from the people in the local church. My entire family were absolutely bombarded by their priceless love and care. This unexpected love woke me up to realise why God had called me to this land, that is, sharing His love with the people here in this country.
Having heard what I was feeling, my local minister encouraged me to start local preacher’s training and begin candidating for ministry later on. Candidating was not an easy process. It was very challenging to me for various reasons, one of which was my visa condition as an overseas student. At every stage of the process, I was stopped, and rejected several times. However, by the grace of God and the huge support from my church and the circuit, I got through the final interview which allowed me to enter preordination training. It took five years to complete the candidating process and training.
Then, I was stationed to the Skelmersdale circuit in the Liverpool District. Here, I was given the unreserved yet tough discipline for my formation in ministry. Now, I truly appreciate all the efforts DPC made with extended meetings and extra sessions, for me to stand on my own two feet as a British Methodist Presbyter. I am so grateful for their patience and tolerance as they had to wait until they could see the growth in my ministry. This process of formation in ministry actually continued when I moved to the Sherborne and Yeovil circuit in the Southampton District, which was good in a sense that I could be guided in a rural ministry I had never experienced.
Then, I moved to the London District – the Kingston circuit and the Croydon circuit. This helped open my eyes to the multicultural societies and issues around ethnic minorities.
Overall, eighteen years of my ministry seem to be mostly occupied with my formation and learning. And I often felt that I was a caretaker minister. But on the other hand, I think ‘take care’ is what the ministry is all about. It has been a privilege to take care of the people around me, rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning with those who mourn; to help them grow through preaching; to put the bread and wine into their open hands.
It has been an honour to serve the Lord as the British Methodist Presbyter, and I am so grateful for all of the enormous support for the most unlikely ministry candidate. And I praise God that he has led me to endure all the ups and downs, challenges and sleepless nights. Thank you, Lord.
Rev. SC Choi.