My father passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 2013. As I reflect, I can’t help but recall all the encouragement and warmth I received from the faculty, staff, and students at Talbot. The following is the eulogy I gave at his funeral. Since then, some who were there have encouraged me to share this eulogy in a more accessible forum. While I’ve been hesitant to share these intimate thoughts in the wider public, as I think about the support I received at Talbot I can’t help but want to repay that which cannot truly be recompensed. Nonetheless, I now share my dad’s story in the hopes that it will provide you, at least in some small measure, encouragement and inspiration. He was, and still is, the inspiration of my life.
My father was born 78 years ago in a small countryside village in Korea. We don’t know exactly what the story is or what happened, but since he was little he had a very bad limp — a disabled leg. We’d later find out that the whole ball socket of his hip was missing and that every time he took a step, his thighbone would stab his pelvis. It was painful both physically and emotionally, as you can imagine all the names he was called in mid-century Korea.
His father passed away when he was 16. He didn’t want to become a father so young, but he ended up having to raise his three younger brothers and care for his mother. From the countryside, he decided to take a risk. He sold his family’s possessions and took his mother and brothers to the major city of Busan. He put his brothers through school, and only after did pursue his own education. By the time he got married at 35, he had planted a church and helped start a seminary.
And then he felt the call to come to America.
My parents came with my brother and sister to America in 1972. I would be born a year later. Ours is the typical immigration story. My parents came with $640 in their pocket. They spent $450 on a car — a big white Lincoln Continental. They spent the next $90 on rent. They purchased some housewares, including a rice maker, of course. They bought one big bag of rice and Kikkoman soy sauce. That rice and soy sauce were all they ate for the next two weeks. With the final $5 they had left, they put $3 of gas in the car and put the last $2 in the offering basket at church.
My dad started looking for jobs, and finally got one as a dishwasher in a hospital. He would bring home the leftover food from patients’ plates for our family to eat. After working just one week, he was fired. He was fired because he would not work on Sunday, holding firm to his beliefs as a Presbyterian pastor. He worked as a security guard, walking up and down stairwells with his painful leg. And again he was fired because he would not work on Sunday.
He was finally able to get a job as a carpenter at a movie studio, building sets for classic movies that many of you would be familiar with. All his days in the countryside helped give him the foundation and skills he would need. Because he worked so hard just like he did his whole life — never taking coffee breaks, but working diligently — he soon became the manager making a very decent salary. Because of the physical nature of the job, and of course his leg, my mom says he crawled home in pain every night.
And then he decided it was enough, and that he needed to quit in order to continue the specific mission that God had called him to in America, full-time.
From there, my dad went on to plant a church, earn a Ph.D., translate for Billy Graham at a crusade, become the chancellor of two seminaries, write a theology textbook that is sill used in seminaries today, and the list goes on and on and on.
Ironically, for some reason we tend to reflect on a person’s life more after they die. As I spent the last week doing that, I realized that there were things that were always there but that I didn’t really pick up on. Things I should’ve have learned from him earlier on. I share with you a few of them now.
My Dad did not boast about himself. I realized he never talked big or try to throw in comments that would make him look good. I can’t remember my dad ever talking about himself. He never felt the need to tell people about his accomplishments. And I remember him telling me that we should let the quality of our work speak for itself.
My Dad never pitied himself. He had so many reasons to feel sorry for himself: his bad leg, his dad passing when he was 16, financial difficulties, and so on. But I never once heard him complain about it. Even during these last two decades when he struggled with his own body after his strokes, when he was bed-ridden and could not move the last four years, I never once saw him feel sorry for himself or ever hear him complain.
My Dad remained silent when he was attacked and never sought revenge. He never felt the need to defend himself. There are many stories of when people came and accused him of something he did not do, but instead of fighting back he just endured and forgave. My dad was not vengeful. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t hurt — of course he was. But he didn’t take action to retaliate back.
My Dad never quit. He didn’t allow circumstances to prevent him from doing what he knew to be God’s will. There were plenty of good reasons why he could call it quits, like his disability or financial hardship. But he didn’t. He kept pressing on. A lifelong friend and co-worker of my father’s told me this week, “Daniel, your father never quit. No matter how hard or how bad, he never gave up.” And then he proceeded to give me countless examples.
- My Dad was compassionate. It’s not a secret that my dad was pretty firm. One is not normally able to do all that my dad without being firm, disciplined, and passionate. And yes, he had a temper. I just found out last year from my mom that he had road-rage. I guess I really am my father’s son. But what people didn’t know (again, because he didn’t talk about himself) were the countless times my father helped people compassionately. Only later in life when numerous successful people came to me and said, “if it wasn’t for your father, I wouldn’t be here,” that I realized how generous my father really was to others. My dad spent much of his time helping people build a life here. He found them housing, which usually meant they stayed at our house for months at a time. He found them jobs. He helped them enroll in school. He gave people money — something of which we had very little. I remember once he literally gave the very jacket off his back and gave it to someone in need. And these same people have come back to me years later to tell me how much he did for them and how much he cared for them.
We often wonder why God would allow such struggle in life. I think my dad would be the first to tell you that he went through all the hardship that he endured so that He could have the character traits I just mentioned. It’s because he endured pain with every step that he learned not to pity himself. It’s because he had already heard the ridicule of others when he limped that he could withstand the persecution he received when he was in ministry. It’s because he lost his father early on that he learned not to quit. It’s because he went hungry when he immigrated here that he was able to help others find their place in America. He offered his life to the Lord. His hurt, his pain, his joy, his triumph — he gave it all to the Lord as a sacrifice.
Before I end, I must say, “thank you” to my mom for taking such good care of dad. You took care of him everyday. For the last 20 years after his first stroke, you stayed by his side every single day, helping him walk, get clothed, feeding him, and praying for him. Thank you for your devotion to him and what you’ve taught me by doing so. Thank you mom. I love you.
I love you dad. I miss you so much. But I bid you not farewell. Instead, I say that I will see you soon in heaven where we will reunite once again as father and son, and we will both stand before our Heavenly God and Father.