Pastor Eugene Cho encourages followers of Christ to take action on social issues – and not just talk about them – in a discussion based on his book, Overrated: Are We More in Love With the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing It? (Part 2 of 2)
Pastor Eugene Cho: The truth is, as Christians we all love justice. We all love compassion. We all love generosity, but maybe if we're being bluntly honest with ourselves as we introspect, maybe we love justice until there is a personal cost to us and that's the lesson that I learned. That's the confession.
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John Fuller: An honest admission from our guest, Pastor Eugene Cho. On today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly, you'll hear more from him. I'm John Fuller and last time, Eugene shared his personal story with us. He's back with more insights today.
Jim Daly: John, what I loved is the refreshing honesty and that's something I see in younger Christian leadership, this willingness to be transparent, to say, hey, this is what I was experiencing and Eugene brought that to the discussion last time. If you missed it, download it. Go to the website. Get the CD, because I think you'll just simply learn a lot about how to approach life—
Jim: --which is so important, especially in difficult times.
Jim: Eugene, welcome back to "Focus on the Family."
Eugene: Thank you. It's good to be back again.
Jim: You've written this book. I love the subtitle, 'cause it's very challenging. It's Overrated and has a picture of what looks almost like a superman chest on and your subtitle being, Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?
Last time we left off, you were describing being an immigrant, coming from what is now North Korea, your father and your mother and your brothers and came to the United States, escaping Communism. You talked about weeping and it was very moving to hear your story in that regard.
You set out becoming a pastor of a church plant. You ended up broke with medical bills. A friend offered you a job at Barnes & Nobles. It happened to be a janitorial job, cleaning the bathrooms. That had to be a humbling experience and you articulated that so well.
But the Lord did open a door for you. You did eventually get back to planting that church. And then you took a missions trip Burma. Talk about that part of your life journey and how God began to unfold the plan for you and for your family.
Eugene: You know, around that time I would say two things happened. One is this trip to Burma, otherwise known as Myanmar and then I started learning more also about my faith story. I learned more about how the Gospel flourished in Korea as my parents shared about how they grew up in the faith. You know, when the early missionaries went to Korea, they came not only bringing the Scriptures, not only bringing the Word of God, but it was amazing to hear how the early missionaries, they were the ones who also built the first orphanages, the first schools. They were the ones who built the first hospitals. They were out on the streets with Koreans, protesting against injustices.
And I was deeply moved by this sense of the whole Gospel, that what it means to be a follower of Jesus isn't just to recite memory verses and to preach good sermons. But when it's all said and done, good theology or the Bible isn't just meant to be done in ivory towers or behind the pulpits. It really begins to engage the culture, as well.
Jim: It should be nitty-gritty.
Eugene: Absolutely, absolutely. It's incarnational. Jesus, the Gospel means more to us because Jesus comes to us in the flesh. He walks the streets. He engages the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the sinners, the lepers. And that's why the Gospel is so magnanimous and so captivating. For us as followers of Christ, I would say we need to recapture that.
So, you know, when I went on this trip to Burma, I'll be honest with you, it was really more of a vision trip. It was an information gathering trip, because as a writer and preacher, I wanted to gather more information for some of the projects that I was working on.
Now back then the United Nations deemed Burma as one of the most dangerous countries in the world, where genocide was on par with what was going on in Darfur at that time. So, we're talking really dark difficult things, particularly genocide aimed at Christians, stuff that you don't hear much about in the media.
And so, we trekked in to Burma from Thailand and I visited a village with no name. And these villages oftentimes had no names because they were constantly moving around from place to place, fleeing away from a brutal military government.
And I went to visit a makeshift school. So, for listeners, I would need them to use their imagination. It's unlike any schools that we're accustomed to here perhaps in our own context. About 15 chair and tables, really overused. We're talking about tables and chairs that probably villagers made from wood in the jungles. And there is a[n] overused, scarred, greenish chalkboard in front of the classroom. It's a classroom for first to fifth graders. I walked into this classroom and there's a poster taped onto the chalkboard and I'll just be very blunt. It's probably one of the most hideous, most disgusting things I have ever seen with my own eyes.
And what it was, was a collage of photos of women and men and children with missing body parts and blood oozing out of them. And this is taped in front of the classroom for first to fifth graders. Now I'm not a teacher or an educator, but in my mind, I'm thinking this is absolutely inappropriate for children.
Eugene: Traumatic, absolutely, my host sensing I was disturbed, actually invites me in his broken English to draw closer to the image. So, he said, "Reverend Cho, Reverend Cho, closer, closer. Come closer." And so, with trepidation and reticence I come closer. He gets down on his knees and he points to this greenish row of contraptions on this large collage of poster. And he says to me, "Reverend Cho, these are land mines. We must teach children how [to] avoid land mines." And that just blew my mind. I was so shocked that, that was their way of trying to remind these children what happens.
Jim: The devastation--
Eugene: The devastation--
Jim: --that occurs.
Eugene: --of land mines. And it was that day that I met some of the few who survived the traumatic episodes of stepping on the land mines. That night I met with one of the elders of the village and I asked him, probably not one of my better questions. I asked, "What are some of the challenges in your village?" And he, knowing that I had visited a school, said to me, "Teachers' salaries hard," again in his broken English. And so, being really inquisitive, I asked him, "Well, how much are their salaries?" And he said to me, "Forty dollars U.S." So, my response was, "Per day?" And he chuckled. I mean, he just really flat out just loudly laughed at me and I realized I had made a faux pas of a question or statement.
And I said, "I'm sorry; did you mean $40 a week?" And he laughed again at me. And at this point, my mind is literally being blown and I said, "I'm sorry, did you mean $40 a month?" And his face turned stoic and I wondered if he was getting irritated with me and he stunningly shook his head and said, "No." And I was afraid to ask the next, I guess level, but I just did.
I said, "I'm sorry; I'm having a hard time. Maybe there's something missing in translation here. Are you telling me that their salaries for teachers are $40 U.S. per year?" And he finally nodded his head.
And I share that story not to heap guilt on any of our listeners. That's not the point of the story. I think it's simply to communicate that in our modern world today, we cannot forget that there is still great disparity and injustices in the world.
Eugene: And for us as Christians, we can't save or change the entire world, but we cannot drown ourselves in a pool of complacency. We have to care, because our faith in Christ invites us to this, demands us to this, because these people also matter to God, as well.
John: Well, you're hearing God's heart come out in stories from Eugene Cho on today's "Focus on the Family" and we have the CD of this two-part conversation. You can download it, get the mobile app so you can listen on the go and find out more about his book, Overrated when you visit www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Eugene, let me ask you about coming out of that Burmese experience and seeing poverty at that level, you came back to Seattle with a conviction, it seems like, but correct me if I'm wrong. But you seemed to have something in your heart, the Lord gnawing on about giving one day's wagers to help poverty. Talk about that and (Chuckling) the insanity of how you delivered that message to your own family.
Eugene: Right, right. Well, (Laughing) you know, when I came back from that trip, I shared it with my wife and then our children and to be honest with you, I think our conviction initially was not very deep. And I mean, it really was very superficial. I'm gonna be very honest.
Jim: Probably thankful that you weren't in that position.
Eugene: Yes, thankful.
Jim: That's what I would say.
Eugene: I mean I was thankful. It was great to be able to realize, wow, God has been very gracious to us, but to be honest with you, I came back thinking, I want to do something. And oftentimes, I think that's our Christian response. We have to do something. So, for me, my something was, I think I may preach a sermon or I may write a blog post or I might put something on my Facebook about my experiences.
And I'm not minimizing those things, but we did commit, my wife and I, just to spend some time in prayer about how we should respond. And I guess I should warn your listeners that maybe we should be careful when we pray, when we say, "God, show us Your heart. Break our hearts for the things that break Your heart."
Jim: That's a big prayer.
Eugene: Give our hearts joy for the things that give Your heart joy. We should put a little asterisk and say, "Warning, warning." And so, we spent some time in prayer, my wife and I did and both of us, separately came with the same conviction and it was very difficult and I need your listeners to give me a little grace here. We both were convicted to give up a year's wages of our salary.
Now we received our share of criticism from people. Why are you sharing about this? And we really wrestled with this about should we make it public or not? But we decided to share this publicly because as God gave us a vision for this organization called One Day's Wages, we really feel it's important that we're not asking people to do something that we're not willing to do on our own.
Now for my wife, God bless Minhee, she was ready to go to give up a year's wages. For me, it took me about three years to come to peace with that.
Jim: It wasn't one day's wages for you; you were gonna give up a full year's wages.
Eugene: Yeah, so, no for our family, no, my wife at that time was a student and so, we have our one income from me as a pastor and full disclosure, you know, my salary as a pastor then was $68,000 a year. And I'm not sure if pastors should say this, but I'm just gonna say it. I like my money and I feel like I worked hard to earn that paycheck. It's the means by which I try to provide for our family.
And so, coming to terms and to peace of giving that up for the purposes of honoring God was really, really hard. And during that time, it meant for our family, simplifying our life. It meant saving as much as we could. It meant selling off stuff that we did not need.
When I turned 37, this is embarrassing, but I had bought myself a mid-life crisis car. I bought a 1991 blue Mazda Miata, that I called "Blue Thunder." (Laughter) Had to sell that off. Our children made a decision together to say, piano lessons and soccer camps were gonna be on hold for a season of our lives. So, it was a family decision.
But after three years, we were still short about $10,000 of coming up with $68,000 a year. And this is where it leads to that funny, crazy story, where in the middle of the night, I knew that we were not going to come up with the entire $68,000 by a certain time that we had identified as the launch of One Day's Wages.
And it was after midnight and [it] was either a convergence of either faith or just stupidity. I'll just say it. And I decided to put an ad on Craig's List. And the ad on Craig's List basically said, "Home for sublet in Seattle. Beautiful home, $10,000," something to that extent. And in my mind, I said to myself, who would pay $10,000 to rent our home for a couple months? And I put that ad up, went to bed and lo and behold, the next morning someone e-mails me and says, "I'm a businessman from the U.K. I just arrived in Seattle. I'm interested in your home. Can I look at your home?" Now mind you, I did not tell my wife.
Jim: I know, that's a big (Laughter), we gotta put an emphasis on that. You had not talked to your wife about that. Now come on, Eugene. (Laughing) What happened? Did you just have a mind, you know, moment where you just forgot?
Eugene: You could say that. (Laughter)
Jim: That's the best way to say it, huh?
Eugene: Yes, you could say that.
Jim: Were you afraid to tell Minhee about it?
Eugene: No, I think it came down to this. I said, "Who would pay $10,000—
Jim: You thought it was too ridiculous.
Eugene: --it was too ridiculous. It wasn't worthy of bringing to my wife, if you will.
Jim: Okay, so what happened? You had to tell her. What happened?
Eugene: Well, before I told her, I did show the home (Laughter).
Jim: Did she say, "Why is this stranger from the U.K. in our house?
Eugene: You know, I showed the home when she was not there. (Laughter)
Jim: Oh, man.
John: Convenient, very nice.
Eugene: You know, this episode could easily go to What Not to Do As a Husband 101.
Jim: Now your wife is studying to be a marriage therapist--
Eugene: She was.
Jim: --at this point. This may have been your saving grace.
Eugene: No, my wife was a therapist in Korea and then she was doing school all over again in the United States, because she wanted to practice this conviction of being a marriage therapist here. So, she was in school during that time and I showed the home and again, in my mind I know it's wrong, but in my mind, I said to myself, "I'll show the home because who would pay $10,000 a month to sublet the home for just two months basically?"
And this businessman from the U.K. comes to see the home and he says to me in his British accent, which I'm not gonna mimic, he says, "Eugene, I love your home. I need it for 10 weeks. I'm willing to pay $10,000" and this was on a Wednesday. But he then says, "But we need to move in on Friday."
John: Oh, my.
Jim: Yeah. (Laughter) And you still haven't told your wife yet at this point.
Eugene: And so, I then said to him, I said, "I'm sorry, did you mean this Friday as in like two days from now?" And he says, "Yes, I'm really sorry, but that's the situation. There are some other housing options and so, let me know if you're interested."
That's the day when I met with my wife that night and said, "Honey, guess what?" (Laughter) "I have a scenario or a situation to share with you." And you know, to be honest again, it was a very difficult, rough, tough conversation. And two things I'd love to share.
You know, it wasn't hard to convince my wife, because this wasn't my vision. It wasn't just her vision. It was our vision together of wanting to be obedient to God. Was it a hard conversation? It was hard. Was there some screaming involved? Yes, there was. Was there some crying involved? Yes, there was. It was really hard.
And that's what I mean by the subtitle of the book, Are We More in Love With the Idea of Changing World Than Actually Changing the World? meaning I think the truth is, as Christians we all love justice. We all love compassion. We all love generosity, but maybe if we're being bluntly honest with ourselves as we introspect, maybe we love justice until there is a personal cost to us and that's the lesson that I learned. That's the confession, because had we known how difficult that journey would have been to plant a church or to start One Day's Wages, we wouldn't have done it.
Jim: It would've looked too daunting, too overwhelming.
Eugene: Absolutely and in some ways, this is God's grace, that God will not reveal every step of the future to us.
Eugene: There are listeners right now who are probably asking, "God, show me the future. Show me exactly what's going to happen." And God will not reveal every single step of the way and that's not indicative of God not caring. For me, that's God's grace, because if we knew, we wouldn't have the maturity to be able to walk that path, if you will.
Eugene: The hardest part of this whole episode wasn't even speaking to my wife. It was Minhee and I that night after we spoke, calling our three children into our bedroom.
Jim: And how old were they at the time?
Eugene: They were at that time ages 9, 7 and 5.
Jim: And you said, "In two days, we gotta move out and we don't know where we're going."
Eugene: You know, that was the hardest conversation I think I've ever had as a father. You know, it was basically telling them, I was trying to spin it. You know, I said, "Hey kids, guess what? We're going on a field trip for about 10 weeks. Everyone packs one bag. Take a couple books, one of your favorite toys. Pack your clothing and we're not quite sure where we're going to be, but we'll likely be visiting some folks at our church." And that's what ended up happening. We ended up couch surfing.
Jim: "Couch surfing." (Laughter)
Eugene: Couch surfing—
John: Great phrase.
Eugene: --was what we did.
Eugene: And it was tough. That night I remember after Minhee and the kids are in bed sleeping, I was in my office crying, 'cause this was not what I had bargained for. This was not part of the plan. You know, going back to the whole plan, our plan, our best-laid plans, this was not what I had signed up for.
Jim: Yeah, Eugene, let me ask you this question. What in that circumstance, what is God wanting from us? I mean, it seems self-evident of faithfulness, follow Me regardless. But when you're in it, you can be so distracted with comfort, with materialism.
We started the program last time saying, comfort's not evil. If you're in a comfortable house or a comfortable couch, that's not inherently evil. It's how much do you make that an idol. What does God want from us in that moment though? You laid it on the line in a powerful way and you're crying in your office. You gotta be saying, "Okay, God, why this way? Why this path?"
Eugene: You know, that's a great question and for me, I think the singular most important thing that we as Christians need to keep talking about again and again and again is, what is faithfulness? What does it mean to be faithful to our Lord and Savior?
Because oftentimes, I think and Jim, at our last, you know, conversation yesterday, you talked a little bit about how we can make an idolatry of numerous things. And one of them is how we as Christians define success.
Eugene: And I think for us, God never calls us to be successful. He never calls us to be glamorous. He never calls us to be popular. Now could those things happen? They could, but we can't make that the end goal for us as followers of Christ. So, what is it that God calls us to? It's to be faithful. And so, that was the hard lesson that I keep learning again and again and again. And it's not a one-time lesson. It's a lesson that we keep learning again and again.
You know, when I wrote this book with our publisher, I actually wanted to make the subtitle longer and they said, "No, you can't. It's way too long already," but I actually wanted to call it Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World and Actually Being Open to Being Changed Ourselves.
Eugene: And you know, does God want us to change the world? Yes, but we have to be really, really honest here. Oftentimes we're asking God, "Lord, move these mountains," but we forget the possibility that we ourselves might be the mountain that God wants to move. God loves us so much that yes, He does want to shape. He wants to inform, conform, transform us more into the likeness of Christ. And at times, it may not be an easy journey.
Jim: Yeah, well, I so appreciate those words, Eugene. You have really brought some deep thoughts for all of us to consider.
Jim: And you know, John, so often as I fly to D.C. and New York or meet with those who support us, there can be that occasional question about the younger generation and where's this country headed and are we gonna be okay as a tribe of believers in this country?
I would say, just look at someone like Eugene Cho and if you have doubts, man, he is really, and I think his colleagues, Gabe Lyons and many others, are really bringing a tenacity to the faith that is needed and an integration of the faith that is desperately needed, not just speaking truth, but living it and doing it and getting messy and being okay with that and asking God to continue to work in their own lives as Christian leaders.
I think he is preparing that next generation for some incredible growth and harvest in this country. And I hope you'll pray for them. Pray for Eugene. Pray for those other younger pastors, who are on the front line, trying to deal with some very difficult issues and Eugene, let me just say, thank you for your transparency. Thank you for encouraging us to be the change agents for the Lord.
Eugene: Well, it's a great joy and honor to be here and one of the lessons that I keep learning again, sometimes I think we can all go through our Elijah complex, where we think, "Are we on our own? Are we the only ones?"
And I loved hearing that from you, Jim, because it's a reminder to us, we're not alone. There are women and men, young and younger all around the country, all around the world who are seeking to be faithful, who are seeking to live out their faith in the Gospel of Christ. So, be encouraged.
John: Well, you can find out more about Eugene and his book, Overrated and the ministry he began out of that experience on that missions trip, One Day's Wages. We've got details about those and the CD or download of this program and our mobile app, as well, so you can listen again on the go at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And we're here to come alongside you and strengthen you in your faith and in your family experiences. And we recently heard from a woman named Kathy, who shared this with us. She said, "I've listened to 'Focus on the Family' since I was a college student and I know the wisdom that was shared day after day helped me prepare to be a better wife and mother. Now at 53, I'm still gaining insight and wisdom and God has blessed me and my family through you. Thanks for all you do." And that's a wonderful affirmation of the work we do here and we're so grateful to hear from Kathy.
You know, we're here for you every step of the way and if you believe in the work of Focus on the Family, join our team. Become a financial supporter of this ministry today. Your generous gift of any amount, 25 or 50 or $100, it makes a big difference in our ability to reach out through radio programs like this one and offer hope and encouragement. And we'd like to send a copy of Overrated, the book by Eugene to you as our way of saying thanks for joining our support team. Make that donation today when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to this program, which was provided by Focus on the Family. Next time you'll hear one man's powerful story of forgiving his dad after what was frankly, a terrible childhood.
Gil Mertz: The greatest gift that I can give my grandchildren is that they will never, ever feel the scars of their grandfather. That curse was lifted the day I forgave my dad.
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John: You'll hear that story and be encouraged next time, as we once again, help your family thrive.
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Eugene ChoView Bio
Eugene Cho is the founder and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle. He is also the founder of One Day's Wages, a grassroots movement dedicated to alleviating global poverty. Eugene recently released his first book, Overrated: Are We More in Love With the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing It? He and his wife, Minhee, have three children.