Certain that God had called him in 2006 from his native South Korea to St. Paul School of Theology, a United Methodist Church seminary in Kansas City, Mo., the Rev. Hyun-Jin Cho found getting established in America was far from easy.
For one thing, there was the language barrier. Cho was learning English, and steadily getting better at it, but he was far from proficient in it.
Then there was providing for his wife, who was expecting the couple’s first child at the time. Some financial support came from family members back in Korea, but coupled with his meager wages working part-time jobs in the seminary, it was barely enough to scrape by.
In an interview earlier this week, the 37-year-old Cho said Kansas City banks wouldn’t allow him to open up an account because of his status as a newly arrived immigrant. As a result, he said, he was forced to carry his money in a backpack wherever he went.
Which takes us to an evening when Cho was visiting with another pastor at a coffee house in the Kansas City area. It would be a pivotal moment for Cho, though he hardly knew it at the time.
“The coffee shop closed at 9 p.m.,” said Cho, currently the pastor of Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church, 4525 N.W. Button Road. “But about 8:40 p.m., they told us we had to leave. They kind of rushed us out the door.”
Cho said after he got home that night, he realized he’d left his backpack — with all his money — in the coffee shop.
Hoping and praying it would be there, Cho visited the coffee shop the next morning.
No, the employee said. No one found a back pack from the night before. Cho spoke to the manager and got the same response.
He said he could hardly believe what he was hearing. “We were the last two people in the coffee shop,” he said. “I know I left it there.”
Alone in a big American city with his wife, Cho wasn’t sure what to do. Help came quickly, however, when the pastor Cho had met for coffee told a small group Bible study about Cho’s loss. The Bible study members pitched in some money to help Cho.
“It wasn’t nearly as much as I lost,” Cho said. “But it made me feel a little better. They said, ‘An American took your money. We wanted Americans — especially Christian Americans — to get it back to you.’”
The following Sunday, the Bible study leader told her entire congregation about what had happened during worship. A spontaneous offering was taken up, and this time, Cho said, nearly every penny he’d lost was given to him.
“I hadn’t told anybody how much money I lost,” Cho said. “I got almost exactly what I’d lost.”
The whole ordeal reaffirmed to Cho that despite adversities he faced, God was with him in his new country.
“I had been worrying about finances,” Cho said. “Now, I knew it is not money, but God who was going to take care of my family and me.”
Cho, the son of a Methodist pastor in Korea, originally had planned to return to his native country after finishing seminary in 2010. But he said God made it clear to him that he was to stay in the United States.
His first appointment following his graduation was at Lecompton United Methodist Church, where he served as pastor from January 2011 to July 2014.
In August 2014, Cho was assigned to the Pleasant Hill church, located just north of Topeka.
In the nearly two years Cho has served Pleasant Hill, he said, the congregation has continued to grow, with many young families now attending and the youth group doubling in size.
Most members of the congregation call him “Pastor Jin,” with youngsters calling him “P.J.” — for “Pastor Jin.”
Cho said he, his wife and their three young children have found the Pleasant Hill church to be accepting and loving.
More importantly, he said, he and his family “want to be a blessing” to people in Topeka, both in the Pleasant Hill church and in the larger community.
Phil Anderson can be reached at (785) 295-1195 or email@example.com.
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