I wrote the following on September 12, 2010 for my church’s newsletter.
Coming Back Home
Pulling one large roller luggage, I came to the United States on January 18th, 2001 with so much anticipation and eagerness as I start a whole new chapter in my life. I graduated from college a year and a half earlier, and was into my third semester at a graduate school when an opportunity knocked at the door to come to the United States and serve as a missioner under a trial program of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church called the Bishop W. T. Handy Young Adult Missioners Program. There were 17 young adults in our group coming from Liberia, Ghana, Sweden, the Philippines, and the United States.
My father was known as a good preacher, a fiery one who likes to confront the truth and challenge the comfort zones. He was the district evangelist for many years and has planted many churches throughout his ministry years, in which I and the youth group I belonged to were actively involved – from conducting house-to-house evangelisms, medical/dental missions, public screening of evangelical films, and leading the praise band during public proclamations.
I banked on these rich experiences and a strong faith in God that at the age 22 I accepted the offer to be a missionary to the United States. At first I thought how ironic it was that the West, known as a sender of missionaries to the Far East including the Philippines, is now a recipient of mission work. I then realized that it is our opportunity to give back to the country, which introduced us to Christianity in early 18th century. God’s gift of mission work, after all, is for everyone.
After a month’s training and cultural immersion in Tuskegee, AL – home of the Tuskegee Airmen – followed by a commissioning, I was assigned at Wesley-Rankin Community Center in Dallas, Texas. My primary responsibility was to minister with its youth population through programs such as an after-school, mentoring and youth fellowship.
I arrived at the time when the youth group just lost one of its members due to drugs and violence. Everyone was mourning. All the youth were both angered by the incident and confused about the reality of life. The youth and I became passionate about advocating against violence and in eradicating hate, intolerance and apathy. I was actively involved in both the North Texas and the Rio Grande Conferences bringing healing and hope to the community of West Dallas, which was known for its predominantly Hispanic families with high rates of crime, teen pregnancies and truancy. During those years, this community has started to see young people filling out FAFSA forms and going to college. Those who have earned education have come back to give back to the community.
While at Wesley-Rankin I was hired as youth director at Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Garland, TX to lead its weekend youth program. This young congregation has just moved into its new sanctuary and has been putting a lot of ministry emphasis in its youth program. The church is located in a thriving suburb of Dallas of mostly upper middle-class and well-educated Anglo families and the congregants wanted its youth to explore ways to live out their faith and reach out to others. The grace of God has led us build a relationship with the Wesley-Rankin youth – separated by distinct culture and yet united in Christian love.
While in Dallas I met my wife, the former Annaliza Obedoza who regularly attends our church. We married in February 2003 and moved to San Diego, CA in July 2003 to her first duty station at the Naval Medical Center San Diego as an active duty corpsman. I was hired as the first ever fulltime Director of Youth Ministries at San Carlos United Methodist Church where I had to build a ministry from only 7 junior high and 3 senior high students. At the end of my 3-year service the program I created and developed has served more than 200 students, trained 30 adult volunteers, and saw an average weekly youth attendance of 75. These students have gone on 3 mission trips (in Texas, Washington state and Minnesota) – the first ever for this church and the youth group – and have supported various causes such as the World Vision, METRO Urban Ministry and Invisible Children. 2 of the students I have closely ministered are now both youth pastors themselves.
In 2006, my wife received her new orders to be stationed in Yokosuka, Japan. I, too, left youth ministry and had a chance to try another career in banking and finance as the Assistant Manager of the Yokosuka Branch of Navy Federal Credit Union where I had to work as the Acting Manager for several months in the midst of a high turnover of staff and management – working diligently to create an efficient and responsive workplace while bringing hope and the love of Jesus by living a life of grace. I also took the opportunity to earn my Master’s degree while overseas.
My wife, two kids, Jason (6) and Jasmine (4), and myself are all excited to be back in San Diego and be a part, once again, of the many ministries of National City FUMC. This has been my wife’s home for many years and my kids and I are also blessed to call this our home. We have been enjoying the warm fellowship of believers and the opportunities to get nourished spiritually through Pastor Kim’s sermons and the VBS/Sunday School.
I have since discovered the daunting task this congregation has in leading the church’s youth in an exciting and life-changing journey. These young people are ready, willing and able to grow in their faith through activities that infuse fun and challenge faith, through the Youth Worship that provides a safe place to connect with the Creator, through relationships that seek to be with the students in their daily walk with God, through initiatives that aim to be a partner to the parents and the families in Christian nurture, through efforts that equip the entire congregation to do all these, and through our lives that show the light to the lost and the needy.
I believe that no matter where we are and regardless of our intentions in life, God is calling all of us to be His hands and feet in our service to His people and to be witnesses of His greatest love to humankind. And with a growing faith in God, we are enjoined to continue to be God’s people – celebrating our diversity of gifts and graces.
Glory be to God.