Student Volunteer Movement 2.0


Photo by The Traveling Team
I have always been inspired and fascinated with the Student Volunteer Movement. The foundation was laid in the summer of 1886 at a conference where were 251 people gathered from 89 different universities. It was the first international and interdenominational conference for students of that magnitude. After receiving the challenge of committing to foreign missions, one hundred people pledged themselves to participate in God’s mission. Then two years later, the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions was started with some of the original 100 people who pledged to participate in foreign missions.

Since that time, we have seen many other smaller student movements throughout history. As we examine church history, it seems as if God uses young people to further his plan of salvation to the ends of this earth. This is why at HMCC we are committed to planting churches on or near college campuses. We are longing for and praying that God will bring about another Student Volunteer Movement (SVM) in our generation.

In order for this movement to build momentum, we have to raise up more college students who are willing to lay down their lives for the Gospel. Year after year, I see a lot of college students who come in as a freshmen, not knowing what they want to do with their lives. Then after four years, many of them still have no clue what they want to do with their lives.

This is why we want to be catalytic and challenge students to give up one year of their lives and be a part of a church plant. Some people think that giving up one year of college is too big of a sacrifice to make, but in reality it is not really a sacrifice. When we put one year in the context of eternity, it is really a small dot in the timeline of life.

I challenge people with this perspective – “Do you want to graduate college in four years and not really know what you want to do with your life or are you open to graduating in five years but with a clear direction of what God wants you to do?”

When students are able to get a greater perspective on life, a bigger burden for God’s Kingdom, and a clearer vision for their lives, is it really a sacrifice? Isn’t it more of our privilege?

This is why I am so proud of one of our college students who has heard the call and then answered it. He sacrificed his comforts and familiarities of life, his ability to graduate on time with his classmates, and his own dreams and goals to come out to Indonesia to help start our first international church.

In the last few weeks, we have been in discussion about the future. It was so encouraging to hear that now he is looking at life with a whole new perspective. Not only is he heading in a new direction with his major but he is also going to live in the dorm to be more missional, while a lot of his friends have opted for living comfortably in an apartment.

If we had 100 more of these kinds of college students, we will transform the world. As I prepare to go back to Ann Arbor, this will be my passion and focus. I want to be a part of what God is doing amongst the college students. The more I pray about it, the more I am getting exciting to what God will do in the years to come.

Here is the college student’s testimony. He mentioned that he just wrote it out one day and I told him that I would love to share it with the global internet world. Here it is in his words:

“I guess my story starts two generations before me with my grandparents on both sides. Both sides of the family were devout Christians who instilled in both my mother and father the importance of Christ in their lives. Therefore, as my dad left Germany with my mom, his philosophy masters’ studies incomplete, to come to America to start a new life, they decided upon sending me, their first son, to a Christian school. Even with both of them working 12 hour days at the dry cleaners, it was a stretch for them. Then, with the coming of my little brother, their continued dedication to our Christian education my family, and our two dying stores, my family became financially crippled with debt.

This in turn, led them to search for better opportunities, which led us outside of Philadelphia to northern Virginia. There, the daughter of my grandma’s best friend and her husband were looking for people to help them in their dry cleaning venture. With more than 10 years of dry cleaning experience, my parents looked like the ideal candidates. Long story short, after a year of employment, my parents were fired due to a disagreement with the owners them (I’ll leave out the messy details). As they were searching for jobs, my uncle asked my parents to move to Ohio to help him out. He was the new pastor of a small Korean church there and was having difficulty leading the church and was asking my parents to help him out, not only with their 10 + years of ministry experience (they served in the church in Philadelphia and also in Virginia) but also as a friend. He also connected us with someone who was willing to employ them.

So we left to Ohio, leaving behind the posh DC suburb, full of rich, neglected kids swimming in an environment of drugs and alcohol. We moved to the suburbs of Toledo away from the temptations of northern VA, where I enrolled in a well to do high school and made friends with all the smartest kids in my class, helping me to perform well academically. Through moving to Ohio and going to this school, I found out about the University of Michigan, which was only an hour away and had a great engineering program. My senior year I applied to UMich due to its proximity and academic excellence. After waiting less than two months, I received the letter of acceptance.

The only problem was the price tag. A little over $40 k/yr, it was at a little under what my parents made in an entire year combined. Even after financial aid and government loans, the price was at a lofty $18k, something that my family couldn’t afford. With debt still looming over us from my childhood, loans would be hard to find and would only exacerbate the financial difficulties that my family was facing, but I told my dad I wanted to go to Michigan over OSU (the significantly cheaper alternative). He agreed and supported my decision, even though neither of us knew how we were going to pay for it. Due to my family’s inexperience with American colleges and my procrastination, I had missed the deadline for general scholarship consideration, but after I officially accepted, my dad pushed me to ask different departments if there was anything I could still apply for so I did.

Then one day during debate practice, I received a call from someone who I thought was masquerading as a representative of UMich. She told me that I had been chosen to receive a $20k/yr scholarship for 4 years, thereby totaling $80k. I couldn’t believe it and in fact, I repeatedly asked if she was joking and if I could somehow get some verification. I went home dazed, and told my parents what happened in an almost cynical manner, still doubting the caller. Then a few days later, I received an email confirmation and an updated cost of attendance letter that outlined the new scholarship. I remember the night that I showed my parents the confirmation. I went downstairs and my dad, with tears in his eyes, told me how thankful he was to God and how proud he was of me.

Going into Michigan, I had three prayer requests: friends, food, and church. I had always had trouble meeting and opening up to people initially, I had eaten Korean food three times a day every day of my life, and it would be the first time not going to church with my parents. As I told my parents and they told everyone else, my cousin Eunice recommended a church called Harvest to me. I told my parents I would check it out and didn’t think much of it.

In late August, my parents dropped me off at South Quad and said their goodbyes. Minutes after they left, I realized that in a campus of 40,000 people, I knew no one. My orientation friends weren’t scheduled to move in until the next day, and I was left by myself, hopelessly alone. So as I rushed upstairs to set up my computer to chat with my friends back home, I saw a flyer in the elevator that advertised free pizza and video games. So less than an hour later, I mustered up the courage and walked into the South Quad lobby room to meet some people. Much later, I realized that I had walked in, unknowingly, into an HMCC Dorm Storm and had met some HMCC members.

In the following days of Welcome week, my orientation friends and I hopped from event to event to get free food. We ended up going to a free bubble tea give away in the Chemistry. There my roommate, a freshman who room swapped in from Baits, convinced us to go talk to some girls, one of whom he knew. As we were talking to these fellow freshmen girls, they told us that they were going to go to something called New Encounter, a Friday night worship service. We, being guys, followed them.

New Encounter really was a whole new experience for me. My whole life I had gone to three traditional Korean churches, one in PA, one in VA, and one in OH. All of them had less than or around a hundred people. Not only was the worship and sermon in English, but singing songs I didn’t know led by a band that had electric guitars and drums (is this allowed?!) and being with so many people my age was all just really new to me. That was my first encounter with HMCC. Later on, I found out that my cousin was talking about this church and that I had known about it from the get go.

As the semester progressed and as I was church hopping and agonizing over which church to choose, there was an ACCESS at which, through the best kind of bluntness, it hit me that I was a sinner, most unworthy of the grace of God. As I sat there, taking a rest from bawling, I remember this feeling from God that was like, “Why are you still agonizing over your decision? This is where I want you to be. You knew it from day one.” And that’s when I decided that as long as I was in Michigan, HMCC would be my church.

That first year, I attended my first ever LIFE group. Every week, I looked forward to it, even though for a while, I was the only freshman. As our LIFE group started to grow, other freshmen joined me. That year I just jumped into HMCC, looking forward to ACCESS and Sunday Celebration everyday, especially as all of my friends went there. Later on, they announced the Austin church plant and we found out that one of my leaders would be going and started praying for her as a LIFE group.

My second year, the lesson I took away from LIFE group was “live for something greater than yourself”. There was this one LIFE group where this principle was pounded into our heads. We went to Detroit and Dearborn a couple times as a LIFE group not only to have fun, but also to see the need, experience the different culture, and gain a heart for the people.

That second year was a tough one as I went through my first real breakup. It had started the second semester of my freshman year and by the time sophomore year started, I was convinced that it wasn’t healthy, that it didn’t honor God, and that it was holding me back from growing. God led me to a place where I had to make a call. It was God or the girl. Painfully but patiently, He gave me the opportunity to open my hand and surrender the relationship to Him. The process of breaking up was nasty, arduous, and drawn out. Through all of it, the relationship and the breakup, God continued to show me how messed up I was, how much I had to work on, and how following Him meant letting go of other things.

It was that semester that they announced the Jakarta church plant. Being clueless as usual, I was completely taken off guard and had no idea that it was coming. When it was presented and they told us that they were looking for college students, it started getting me thinking. It challenged me, making me think how “surrendered” I was. Was I willing to sacrifice a year and delay my studies to build up the kingdom of God? At one point, I asked myself what would be the most radical thing I could do for God’s kingdom and the answer was to apply for the Jakarta team. Along with that P. Seth won me over with talks about how it could help students find their calling/purpose more clearly and give them a better direction. I was a sophomore, the most opportune time (if such time exists) to take a year off with the possibility of changing directions on return. A couple other influences, such as Crossing, a movie about North Korean refugees, in which the protagonist cries out something along the lines of “Is God a God of only the rich?! Where is this God in North Korea?!” cemented my decision to apply for the Jakarta team.

As I applied for the Jakarta team, my parents seemed okay with it, until I got accepted. At that point, with me going to Indonesia a reality, my parents got cold feet. My dad proposed that I was abandoning my family and role as the firstborn son. As I struggled with such words, God reminded me over and over that He loves my family more than I do and that He is way more than enough, way more than me to watch over them if I left. Not only that, but while I was still trying to win over my parents, a Korean missionary couple to China visited my home church in Toledo. The visit softened my dad’s heart and in the following days he told me that he supported me telling me, “You only have the opportunity to do crazy things like this when you’re young”, how he also wanted to do such radical things in his youth, and how he was now looking forward to doing such things after we all left the house and grew up.

Fast-forward six months to July. After weekly training and saying good byes, we landed in Jakarta, Indonesia. We immediately started our informal Sunday meetings and within the month we started our LIFE groups. Everything just took off from there. The brother’s found jobs, we had our inaugural service, and we started meeting people and reaching out to the college students. God provided us with a place of worship for Sunday’s, brought people our way, and continued to teach us to rely upon Him and Him alone. We were privileged to hold our first Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas dinner, gathering, and celebration, New Year’s Eve service, and our first retreat. He brought us to a place where we’re now going through Experiencing Membership & Experiencing Ministry and challenging people to commit to building up the local church.

Being here, I’ve really been challenged with if I really know what not only HMCC is about, but what my life is about. It’s been ups and downs as different issues and perspectives that I have had surfaced during my time here.

Previously, I had a loose understanding that our church’s mission was to “transform lost peoples into Christ’s disciples to transform the world”, but never concretely grasped it. I knew HMCC valued serving, but never saw the leaders who took the time and energy to invest in people under them to raise up new generations of leaders and Christ followers. I saw and attended our events, but rarely understood the heart and purpose behind them. I think that most times, I saw our church as my haven, where I could just be loved, grow, and enjoy the company of others, rather than seeing the lost people that we as a church are called out to minister and reach out to. I rarely thought of the Church as the body of Christ, the army of Christ, called out to wage spiritual battle and bring back those who are lost and have no knowledge of the one true God. But now I see how true it is when they say that the church exists for those who are not yet in it.

For myself, when I counted the cost of following Christ, I knew there was sacrifice involved, but recently I’ve been more and more challenged to die to myself and slowly am I understanding that the sacrifice is my whole life, my all. Even here, where the situation and context is set for giving it my all, I struggle time and time again and see how selfish and self-centered I am. One thing that’s really challenged me lately is that the church in Acts grew daily. And the question that kills me is, “How can this happen in my context if I’m not even sharing the gospel daily? If I’m not building relationships daily? If I’m not meeting new people regularly?” And recently, I’ve been blown away as I realize and see again how great God is and how worthy he is. I’ve been reading “Let the Nations Be Glad” and I’m floored as I realize that God alone is self-sufficient, but He allows us to partner with Him anyway.

And as I think about living in the dorms, it just clicks that it’s such a fertile ground in so many ways.

I think about how different the people brought together in the dorm are. A lot of them are people who would and will never step into church unless someone reaches out to them. There are students without purpose, without community, and without God. Some of them are searching for something greater, some of them come from far away, and some of them are already wasting their lives on themselves. Simply put, there are people who have yet to know God, acknowledge his glory, and worship him. There are also those who have been churched, but don’t really know God and also those who do know God and are looking for a church.

As I struggled through this decision, I talked with P. Seth about how I didn’t think I could juggle the different balls of studying, ministry, and being available in the dorms. But he reminded me and challenged me not to dichotomize my life and showed me how leading, serving, and investing in the people in the dorms are all integrated. As I’m becoming an upperclassmen and want to invest in and build up some of the younger guys in my LIFE group, how better to show them how to invest and evangelize than inviting them to the dorm to walk with me and do it together? Also, rather than inviting to our outreaches someone who I don’t have a consistent, solid relationship with, who better to expose to our HMCC community then the guys who live around me? The ability to integrate serving in church and ministering to those in my dorm was what pretty much made the decision for me.

Then we talked about how easy and tremendous the pull is to just be comfortable and create our own HMCC enclave in the apartments. But along with what I wrote earlier, he reminded me that’s not what church, especially our church, is about. It’s about being transcultural and being uncomfortable for the sake of the gospel and God’s glory. How better to minister to students, than to have a presence in the dorms, where the students are?

Honestly, I know it won’t be easy. It rarely is. I love hanging out with my friends, especially my class. But I’ve been challenged to see that giving up those times is part of the cost that comes with being focused and single minded. Even with the integration of ministry and dorm living, I realize that I’m going to have to be at the top of my game with studies and time management if I don’t want to drop the ball. And I know that I talk a big talk, but my walk leaves much to be desired. So I’m trying to grow here as much as I can so that I can back up my talk with my actions more and more.

Finally, I realize that I only got to thinking about living in the dorms because I had another “Here I am God, just take me as your tool and use me as you wish” kinda moment. And at first when I thought of living in the dorms, I thought about the overwhelming challenge of ministering to everybody in our hall or floor. But then, through some guidance from the older brothers, I realized that even if I invest in just 2 or 3 guys regularly and with a focus, then that would be a big enough task for me. Honestly, my capacity is not that big. If anything, right now is the closest I’ve ever been to purposefully investing and walking alongside of someone as the older or more mature person. Even if God just uses me as a test case simply to challenge others to live in the dorms in the following years, then I’ll be happy knowing that what I did was used for God’s purpose.”

Thanks for sharing! Even though I am your pastor, I am humbled and you inspire me. It is a privilege standing in the frontlines with you. I got your back.

Spiritual ENTREPRENEUR, Church EQUIPPER, Leadership EDUCATOR, Ideas EXPERIMENTER & Global EXPLORER who is trying to transform lives and transform the world.
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