“A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS”
An Aspect of Dr. Samuel Lee’s Spiritual Heritage
By Ron Ward, October 6, 2017
“…I have made you a father of many nations.” (Gen 17:5b)
Good evening! I count it a privilege indeed to testify how the Lord used Dr. Samuel Lee as a father-like shepherd for many nations. Along with many other Americans, I count Dr. Lee as a spiritual father, together with P. Abraham Kim.
I was born in 1958, in the Baby Boom generation. My parents are of English, Scottish, Irish and German descent. My middle name, “Allen,” is after Ethan Allen, a courageous and spirited leader in the Revolutionary War. My parents are humble, hardworking people who have loved each other faithfully. I have three younger sisters. We lived in the small town of Philomath, Oregon, population: 2,000. We attended a Catholic Church regularly and had a stable, happy home life. I was an honor student, a baseball player, and popular among my classmates. After high school graduation in 1976, I attended Oregon State University. It was a time of many new experiences. My future seemed to be very promising. However, a little more than a year later, I succumbed to the temptation of a young woman. Our relationship lasted two years and had many painful events and tragic consequences. When it was over, I felt that my life had been ruined. I was a slave of many sinful desires, and was tormented by guilt and shame. I totally lost the meaning of life. In my agony, I cried out to God. Shortly afterward, I met P. Abraham Kim.
P. Abraham came to America as a student missionary, and earned a Ph.D. in Ocean Engineering. The demands of his study and the challenges of adjusting to a new country were not easy. Yet he always gave priority to his mission for OSU students. I came to him with a broken spirit and full of despair. He embraced me, took time to listen, understand, and share the word of God. M. Sarah fed us regularly with delicious Korean food, and prayed for us. Sunday worship services were held in their home. At first, this felt strange to me. Yet the Sunday messages and Bible studies spoke to my heart. For example, in Mark 2:17, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” I was very surprised to realize that Jesus came to call sinners. I was a sinner. Jesus came for me. This gave me new hope. I studied the Bible with great eagerness to know Jesus. Later I could confess to him, “You are the Christ.” I felt the joy of forgiveness and new life. I put my hope in Jesus. He called me to be a campus shepherd. Upon graduation from OSU, Pastor Abraham sent me to Chicago to begin an internship with Dr. Samuel Lee. I joined Mark Vucekovich, Mark Yoon, David Baik, Kiyoshi Yoshiba, and Teddy Hembekides. At that time, the prayer topic for N.A. UBF was for 561 full-time American campus shepherds.
In those days, Chicago UBF was like a spiritual boot camp. Dr. Lee was totally devoted and hardworking. We began each day with 6:00 a.m. Daily Bread sharing and prayer. We spent our weekdays on campus, trying to have at least 12 one-to-one Bible studies per week. Every evening we had intense meetings to share reports and Bible reflections, to study English, and to pray. We were ready to serve anytime, anywhere, in any task: cleaning the rest rooms, repairing and remodeling the center, transplanting trees, running errands, and so on. We learned diligence, discipline, and hardworking spirit. It was a time of healing from bad habits. I learned to work hard on weekends, overcoming my cultural pattern of taking it easy. Those who persevered in this training became successful, including Elders David and Richard Choi, and Drs. Henry Park and Paul Koh.
Amidst of hard work, we shared happy and vibrant life together. Our missionaries spoke Konglish. I frequently heard the expression, “Have face in God.” They also exhibited cultural practices that seemed odd. However, the Holy Spirit worked through them and American college students responded to the word of God. Many were coming to know Jesus. During one Sunday worship service, Dr. Lee spoke on Isaiah 2 and we could see the Lord’s vision of people coming from all over the world to worship the Lord in his holy city Jerusalem. We claimed this vision as our own and shouted, “The law will go out from Chicago, the word of the Lord from America!” Though it was a time of moral and spiritual decline in our society, we felt like a spiritual power center and believed that God would change America through us. Our meals were often simple, like boiled ramyun. Yet we ate all together and were full of joy. Everyone shared what they had freely. M. Grace A. Lee often surprised us with delicious meals: boolgogi, rice, kimchee, mandu, bibimbop, yoo gae jang and so on. Dr. Lee’s motto was, “Eat a lot and work hard.” During that time, Dr. Lee became a spiritual father for me. It is not possible to share all the blessings I received through him. That would require writing a book. But I can summarize some of them.
First, Dr. Lee helped me to have gospel faith. When I first met Dr. Lee, my face looked dark and I did not have the strength to speak up and express myself to others. I did not look very promising. Nevertheless, the first time he met me, Dr. Lee prayed for me to be a shepherd for 200 million American people. That prayer pierced my heart and frankly, it shocked me. It expressed his genuine hope in God. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Lee guided me to write a life testimony. It was over 50 pages. Yet he listened carefully until he understood me. He realized that I needed the gospel most. He organized a gospel workshop. He presented gospel key verses and explained what sin is, and how it brings forth destructive consequences and ultimately eternal condemnation. He presented Christ crucified as the Lamb of God who died for the sins of the world. He proclaimed Christ’s resurrection which broke the power of death, and gives living hope in the kingdom of God. And he showed that this comes through faith. This workshop made me very joyful, but the gospel did not sink deeply into my heart right away. Nevertheless, Dr. Lee persistently shared the gospel with me in various ways. Then, during Easter season, as I was memorizing gospel key verses, Romans 6:23 came into my heart: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” This convinced me of God’s love and forgiving grace, and his gift of eternal life in his kingdom. I was set free to love and serve God. I am forever grateful to my Lord Jesus for his gift of salvation by his great grace, and for Dr. Lee’s patient and persistent effort to plant the gospel in my heart.
Second, Dr. Lee labored and prayed to raise me as a Bible messenger. After witnessing God’s work in my heart, Dr. Lee guided me to grow as a Bible messenger. He even gave me the prayer topic to succeed Dr. Billy Graham’s ministry. This was not something I had ever considered. I was a country boy from Oregon. I didn’t really know who Billy Graham was. But Dr. Lee’s enthusiasm and hope were contagious and appealed to my desire to do something great. Dr. Lee gave me many opportunities to deliver messages at worship services and Bible conferences. He prayed for me a lot and spent many hours teaching me the meaning of Bible passages, how to apply them to my life, and how to share them with others. Over time, I discovered Dr. Lee’s awesome respect for the Bible as the word of God. He always approached Bible study with humble prayer, asking for the Spirit’s help. After working hard to write a message, he would go back to the Bible to see if he had really understood its teaching. He revised his manuscript again and again and sometimes even threw away his manuscript and wrote a new message. He was very careful to honor the word of God more than his own ideas. Most of all, he wanted to know the heart and mind of God through Bible study. He was ready to obey the word of God as he understood it. No matter what problems he faced, he was not overwhelmed by them. He gave his heart to listen to God’s word and found everything he needed in the word of God. It was his source of life, love, peace, joy and power.
Dr. Lee’s love for the word of God influenced me greatly. I learned to study the Bible to know God, love God and obey God. I found the secret of life and power that comes from the word of God. Some of the best memories I have are sitting with Dr. Lee in his office, reading Bible passages repeatedly, listening to the voice of God through the Scriptures. I also learned to depend on the word of God in helping others. In the beginning of my shepherd life I pursued students and tried to help them solve practical problems. I drove all over the city of Chicago to visit and try to help people. But they did not commit themselves and I was getting worn out. Then Dr. Lee asked me, “How can you catch a bird flying through the sky?” I had no idea and just looked at him blankly. So, a few days later, he asked me again, and I looked at him with a puzzled expression. Finally, he told me, “Provide food for them, and they will come to you.” Then a light went on in my mind. I realized that instead of chasing people, I should study the word of God until the Lord gave me something to share with others. It was a paradigm shift in my ministry. After that, I spent much less time driving around and much more time preparing Bible study. Amazingly, Bible students began to come to me from here and there and to commit themselves to the gospel. After that, a number of disciples were raised in my ministry.
As I look back on my life now, I see that the master passion of my life in Christ has been to grow as a servant of God’s word. It has been my great privilege to live as a Bible messenger. At this moment, I also give thanks for the great labor of Mother Barry and Dr. Mark Yang. I am reminded of one of Dr. Lee’s often repeated Bible verses. Do you know what it is? It is 1 Peter 1:24-25, which says: “For, ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’”
Third, Dr. Lee helped me to marry a beautiful, godly woman. Dr. Lee and Mother Barry, Pastor Abraham and Sarah Kim, M. Isaac and Rebecca Choi, and many other people prayed for me to establish a godly family. Then, all of a sudden, God answered. One Friday in 1985, Dr. Lee prayerfully suggested Miss Dervilla McNulty, from Ohio State, whom I had only met once casually. A strange peace came over my heart. Though it seemed a little crazy, I called her that day and proposed over the phone. After a short pause, she said, “Yes.” She flew to Chicago and the next day, October 12, 1985, we were married. The most striking thing about her is not her obvious beauty, intelligence, honesty, or even her mystery. It is her faith. She simply trusted Jesus as her Savior and was ready to follow him wherever he led. Next week we will celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. God has blessed us with six children, two girls: Sara and Rebekah, and four boys: David, John, Daniel and Joshua. They are all gifted, intelligent and successful, though they need prayer. Dervilla could have been a medical doctor or a psychologist. But she humbly took jobs as administrative assistant in Devon Bank and at Loyola to support our family for over 20 years. Without her sacrifice I could not have become a servant of God. I am deeply grateful to her, and to Dr. Lee for introducing her to me.
Fourth, Dr. Lee taught me to love one person with the mind of Christ. As I served in ministry with Dr. Lee, I observed again and again how deeply he cared for people one by one. He did this to practice the heart of Christ. To Christ, every person is so precious that he died for them. This truth guided Dr. Lee to care for each person with deep understanding and great sacrifice. For example, there was a young man who was very intelligent and talented. He entered a good university. But he could not study well because he wasted time in petty pleasures. He developed bad habits and seemed unlikely to graduate. Dr. Lee began to help this person, and asked me to work together with him. Dr. Lee planted vision that this young man could be a great Christian singer. He helped him to improve his lifestyle and learn how to study hard. It was very time consuming. Progress was slow. It took many hours, a lot of sweat and sacrifice. At last the young man shaped up and became very promising and handsome. Then he became proud, was enticed by anti-Christian forces and became an enemy of UBF. As a result, both Dr. Lee and I were misunderstood and slandered. In spite of this, Dr. Lee never lost a compassionate heart for the young man. He prayed for him, committed him to the Lord and continued to care for people one by one. After Dr. Lee went to be with the Lord, this man returned to UBF ministry as his expression of repentance toward God. He received Jesus’ grace of forgiveness, healing of his wounds, and new life. He married a godly woman and even went to another nation as a missionary. It is the fruit of Dr. Lee’s Christ-like love for one person.
There are so many more things that I learned from Dr. Lee: his courageous faith, his incarnational missionary spirit, his wisdom of administration, his life of daily prayer and dependence on God, his strict self-denial, and so much more. This was possible because Dr. Lee loved me, served me, and prayed for me the wisdom of God. He was indeed a spiritual father to me in Christ. This has been the grace of God in my life, and I want to extend that grace to others. I pray that the Lord may use me as a spiritual father for those who need his love.