A Journey of Faith through Storm
When it comes to storms, perhaps no one has more experience than Jonah. God called Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh about their imminent destruction. Instead of obeying, he ran away and boarded a ship headed in the exact opposite direction. God sent a storm… and we all know the rest of the story. Jonah ended up in the belly of a big fish. His near-death experience humbled him to cry out for God’s deliverance. Similarly, when we run away from God, we turn away from what we are called to do. God uses storms in our lives to guide us back to the paths He sets for us. These storms could be a fallen world, spiritual opposition, bad decisions, or God’s discipline. God delivers us from times of strife to reveal his mercy and to position us to fulfill His plans for us. Looking back, our church has experienced unprecedented storms in the past three years. The student ministry coworkers have witnessed how God led us on a journey of faith through those storms.
Three years ago, when I was just a quarter and two weeks into my term as the youth Sunday school coordinator, the pandemic hit, and the lockdown was ordered. After the initial chaos, when youth Sunday school resumed in April 2020, attendance plunged from the 60s to the 20s. To make matters worse, we received the news of our student minister’s impending departure in June. I wrote an article entitled “Does Youth Sunday School Attendance Matter?” (Words of Blessing, Dec. 2020) on June 19, 2020, one day after the youth parents’ town hall meeting in response to that departure. Questions about youth event attendance were raised during the meeting. Those questions made me think: How many volunteers were serving in youth Sunday school before the lockdown? The answer is five, and they were required to teach for a full quarter, a total of 13 weeks. How many volunteers were there since online teaching started? The answer is two — the minister and myself. One Scripture passage kept coming to my mind: “…to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). God clearly wanted our attention, and His message was powerful and clear. Like Jonah, a group of the youth’s parents humbled themselves in the storm and repented before God. An article was conceived to present a motion to all the youth parents and the entire church congregation (Words of Blessing, Aug. 2020). We cried out for help and God delivered us. Before the start of Fall 2020, we had three teachers and six assistants join the team. We had never had such a high teacher-student ratio. God uses storms to get us back on track and carry on His plan to build and plant on the foundation of His words.
We were unaware at that time that these sufferings were just the prelude to the larger turmoil that our church experienced in the following months. The tempest included the departure of three elders and the resignation of the senior pastor. Church leaders survived many late-night meetings, heated discussions, and sleepless nights. Despite all that surrounded us, youth Sunday school continued to grow to an average of 30 students plus 11 volunteers throughout 2021. Every Sunday, a group of faithful brothers and sisters and our students focused on the Word of God, no matter what distractions surrounded us. The lyrics of the song “Cornerstone” perfectly represented the situation we were in. God was our anchor in the storms.
In August 2021, in response to the crisis of the resignation of the English minister, the youth ministry took the initiative to call for a 40-day fast and prayer. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land,” declared the Lord (2 Chronicles 7:14). In addition to individual prayer, we also prayed corporately every Wednesday. We studied a six-session series called “The Power of Prayer.” Topics included how to bring God’s power into your impossible situations, three conditions for power in prayer, removing the roadblocks to answered prayer, and how to pray with absolute confidence. Prayer items were added weekly to turn our hearts to the Lord and seek His discernment and guidance. Halfway through, on day 19, the signup sheet was sabotaged and vandalized. It was a clear spiritual attack. It also showed that our prayers were effective and powerful — the enemy was terrified. At the end of the 40 days, we praised the Lord for leading minister Dongjian to return to our church as a full-time minister with his wife, Hong Peng, and we praised God for sending Pastor Sion Kim as a student minister candidate.
Fast forward to January 2022, four months later, when Pastor Sion and I were sworn in to the student ministry. It has been over a year now, but it feels like yesterday. I shared with Pastor Sion my top three priorities for 2022: 1) Hold a baptism. We hadn’t held a baptism for the English congregation in almost a year; 2) Spend more time with the senior class of 2022. These students spent half of their high school years learning online. Their mental and spiritual health were in the desert; 3) Rebuild the youth praise team; Three out of four were seniors. They were like sheep without a shepherd during the pandemic. Time flies. As we count our blessings a year later: 1) We held two baptism ceremonies, and a total of 13 youth and young adults were baptized; 2) We celebrated the class of 2022 with a Senior Trip and a Senior Night. A dozen youth served at VBS and six of them, as college freshmen, returned to serve at the winter retreat; 3) The youth praise team not only returned to lead Friday night fellowship but also served at Sunday service. God is faithful. He not only kept His promise but also provided abundantly, doubling, even tripling what I had asked for.
If my faith was a mustard seed three years ago, God made it sprout and grow as described in this passage: “as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand” (2 Corinthians 10:15b). Over the past three years, average youth Sunday school attendance has increased from 29 (2020) to 41 (2021), then to 55 (2022). There were two growth spurts, one in the summer of 2021 when Sunday school returned in person, and one in the fall of 2022. Both times, God called brothers and sisters to serve. Since last September, our youth/college/young adult Sunday school attendance count has risen into the 60s and even the 70s and 80s recently. The total number of attendees has returned to pre-pandemic level, but the teacher-student ratio has greatly improved. We typically have around 16 volunteers serving every Sunday. As our faith grows, God expands our vision (as the passage continues) “so that we can preach the gospel in the region beyond you” (2 Corinthians 10:16). I never thought our Sunday school program would reach the college and young adult group. When I look into their eyes, their hunger and thirst for God’s words reminds me of what Jesus said: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord to send out workers.” Will you answer the call? I pray that when the trumpet sounds, we will all be clothed in the robes of righteousness and stand faultless before the throne as our master says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”