Joe Jeung experienced a series of dramatic personal events that convinced him that he needed to surrender to his call. And that he needed to attend seminary—Wesley, in particular.
“Part of me has always known I was called to ministry. I was born into it, so to speak, as my maternal grandfather was an evangelical minister and both of my parents are ordained pastors.”
His mother and father are pastors with the United Methodist and the Presbyterian churches, respectively. When Jeung was eight years old, they moved from Korea to the United States to attend seminary in Illinois.
“Both sets of my grandparents were the first converts to Christianity in their families,” he says. “My family background and personal disposition made me the ideal candidate to pursue a career in ministry.”
But he says, “It was as if I could see what God wanted me to do, and I said ‘no.’ I was not willing to surrender to this calling.”
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from Emory University. Then he earned graduate degrees in international cooperation and law from universities in Korea and the U.S. Still he had no passion for the areas he studied.
“For most of my young adulthood, I struggled with a general apathy concerning a vocational focus,” he says. “Even attending law school and attaining a professional license were rooted in a lack of imagination on my part rather than any personal conviction.”
For 14 years during that time, he avoided church. Then he met the woman who became his fiancée. She urged him to attend church again. He did.
“That’s when I rediscovered a calling to ministry,” he says. “I was practicing law in Illinois. I had recently moved back to the United States to start a firm with a close friend from law school. We were in the process of launching the practice. I talked with him about my call, and he encouraged me to follow it.”
Jeung started to look for a seminary but wanted one that was somewhat close to his Illinois home. “I applied to five different seminaries all across the country and was accepted at all of them,” he says. “Based on the financial assistance offered, my decision was narrowed down to Wesley.”
Praying for guidance, his intuition was confirmed when he visited campus. “During my stay, I had an experience that led me to believe that God was calling me to Wesley. Ultimately, my decision to come to Wesley was a leap of faith.”
Jeung was granted the Korean Intergenerational Award. “Without this award, I would not be a student at Wesley,” he says.
“The scholarship has given me the financial flexibility to fully immerse myself in the seminary experience. I can devote my time outside of the classroom to building a more inclusive community within the student body at Wesley.”
Building community has become one of his overriding passions. He looks for opportunities to connect with those who don’t belong to any particular social circle.
“I have enjoyed interacting with the diverse student body at Wesley both in and outside the classroom. My favorite part of the day is lunch or dinner at the refectory. It gives me the opportunity to reach out and get to know people I am unfamiliar with.
He also offers table fellowship in the New Residence Hall where he lives. He and his roommate, another Korean student, cook late-night meals to share with other residents. “Something divine happens when we share food and eat together,” says Jeung. In addition, on campus he is active with Plumbline and Wesley Ambassadors.
Outside of the campus community, he attends and serves as a pastoral intern at The Table Church, a fitting venue for someone who embodies hospitality. Affiliated with InspireDC, it is a nondenominational worship setting in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of D.C. Jeung also tutors students there on Saturdays.
He will soon enter the candidacy process for ordination with the Northern Illinois Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. When he graduates in 2018, he will serve a Korean-American church for three years. This is part of his scholarship agreement, but it doesn’t concern him that he that he doesn’t know where it will be.
“It has been a continuous process of surrendering to God’s will,” he says. “With each step, the path seems more clearly defined.
He does sense a direction in his calling. “As I proceed on my spiritual journey, I feel led towards young adult ministry,” he says. “There was actually a specific moment over the summer when someone mentioned that I should look into doing young adult ministry. And it was sort of a light bulb moment for me.”
The moment came when Jeung was walking the Camino de Santiago between France and Spain with his father last summer. He was talking with one of the pilgrims while they were walking on the way. The conversation reconfirmed his surrender to his calling. He says, “I am called to put one foot in front of the other in order to land on solid ground.”