The following is an insider’s view of Providence church. It is a 3 part series. The first part describes my initial transition into the church through learning the Providence 30 Lessons. The second and third part are more about the troubles that came afterwards.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,”
Persecution, trials and tribulations, miracles and wonders of the last days. To most of us they are words describing a distant nation, another time in history, or a great story we only read about. For me, these words are so familiar that they are almost nostalgic – bringing up memories I can’t forget, connecting me to the people I most love and admire. When my mother began to distrust me, believing me to be too naive to realize the terrible things she imagined about my infamous teacher, I found myself fighting for my faith against the one who had raised me to believe. At the time I was appalled that she would believe the accusations that strangers were making about Jung Myung Seok, the teacher of the Providence 30 Lessons that had so profoundly changed my life. But now looking back I can see why people are so quick to doubt the innocence of religious leaders. One so often hears news of Catholic priests, strange new religions, Christian leaders who fall into the very sins they condemn, and news of divorce among both those of faith and those outside the church. I’m surprised anyone would have absolute faith in anything these days. If God had not brought me to Providence I fear I would have lost all hope for change and fallen to this world’s formidable forces of mediocrity. It was Providence that set my faith on fire, and even despite the many difficulties I have experienced my first love has not died down in these past 8 years and I continue to follow the Lord passionately. I am also inspired by the great faith of the many members I’ve met from all over the world. We are united by the word that God gives through our teacher, and his example gives us strength and courage.
The following is the first of a 3 part series in which I would like to share my experience of coming to Providence. In this first article I will recount how I came to Providence through the 30 lessons.
I grew up in Texas but after attending University of Houston for a year I decided to pursue an art career by attending the Art Institute of California in Santa Monica. There I accepted an invitation to join a friend at a church event where I was introduced to Jerry, a post-graduate student from Taiwan pursuing a PHD in Physical Chemistry. I was immediately impressed with Jerry because not only was he a scientist doing subatomic research experiments, but he also knew the bible as well or better than I did. I had made it a habit to go and read as many of the lesser known stories in the bible over the years, but no matter which story I brought up, Jerry could recall every detail whether it was the twin sons of Joseph, the lesser known stories about Elijah, or stories of minor prophets. I couldn’t believe that a scientist from a non-Christian country could know and believe in Christianity with more bible knowledge than me. In my mind most scientists were either atheists, agnostic, or at best – closet believers. This immediately led me to ask him all the theological questions I had heard debated so un-conclusively over the years. He was clearly more intelligent than me and so I was very eager to hear what he had to say. We agreed to meet at a later time to discuss more over bible study. I looked forward to hearing his answers to many of these tough questions.
Soon after a visit to Taiwan, he called me up and we began what became a weekly bible study. I listened intently to the Providence 30 Lessons that he said were initially taught by a man of faith from Korea referred to as, “선생님” which is a Korean title that translates to “Teacher” or what the Japanese refer to as, “Sensei.” I was intrigued. The Providence 30 Lessons both confirmed many of my personal inspirations about scripture and answered many of the theological questions that I thought would forever remain debated and unresolved. This teacher provided a simple, reasonable way to resolve the differences between science and religion, he proposed a very satisfactory resolution to the debate over predestination, and offered a new understanding and significance to the apocalyptic themes in-bedded throughout the scriptures. The experience really brought my faith to life and I found myself taking action in ways I had only aspired to before.
Excited about this new teaching I confidently decided to become a member of the church and the international organization teaching the Providence 30 Lessons. Even after I had learned only half of the lessons it had already occurred to me that I would like to devote a significant part of my life to teaching these principles. That conviction only become stronger once I completed the series of lessons. I immediately began attending church services to listen to what Sunsangnim – the teacher who founded the bible study was preaching each week. I had never been so excited about the Word of God and I invited everyone I knew to learn this great bible study.
The Providence 30 Lessons and the sermons gave me a very strong positive impression of Sunsangsim. Here was a person born into the abject poverty left after World War II in the midst of Korea’s civil war, in a remote mountain village with very little education. Doomed to a bleak future of farming, and yielding just enough crops to barely sustain themselves each year, he instead decided to spend his life in prayer seeking to find the answers of life from Jesus Christ himself. He devoted his life to these ascetic spiritual pursuits despite the disruption and verbal attacks from his family and village members. Then after 33 years of praying and farming he put everything aside and moved to Seoul, the great city of Korea, to found what would become the fastest growing church movement in the world. Having started the first church in 1978, the organization was now large enough that a white kid like me was learning this same bible study in Los Angeles half-way across the world. I tried to bring my friends into bible study as well as complete strangers, and I experienced first-hand how difficult it was to evangelize, so I still to this day am in awe of how this one man could initiate churches in as many as 50 nations in as little as 30 years. But what is even more impressive than that is how much closer I felt to Jesus, and how much more closely I understood the Lord’s words through hearing Sunsangnim’s teachings. The theme throughout the bible study is that through the Holy Son Christ Jesus’ first coming we became sons and daughters of God, and that through the words the Lord is giving with the advent of His second coming soon at hand, we become not just sons – but the brides of Christ Jesus. The newfound love and understanding that I now felt as a part of this new church marked what is now the single most significant landmark in my life. I truly feel that I began a new life from the moment I began attending Providence church, and that fiery love has not cooled in the 8 years that I’ve been a member here. This fiery faith was what helped me to overcome the persecutions and tribulations that I will now describe.
The unfortunate news about Sunsangnim I was told at the time that I learned Providence 30 Lessons is that his life was in danger because there were people who opposed his teachings and were heavily persecuting him. This came as no surprise to me because I have read enough about the heroes of the bible and the historical figures who brought about change throughout history to know that anyone who challenges the status quo always experiences opposition from those whose institutional authority relies on the common unquestioned acceptance of the knowledge then being challenged. Every prophet, teacher, and reformer worth mentioning in a history book have all had to put their life on the line to stand up for their new beliefs. So it came as no surprise to me when I was told that 선생님 was currently in China but that his exact location was not public knowledge. His situation has become much worse since then, but more on that to come…
Read the second part of this series.
Read the third part of this series.