Few Jews in the first century expected “the anointed One” to come as a suffering servant.
But God is good at surprising us.
He looks at people and churches different than we do. While we’re often enamored with outward appearances and talents, God is partial to the character and integrity of the heart.
CALLING AT A YOUNG AGE
As a high school student in South Korea, Min Lee didn’t see himself as someone who would travel the world or preach the gospel to the nations.
But in junior high, he went on a retreat where he heard a missionary share the gospel and became a Christian.
“I got on my knees to pray, and one of the pastors came and laid hands on me and started praying for me. He said, ‘Min, I think there’s a calling on your life to travel the world, preach the gospel and speak multiple languages.’ I doubted when he said that because I struggled in school. I was struggling to learn English, and I was really shy,” Min explains.
Like Moses called to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, Min tried to talk his way out of it.
“A few minutes afterward, another Sunday School teacher prayed for me and said the same thing. And a week after the retreat, I get a phone call from my grandmother — she wanted to pray for me over the phone — and she prayed the same thing,” Min says.
A DEVASTATING TURN
Los Angeles City Baptist Church (LACBC) is ordinary — even unimpressive — at first glance. Its tall, sand-color exterior is home to a traditional-looking Baptist church, with beautiful wood pews and a baptismal pool — a reminder that God is still redeeming people. It has housed God’s people and sent them on mission in the community for almost 100 years.
“LACBC’s history goes back to the Great Depression. It was a dynamic, influential Hispanic church in the city. The previous pastor passed away of a heart attack eight years ago, and the church was without a pastor and was struggling,” says Min.
The lack of leadership was hard on the members of the church, and the once-thriving community of believers began to dwindle.
“The church shrunk from 100 members to 12, and they contemplated shutting down. LACBC is in Boyle Heights — one of the largest Latino communities in America — and they had trouble finding another Hispanic pastor,” Min explains.
Los Angeles City Baptist Church in the 1930s.
FROM LEADING A HYMN TO LEADING THE CHURCH
“I knew God had called me to do ministry in L.A., but at the time I wasn’t sure what my next steps were,” says Min. “I’d been praying about whether to plant a new church or if God would direct me somewhere else. My spiritual mentor, Pastor Gigi — a director of missions for North American Mission Board — and I visited LACBC,” Min recalls.
Min met the congregation of about 12 people, introduced himself and learned a little bit about their lives and history.
“One of the ladies handed me a hymnal and asked if I could lead them through a hymn,” Min recounts. “I noticed the hymnal was in Spanish. I knew a little Spanish — enough to get by — and I led them in ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ in Spanish.”
The song was an appropriate choice for the way Min’s and LACBC’s story continued to intersect. God would show his faithfulness to LACBC, and perhaps answer their prayers in unexpected ways, through this young, Korean man and his family.
“They asked if I could come back and do a Bible study,” he says. “They kept asking me to come back and share the Bible; they shared about their desire to reach the young people of their neighborhood. Eventually they voted me to senior pastor.”
Shortly afterward, the Lees moved into the neighborhood.
CONFIRMING THE CALL TO REACH THE NATIONS
As a Korean family moving into a predominantly Latino context, Min didn’t know how the community would perceive or receive him.
“I did a prayer walk to get a feel of what I encountered. I wondered if I’d experience any racial comments. Although it’s predominantly Hispanic, there are other ethnicities in the community, too,” Min explained. “That’s one of the reasons people who aren’t Hispanic are checking out our church.”
In many small and big ways, God continued to affirm Min’s calling to preach the gospel to the nations and speak many languages.
“When I first began pastoring, we were the only Korean family there. But when I look at our congregation now, it’s starting to reflect the population of L.A. a lot more; we have people come from all over the world,” he explains. “One of the ladies who grew up at the church recently said to me, ‘Pastor, before you came to our church, we were all Hispanic, now we’re starting to look like the United Nations and reflect the diverse cultures of the city.”
Min Lee teaching how to outline a passage.
“God owns the church and He’s Lord over it,” Min proclaims. “In church revitalization you get to witness God bring the gospel story back into the life of the church. It’s hard work because everything is new, and you don’t know what things will look like. But God gets the glory, and you see a beautiful work of the Lord and the gospel when a church that seems like it’s dying is revived and thriving.”
Whether it’s church planting or replanting, God uses ordinary people and churches to accomplish His extraordinary mission of calling the nations to Himself.
Join the North American Mission Board (NAMB) August 24-25, 2020 at Replant Summit to hear how you can be part of helping dying churches across North America.
Published July 17, 2020