“In war, you cannot avoid the bullet. The bullet has to avoid you.” Professor Shang Ik Moon shared this sober Korean adage. He should know. Prof. Moon, one of the pioneer professors at Concordia University, Irvine, survived the horrors both of WW II and the Korean War. He has lived his whole life with the question of why the bullets missed him when so many near him were torn into pieces.
Born in North Korea, left to his grandmother for care, he had to flee from North Korea in search of his parents in the South, risking his life crossing the heavily guarded DMZ Border. A few years later when North Korea invaded the South, he was again caught-up in the midst of crossfires as a refugee, fleeing further south. In search of survival, he came to a US military air base near Suwon, where he slept on the ground. He had no food provided for him, so he did the best he could scrounging on a garbage dump outside an American air base. Desperate, he approached the air base commander to ask for a job. Chaplain Vajda, a Lutheran military chaplain, interviewed the boy-and hired him.
Shang Ik Moon learned a lot from Chaplain Vajda: he learned English, he learned about America, most of all, he learned about Jesus. The boy wanted to be ordained in order to become a missionary in Korea. With the Chaplain’s help he went to St. John’s College in Winfield, Kansas, to study for the ministry.
At St. John’s he had to learn German, Latin, Hebrew and Greek – no easy task for a young person who had missed much of his schooling because of war, and barely spoke English. He almost gave up on Greek. But the dean of the college assigned an upper class student as a tutor, Ralph Bohlmann – a future president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. With Bohlmann’s help and the encouragement of other students and faculty, Moon graduated and went on to Concordia Seminary. He did so well academically, he stayed in St. Louis to earn a Masters Degree and a Doctorate in Sociology at St. Louis University. This brought him his first ministry – teaching theology and sociology at Concordia Senior College. From there Dr. Moon joined the first faculty at Concordia Irvine.
Professor Moon is a missionary, not outside the United States. He was turned down when he applied to be a missionary in Korea. He was needed more as a missionary among Korean immigrants in the United States. For that purpose Moon began a process at Concordia Irvine to help ordained pastors from Korea find authorization for the public ministry in America through the Lutheran Church. More than sixty Korean pastors and congregations have found a home in a church body that welcomed them through the ministry of Professor Shang Ik Moon.
This happened because several mentors gave up their time and talents to become involved in the life of a refugee. Don’t you think Ralph Bohlmann had enough to do in school and did not need to take the trouble to tutor a student who barely understood English, let alone Christianity, and help him learn Biblical Greek? Chaplain Vajda could have found a better assistant, older, with better English, who was a Christian. Instead, he took on a project. Who could have known then what a blessing God was planning for His Church?
Maybe lent is a good time to sacrifice an old prejudice, or some precious free time, and give your talent and wisdom to an immigrant. Who knows what blessings God has to give us through that person whom the bullets missed, the person God put in your way?