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The Longest Internship

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It was the spring of 2002 when Sandy and I packed all our belongings into our green Honda Accord and set out to San Jose from Boston. We had just finished seminary, celebrated our one-year anniversary, were expecting our first child, and had landed our first official ministry positions as Alliance missionary interns in a thriving Chinese church in the heart of Silicon Valley. Our dream was to go to China as Alliance missionaries after the two-year mandatory home service in the local church. We had big dreams for the Kingdom. The thought of settling for a pastoral position in an affluent American church seemed like apostasy to us at the time. We promised each other that we would not stay in America one day longer than necessary. We had a higher calling to fulfill and a clear game plan to finish our internship in San Jose as quickly as possible.

On the first night of arriving to the city that God called us to, Sandy woke up with a terrible pain in her stomach and was rushed to a local hospital. We lost our baby that night. That was just the beginning of many unexpected turns and detours that we had not anticipated, in what now turned out to be a 17-year home service. The church embraced us as their own despite the two of us coming from a very different cultural and ethnic background. We have grown to love these people deeply over the years and in ways we had not imagined possible. Yet, the tension between wanting to serve the Lord overseas and our roots spreading deeper in one place continued to grow as the years progressed. Sandy and I began to wonder whether we had lost our “missionary calling” or if we were to become one of those who settled because life in America was too good to forsake.

“A Bigger Story”

“The church embraced us as their own despite our coming from a very different cultural background.” Photo courtesy of Ted Kang

In 2006, after nearly four years of an extended home service, the International Ministries office gave us a firm ultimatum to either move forward with the plan of going overseas or to withdraw our names from the candidate list. While we were wrestling with this decision, God gave me a vivid dream that would dramatically change the course of our lives. In the first scene of this dream, Sandy and I were paddling in a tiny wooden boat on tranquil waters thinking that we were on our way to the mission field. Just the two of us! In the next scene, I saw a fleet of battleships filled with people ready for war. And huge waves began to surge from behind—waves big enough to capsize the ships. Yet, the ships began to move in great speed powered by these great waves. Through this dream, God was simply reminding us who was in charge. The task of fulfilling the Great Commission did not rest on my shoulder nor anyone else’s. His zeal alone would accomplish this. He was neither a feeble God looking desperately for help nor an absent general who left the outcome of the battle to His enlisted. Sandy and I realized that we were just a small part of a much bigger story that God was writing. And all we will ever need to do is to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit and say “yes” even when the steps we take seem like a detour. After spending some time in prayer with the leaders and friends of our community, we withdrew our names from the candidate list.

“Most Unlikely and Unfit”

The church that started as a Chinese immigrant congregation is now home to God’s family worshiping in seven different languages. Photo courtesy of Ted Kang

We spent the next seven years raising four daughters, pastoring a wonderful congregation, seeing many people come and go, and sending many of our pastors and leaders out into the mission field. In 2013, as our founding pastor stepped down from senior leadership, Sandy and I felt that it was time for us to move on as well. It was not because we were disgruntled or disappointed with our time in San Jose but because we were sensing a new season waiting for us. After a time of prayer and fasting, we decided to plant a new church with the blessing of our church family. Our elders and pastors came up with a transition plan and appointed the most senior member of our pastoral team to be the next lead pastor of the church. However, shortly after this decision, my dear colleague and friend who was supposed to lead our church into the next chapter suffered a mysterious autoimmune disease that could not be diagnosed nor cured.  The church prayed and fought for his healing. We exercised every spiritual discipline and authority we knew to bring him back to health. God did not answer our prayer—at least, not for the outcome we had hoped. Exactly one year after our friend became sick, God took him away from us. In the midst of grief and confusion, Sandy and I had to say “yes” one more time to God and step into the senior leadership that we weren’t quite ready for. It made no sense to anyone that God would ask a young Korean couple who does not speak a word of Chinese and has little knowledge in navigating through the cultural and ethnic complexities of a Chinese church to take the lead. We were the most unlikely and unfit to lead the church. And the church was doomed to fail, we thought! Yet, this appointment is exactly what God had in mind.

“Joyful Surprises”

The last five years have been a season of the Lord’s favor, filled with many joyful surprises. The church that started 44 years ago as a Chinese immigrant congregation is now home to God’s family worshiping in seven different languages. Two years ago, we celebrated the birth of our very first church plant, New Vine Community Church, in the city of Mountain View. A year ago, we started the one and only Arabic-speaking Alliance church in the Bay Area. On any given Sunday, we hear the name of Jesus sung and proclaimed in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Spanish, Cambodian, Arabic, and hopefully, many more languages to come.  Nearly 17 years ago, Sandy and I asked God for China as our inheritance. Not only did He give us a wonderful Chinese family, but He also brought to us the nations under our roof.

“The Only Vision”

As a leader, one of the most frequent questions people ask me is if I had a clear vision of where I was going. For those who have low tolerance for uncertainty, I had to learn to make up some cool stuff simply to ease their anxiety. But, in all honesty, I am not sure if I ever really had any brilliant strategies or clear vision for what the Lord had in store for me or those I lead. If I did, none of them turned out the way I had envisioned. Only one thing has become clear to me: The only vision we will ever need is the vision of the God who is unquestionably good and trustworthy. My pursuit and devotion have slowly become discerning what His assignments are for different seasons of life and ministry rather than trying to craft a nicely packaged “strategy” or “vision” that is humanly compelling and predictable.

Ted and Sandy Kang have raised four daughters, pastored a culturally diverse congregation, and sent many pastors and leaders out into the mission field. Photo courtesy of Ted Kang

We have one calling, that is, unto Himself. But God has unique assignments for different people in different seasons. We read about the death of James in Acts 12. The guy who gets killed for his faith gets one verse in the entire book for his martyrdom. In the very same chapter, we read the detailed account of Peter’s angelic encounter and miraculous prison escape. Neither of them had a pre-set vision or strategy for what they had to face. It is clear that some are called to die for Jesus. Others will be called to live for Him, just a while longer! Among the ranks of the heroes of our faith in Hebrews 11, Joseph was called into the palace of Pharaoh, while Moses was called out of the palace to serve God’s purpose. It would have made so much more sense for Paul, who had the expert knowledge of the law of Israel, to be sent to the Jews. Instead, God sent him to the Gentiles and chose a lowly, uneducated fisherman from Galilee to be the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. Clearly, no one method, model, or service will complete the grand tapestry of the Kingdom that He is creating on earth. My colleague had to become a grain of wheat that falls and dies to bear fruit. Sandy and I had to die to our own dream of serving the Lord overseas and step into pastoral leadership without knowing where the story would take us.

“Learning to Say ‘Yes’”

Life can be seen as a detour only if it has to work out the way we plan and strategize. According to our original plan, our past could be seen as a series of failed plans and detours. Yet, we confidently know this is what God had in mind for our lives, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We no longer fight against the subtle lies that we had forsaken or had failed in our missionary calling. We no longer feel the need to know exactly where God is taking us in order to follow Him. All we will ever need walking into the future is the courage and faith to say “yes” to whatever assignment He has for us. After all, we feel like our 17 years in San Jose was just a long internship where we had to keep learning to say “yes” to Him, trusting that He will accomplish what He set out to do in and through us. And to that end, we will joyfully serve as interns for life in His business.

6 responses to The Longest Internship

  1. What a beautiful story you and Sandy are living simply because you listened to the Lord through the Holy Spirit! I believe these two verses, and there certainly more that in my mind apply to your lives and the are: Philippians 4:13 (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me(us); and 1 Peter 4:11 (If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.)
    Thank you two and your 4 girls for the ministry you are doing simply because you listened to the Lord for the ministry you ended up with. GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME! ALL THE TIME, GOD IS GOOD! PRAISE THE NAME OF JESUS!
    Again thank you for sharing your amazing story.

  2. Dear Ted and Sandy, Your testimony of the path The Lord has led you on touches my heart deeply. We are just laymen but can see much of the same way we have been led and guided. God IS the one determining “what, when and which” relationships are established that bring HIM honor and glory! And certainly your description of the design you have shared of the developing of the part of the Kingdom you two are a part of is wonderful to hear. Thank you for putting this picture together so we and all who read this can be encouraged.
    May He continue to use you in HIS Way and by HIS Design. Blessings.

  3. What a powerful story of God’s faithfulness and gracious Kingdom surprises when we simply say “yes” to Him. Thank you for sharing your story!

  4. Wonderful article! Great story! Ted & Sandy nailed it. We can easily sing, “Where He leads me, I will follow,” while we are still putting the final touches on our own plans. We are His. We live for His purpose, according to His plans, and are called to faithfully walk the path He chooses. That’s what God calls Success! “Yes, Lord: Anything, Anywhere, Any time. Let’s go!”

  5. Thank you for your faithfulness in keeping your eyes on God, not your surrounding circumstances! I appreciate you sharing your story, as it is a good reminder that we need to seek God wholeheartedly, not seek a life or decision that necessarily makes sense.

  6. Thank you for your vulnerability and sharing your story. My life has also been a series of detours and internships. I know I am where God wants me to be, but it haunts me to think of what also might have happened if only…

    One of your sentences toward the end of the article captures everything for me: “Life can be seen as a detour only if it has to work out the way we plan and strategize.” Thank you, Lord, for being in ultimate control!

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