Bruised but not Broken
Tales of a Korean Immigrant Church
Part Two: Boiling a Frog

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* This article is co-written, told mainly from the perspective of Dae Shik Kim Hawkins, Jr.

My father once told me a cautionary tale about boiling a frog. 

“You don’t put a frog in already boiling water because it’ll jump out immediately. Too hot. You put the frog in room temperature water first. Then as the water begins to boil, he’ll wonder why it’s getting so hot. And then, next thing you know, it’s too hot and he’s cooked. That’s how it works with sin. You compromise on the small things and then next thing you know, you’re in hot water not knowing how to get out.” 

"That’s how it works with sin. You compromise on the small things and then next thing you know, you’re in hot water not knowing how to get out.” 

Whether or not that’s how you boil a frog or not, the story has a valid point.

We rarely start off with the big, noticeable “sin". We allow or tolerate little things that lead to the big thing. This also applies to unhealthy churches. We don’t notice the extreme concerns overnight. The concerns first appear subtly, indirectly, felt but also questioned by the one who is wronged.

This is an account of how my disillusionment with the Korean immigrant church was like boiling a frog. I didn’t realized I was in boiling water until it became too hot for me.

• • •

I was pretty depressed as I rode shotgun in my youth pastor’s car. We were heading to the beach on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was the year 2007 and I was about to get baptized in the open ocean. This was my special day but I was having a hard time pretending everything was okay. It wasn’t. 

I should’ve been sitting in the backseat of my parents car; they should’ve been with me as I was about to commit my life to the Lord. But they had work that day and couldn’t attend. At least that’s what they told me when I begged them to come the night before. 

This was a big moment in my faith. My name was finally being written in the book of God and I was about to receive the Holy Spirit. At least that’s what Reverend Kim taught me at the Korean immigrant church I started attending a year before. 

As I got out of my youth pastor’s car after arriving at the beach, I started to feel nauseous. I didn’t want to do this without my parents. I didn’t want to be that kid whose parents didn’t believe. But I went through it anyway and officially became the first Christian in my family. This was a duty that my Reverend told me was a great honor. A duty that God had placed in my life. It was now up to me to save my parents from hell.

I officially became the first Christian in my family. It was now up to me to save my parents from hell.

Up until this point, I’d been navigating my faith without my family. Since according to my Reverend, my baptism should have been the happiest day of my life and the start of saving my parents from hell, upon my baptism, I began to pray for my parents to go to church. I also got more involved with my youth group. As many leaders and pastors had already begun to affirm ministry skills in me, I was on the fast track towards pastoral ministry at the young impressionable age of 16. 

So when my parents woke me up one Sunday morning to let me know that they weren’t just going to drop me off at church, but would join me for service, I felt joy and excitement. Were my parents finally worthy of salvation? This was the moment I had been waiting for since I became a Christian. All I wanted was for my parents to be on this journey towards Christ with me. I was finally about to be part of a normal Christian family. 

My parents and I arrived at the church and went our separate ways — my parents to the Korean-speaking service and I to the English-speaking service. The 90 minutes went by quickly and I rushed to meet my parents in the after service lunch line. I expectantly asked them how the service went and my mother responded with a confused look. 

During the last part of the adult service — which was the offering portion — the pastor encouraged the congregation to tithe as much as they thought each of their children were worth. My mother asked me if this was what Christianity was about. She asked me if this is what it took to be a follower of Christ. 

The pastor encouraged the congregation to tithe as much as they thought each of their children were worth.

My heart sank as I listened to my mom. What should have been the happiest day of my life was quickly doused and drowned. I felt the water getting a bit warmer around me. Immediately, I wanted to tell my parents that this was not the Jesus I believed in, as something in my gut told me that this wasn’t right. However, I was taught not to question my pastor. In fact, I was taught not to question anything at church because that meant I was also questioning God, and that wasn’t faithful or acceptable.

This was the start of my disillusionment with the Korean immigrant church. My disillusionment didn’t start because I questioned the theology of my church. It started due to the troubling emotions I felt during moments of celebration. The God that was taught to me was supposed to leave me in the cup of overflowing waters. Instead, I started to feel the temperatures rising and my spirit started to notice the heat. 

What I didn’t realize then was that I would eventually have to leap out of the cup in order to preserve what little faith remained in me. Unfortunately, I stayed too long in the boiling pot and left with scars that will remain with me for the rest of my spiritual journey. 

I was taught not to question anything at church because that meant I was also questioning God, and that wasn’t faithful or acceptable.

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