“I always had a heart for the second generation.”
These were the famously remembered words of Pastor Samuel Park in 1993, when he first planted what would eventually grow to become New Life Fullerton.
Even then, his vision for the church was to develop and empower the second and third generation of Korean-American families for local and overseas mission work. Our current motto, “to renew lives in Orange County and beyond”, reflects that original vision of spreading the gospel through our community, which Pastor Samuel and the other leaders of this church have painstakingly cultivated throughout these rapidly changing decades. Now, 25 years later, we are heading into the next chapter of New Life Fullerton’s story, passed down from the first generation of immigrant Korean-speaking parents to the English congregation now flourishing in two services.
Before you ask (like every other member of our church may have done at one point or another), “What on earth does this mean?” and more importantly, “What does this mean for me?”, I think it is important to demystify a few things about this seemingly confusing and ambiguous term, “particularization”.
The act of particularizing is actually quite simple: it is a Presbyterian way of saying the English-speaking ministry of New Life Fullerton will now become its own church, no longer headed by the Korean ministry. Instead, the two ministries will become two independent churches, while still remaining interdependent and living together under the same roof. This may not look, for the most of us average congregational folk in the church, very different on the outside. Most of the changes are happening very behind-the-scenes, like in the budgetary and other technical aspects of church that we don’t usually think about. But to those who have watched this church grow and expand from a small seedling to a fully-branched sycamore, this is an exciting time for our church and we are thankful for the Lord’s faithfulness.
Pastor Will Chang, who will soon be the senior pastor of the particularized English New Life Fullerton Ministry, puts it this way: it is much like a mother giving birth to a baby, and watching her daughter take her first steps of womanhood into the very uncertain and unknown adult world. From Pastor Samuel, who first nurtured and raised the church on his own, slowly extending the leadership to other pastors and elders and supporters who would help expand the church into two ministries, the New Life we know today has come to be. I think it is “particularly” (mind the pun) appropriate that this image of a college student leaving home and entering society on her own is the image we have of our church, considering Pastor Samuel’s original mission: to impact the second and now third generations living out the gospel truths taught by this church within and beyond our community. This was what he envisioned from the beginning. No one may have known how far his vision would come, but God directed and shaped our path to where we are today.
Our particularization doesn’t mark the end of a journey; on the contrary, it is the beginning of another, fueled even more intensely by our independence. Our church is still continuing to grow; the New Life I walked into last September, on a Sunday morning for the 10 a.m. service (since the second service didn’t exist back then) is not the New Life I know now. The New Life then I could’ve barely imagined having (gasp!) spotlights on the stage and contemporary worship songs and a roomful of college-aged young adults eager to worship the Lord in our dimly lit chapel. Every time Director Paul Kim reminisces about the “old days” way back when, he recounts the story of how college ministry used to consist of exactly three students, and how it grew from three to five, to ten, to a steady stream of mainly Biola students coming in and out. Now, watching our college ministry nearly double from the previous year, I can see the pride and joy of Paul, Pastor Will, and the other leaders flow out through stories like these. Even I myself, who only became a member last December, who was a newcomer and a stranger to the church less than a year ago, feel a rush of warmth and happiness in seeing just how far our college ministry has come.
Two things give me that sense of joy and hope.
One, when newcomers find a home in our church. In the time I’ve been here, I feel as if I’ve welcomed more new students to our college ministry than in any other church I’ve previously attended. I don’t think that’s because there’s actually been a bigger number of people, but because nearly every newcomer has chosen to stay after experiencing the love of our community. I’ve noticed that the students who come to our church tend to have something in common: they’re not looking for a temporary fix or a flashy chapel experience followed by taco trucks and ice cream runs. They’re looking for the truth. That’s what one of the new college students who became a member this past year said when she explained how she came to New Life: she was seeking truth, life-giving truth that could only come from the gospel and proper interpretation of the Scriptures. Yes, fellowship is important. Fellowship is wonderful, and necessary amongst believers. But Jesus always comes first. The truth comes first. It forms a basis and a solid foundation for the community that is built upon it. That is the kind of church these people are looking for. And that is the kind of church they find here in New Life, much like I did that September. Seeing them make this church home and feel the same sentiments I felt upon first entering New Life truly uplifts my heart, and excites me for its even greater future growth.
Two, I feel great joy in seeing leaders in our church who display great hospitality and Christ-like servanthood to college students like us. One of these examples are the families who host Supper Club for the college ministry. Elder Alex Jun, our most recent host, was eager to welcome us into he and his wife Jeany’s home, with not only food and open space for us, but their entire family. With arms open wide, they conversed with us, they laughed with us, they asked questions and made us feel valued and cared for in a way that all college students need.
Away from our parents’ love and care, college students have an inherent desire to take root in a place they can feel safe and comfortable. When adults in the church, especially parents and their children reach out to us and make us feel welcomed in their homes, it is like an invitation to feel at home wherever they are. Our family in Christ is affirmed in what could be a time of deep emotional turbulence and instability in lacking a root and a sense of belonging. This is such a gift and a blessing to college students; what seems like a simple meal and basic hospitality becomes so much more in this context. In our struggle through murky waters and high tides, you model the ultimate lifesaver, our savior Jesus Christ, who guides our swim against the current.
Why does the particularization of the church matter? Because it means our church is ready to take its next step towards a lifelong journey of growth. It has proven its maturation into adulthood through the display of Christ-like community and theological integrity by its longtime members and leaders. Pastor Samuel, your vision has come true, and is still coming true. The future generation is more globally minded, adventurous, and constantly seeking to expanding horizons. But it is also bound by technology and easily closed off to those outside their circle. Having cultivated a flourishing ministry within Orange County, my next hope for our church is to open its doors to the bigger world outside of Southern California through global missions, intercultural outreach and diversification.