I’ll never forget the first time I met him. It was my freshman year of college and I was on a van full of students heading into the inner-city region of West Palm Beach, FL. We were there to do a Back Yard Bible Study for some elementary students. Growing up in Smalltown America, I was very interested in getting to the fenced-in back yard as quickly as possible. Not Josh though! Before I could unbuckle my seatbelt, he was across the street performing a magic trick for five young men, any of whom could have been on the starting squad of the L.A. Lakers. I remember thinking, “This guy is crazy!”
Fast forward 6 years and I still uphold that Josh Choi is crazy, but I have also established a strong respect for this man of God. Known on our campus as “The Asian Sensation”, Josh was what I might call a modern day Apostle Paul, Father Abraham, and Jackie Chan rolled into one. Born in South Korea somewhere in the later 70’s, he was the youngest of two children. Around the same time that Josh turned 13, his dad moved the family to Saudi Arabia where he attended middle school and most of high school. About to turn 17, his dad presented him with the opportunity of a lifetime. He was to study abroad in one of three countries of his choice: England, Germany, or the United States. Josh chose the land of opportunity, where the streets are paved with gold and everyone looks exactly like the movie stars. Josh will tell you, himself, “I chose America because I was in love with Meg Ryan.” I can only imagine his disappointment upon arriving at his new home in Pennsylvania. It was here, at a local boarding school millions of miles from home, that Josh would finish the remainder of his high school years. Looking back on his time spent in PA, Josh describes his first impression of Americans as “brats”. All was not lost though; Josh can look back at his time in PA and remember that this is where he first met the Lord. “It was at a retreat when I was 17” says Josh, “I believe a Christian retreat plays a significant role in our Christian life.” No doubt, it did for him. Everything was not peaches and cream though, upon accepting Christ as his Savior. He remembers, “It was hard to drop bad habits and I wasn’t surrounded by many Christians.” I asked him how he was able to continue maturing in his relationship with Christ, alone in a situation like that. “I read my Bible daily,” he says, “and I would go to church on Sundays, then come home and listen to different tapes of sermons.” Possibly the most impressive thing he told me about, however, was his dedication to a time of prayer with God. Every night, between 11:00 PM and 12:00 AM was dedicated to prayer. “It wasn’t easy at first though, I had to start out with 5 minutes a night and then gradually go longer until I reached my goal of one hour.” I asked him if prayer was still that important to him. “Prayer is the most crucial thing in our relationship with God,” he said. “Everything that has happened in my life has happened because of prayer. It is very important for every child of God to pray. I’m not talking about while you walk around either. I’m talking about sitting down and having a conversation with God. Prayer isn’t a monologue; it’s a dialog. We need to spend time with God in prayer each day.”
I can personally testify to Josh’s prayer life. I didn’t really get to know him until the summer after my sophomore year at Palm Beach Atlantic College. We roomed together during an eight-week MFuge camp for Christian students grades 7-12. Although our job was only “support staff” for the MFuge counselors, you would be surprised how close one can get to another person while cleaning toilets together all summer. It was during this time that I witnessed first hand Josh’s dedication to daily communion with God. He would disappear at night for long periods of time; all he would take with him was a Bible and his praise and worship music. It wasn’t long until I was drawn under his influence and joined him almost nightly during his time of prayer. This was possibly one of the greatest periods of growth with the Lord in my life. (After interviewing Josh last week, and realizing that this discipline is still a part of his daily activities, I am ashamed and convicted that my hour of prayer with God ended along with that summer).
While few may have witnessed the intensity of Josh’s personal prayer life, I would venture to say that no one attending Palm Beach Atlantic College escaped from hearing him proclaim the love of God at one point or another. Between the multiple chances to hear him speak publicly at chapel services, Thursday night student-led worship, or the many other public venues, chances were that Josh would eventually talk to you personally about your relationship with Christ. I asked him how many people he spoke to during his 8 years in West Palm Beach. He couldn’t tell me exactly, but I would venture to say it was over ten thousand. “I know that I have personally led about 60 people to Christ,” he says. I, however, don’t believe that this is an accurate number if you figure in those who made silent decisions in the many large crowds he spoke to. Either way, though, Josh definitely left Christ’s mark on South Florida!
You would think that a young man dedicated so intently to the Lord would have very few problems coming in his direction. Much like the Apostle Paul, however, I believe that Satan took special interest in attempting to disrupt his ministry. The last three years of Josh’s time spent in the United States was a struggle to survive monetarily, spiritually, and legally. Running low on support from friends, family, and his government, it seemed that it was only a matter of time before his Student Visa expired and he would be forced to return to South Korea. Josh was especially concerned about this because it meant he would have to serve in their military services. I remember spending many nights with Josh praying over the situation. We never really understood why the Lord was allowing it to happen. Every avenue of hope eventually produced it’s own closed door. Nothing, it appeared, would prevent Josh from putting his growing ministry in the United States on hold. He flew out on November 7, 2002.
My exchanges with Josh have been very few and far between since he left for South Korea. The following is part of a conversation I was able to have with him over the phone last week. I was especially interested in knowing if the Lord had enlightened him anymore concerning his current situation.
Glenn: How has your relationship with Christ been affected since returning to South Korea?
Josh: At first I was really bitter about it. I was bitter about leaving my American friends, especially my best friend named “Krispy Kreme”. Ever since I had my first bite of Krispy Kreme, I knew he was the one. But now I am living in [South] Korea without Krispy Kreme. It’s hard, but I guess I am better off without Krispy Kreme. After all, Krispy Kreme just makes me fat. I guess it’s a love/hate relationship, and I don’t believe in the long distance relationship anyway.
Glenn: Have you found out when will you be entering into the military yet?
Josh: Yes, I will hit boot camp on the 12th of June. Boot Camp will be like joining Jenny Craig for free. Instead of having a body trainer, I will have a drill sergeant. Instead of walking on the treadmill, I will be crawling in the mud. Instead of Creatine (protein) pills, I will be eating whatever they feed me. But I have to remember, it’s all free. Would anyone else like to join?
Glenn: What will your job in the military consist of? Do you know yet?
Josh: I passed the test in the South Korean Army Intelligence School last month. I will be working under the [South] Korean Army Intelligence School. My job will be translating documents from Korean to English and from English to Korean.
Glenn: Wow, so are you worried about being in the South Korean military while the current crisis is going on with North Korea?
Josh: Not at all, if they kill me, I’m going home. Bring it on. Ha ha ha.
Glenn: Seriously, though, is the North Korean Nuclear situation a big deal in South Korea right now?
Josh: It’s a pretty big issue in [South] Korea because we are becoming almost callous about the situation after having to deal with it for such a long time.
Glenn: Okay, we’ll keep you in our prayers. What do you want to do after you fulfill your military obligations though?
Josh: Right now I have a large interest in trading. I want to go into world business and eventually use that to support Christian missions and ministries such as Deeper Devotion.
In addition to this, I was also able to talk to Josh about different ways the Lord has encouraged him throughout his life. It appears to me that he was always in a position of crisis. First he was separated from his family for more than 10 years. Second, he never knew where the Lord was leading him next, whether that would be Saudi Arabia, the United States, Pennsylvania, Florida, Palm Beach Atlantic College, South Korea, or the military. Yet, in light of all of this, Josh was faithful to the Lord. I believe he has discovered and grasped firmly one of the most important truths found in scripture. Wherever you are, God is there with you. He is in control, and His desire is not for you to worry about your current situation, but to seek Him first. This is what Josh continually did. In Pennsylvania he listened to sermons on tapes, in Florida he continually preached the Word of God… even until his last week in the United States he had public speaking engagements. Now, on the verge of entering the South Korean Military, I asked him why he believed the Lord had placed him there. “I don’t know,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like my whole world is crumbling apart. Maybe the Lord is teaching me humility. I don’t know, but God is definitely up to something. I will continue to network though, and build relationships that assist me in my ministry in the future.”
Well Josh, know that we are praying for you. Thanks for sharing your story!
I asked him if he minded me providing our readers with his email address. This is what he said. “If anyone is interested in sending me emails, and encouraging me while I am in the army, definitely do so. But don’t sell my address to those Spam mailers please!”
If Josh’s story has encouraged you like it has me, feel free to write and tell him at firstname.lastname@example.org