Since we at Living Water have not been able to get together in person and have fellowship with each other, the LW communications team is starting a new campaign called the People of Living Water. Through a series of interviews with members, we are hoping to bring us closer as a family by uncovering some fun facts about our church members, opening up the opportunity to reach out to members you may not have known well before, and encouraging intercessory prayer on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
How it Works
Starting with leaders, we will be asking for interviews with members of Living Water about their likes and dislikes, life lessons, passions, hopes for the future, prayer requests, etc. Interviewees can choose if their feature article should appear on the LWCRC website or just on the private email list. Although there is no obligation to participate, we highly encourage you to, as this is a great chance for the church family to get to know you and support you in any way that we can.
Get to Know Pastor David Sung
This is Part II of our interview with Pastor Sung, picking up where we left off when Pastor Sung was talking about his joy at becoming a part of Living Water CRC’s multicultural family. Click here to check out Part I.
Now, let’s get into the interview.
Q: What do you think makes Living Water special?
A: [Although Living Water has a strong Asian-American majority culture,] even non-Easterners come and find something about us that is freeing, us not being structured, and in some ways it would be nice to always be a church that resists structuring and just settling down. That’s why I love the “church plant.” Because a church plant has that first love, or the beginning, not quite structured yet, not quite mature yet, still growing, kind of connotation attached to it. You’re still kind of like a baby. I want to keep that teachable spirit in our church 20 years from now. If I were to continue to serve here, we would be the kind of church that does not settle. Just like Saint Augustine said, we will be restless until we find rest in the Lord. Like we will not settle and say, Hey, we’ve accomplished it. We’ve done it. That we will always find ourselves restless in settling in anything, except finally onto the Lord only. That kind of church. I think we would be well to appreciate diversity continually and to continue to be a church that looks toward the needs of the world instead of the needs of the long-term members having the biggest voice in the church, because that becomes a settled church and we don’t want that. So we have to fight against the natural tendencies of people to settle. And it’s an uphill battle all the way, but I think it’s worth fighting for.
Q: It sounds like your way of approaching church models after the early Church, is that right?
A: Yeah. I think to the early church, and they do not have a structure. They do not have a settled way of doing things. [When Christianity became more institutionalized,] I think a lot of good came out of it, but also a lot of bad came out of it. That settling began to happen and the freshness began to lose itself in the structure. The Lord’s supper is supposed to have been a meal, like after a worship service everybody eating together, but then it became a very highly polished ceremony. The first church of before [the year] 325 has posed a wonderful model for our church organism and how it’s supposed to look like.
Q: 2020 has probably been very stressful. How have you been finding rest recently?
A: It has been stressful. Just like everyone else we had to find different ways of doing our jobs, and especially in a pastor’s job the most important [part is] meeting people and encouraging them in the ways of following Jesus. But personally also, my fathers (father and father-in-law) getting sick and dying. So I feel like I need rest, but at the same time, I feel in some ways duty-bound not to just kind of take vacation that lightly, because I feel like the church needs me, that there [needs to be] somewhere that people can kind of rally around or come together. But then it is a bit stressful. I think I’m not the only one. Other pastors [have been] telling me that they feel like they are doing less, but they are a lot more stressed because they’re trying to do things differently.
So for me, it has been helpful for me to do some exercise. Lisa really encouraged me to bike, so we’ve been into biking lately. And then of course, you know, I’m this compulsive person where when I get into things, I started learning things about bikes, and I’m trying to find the right bike for myself. I guess just kind of, if it is not ministry related, just to research things like woods, and then the bikes or whatever, I mean, [that is] kind of relaxing for me.
Also baking, I have been baking a lot. You know how Korean and Japanese breads, they taste better? I can just bake some and bring it to you, if you’re not gluten-free. Because this, the Korean breads are high gluten like a regular bread.
Q: I love anything with gluten in it.
A: I can actually bring some this afternoon. Right now it’s rising, so it’s gonna be done.
Q: Oh my gosh, thank you!! I’m really excited. That’s something to look forward to. So that was about rest, but what have you been working hard at recently, more than before?
A: So, I think more than before, social unrest and the issue of social justice has been heavy on my mind. And there’s a general interest among our church members to get into that topic. So I’ve been talking with the Overflow (the Living Water young adult group) folks and arranged a seminar for them, so that this friday,* they have a seminar and I’m looking forward to hearing from our own church member, Steve Staggs, whose dissertation was about racism in America. It was about the treatment of native Americans. [Steve and I] just kind of struck each other’s interests right away, because there’s so many things that overlap in the things that I’m interested in and things that he was interested in. I actually went on a native Indian mission to Alaska a couple of times. Hands-on experience. We know what we Christians did to them, and, you know, if we don’t talk about it, we don’t learn from it. So we’ve got to talk about it. Steve’s latest research was actually on the Reformed Church’s racism. You know, like our Christian Reformed Church, our forefathers were slave owners, for example, but no one wants to talk about that. No one brings it up. He’s risking himself.
My sermon series “Imagine” [asks us to] imagine, to think about issues together. To live with God is to have imagination and [to have] dreams that are bigger than ourselves. Our God is much bigger than us and to dream properly is to have God-sized dreams. Can we imagine a world where justice flows like a river? You know, what does that look like? But of course, as soon as we begin to imagine that we are overcome with the reality. We don’t want to become so broken and tamed by the reality that we don’t know how to imagine anymore. We want to break through that, but at the same time [look] at the reality and lament, and not only lament, but learn to mourn with those who are mourning. As long as our lament is directed to God, it’s not just complaining and being bitter, but rather you are actually working towards the solution. When you lament to the Lord, it moves his heart to act upon it. So we are actually being part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
And then also, may that move us to seek out those who are mourning, in pain, suffering, and learn to be close enough to them that we can just begin to mourn with them. And that takes true friendship, not approaching them with a program, “I‘m going to do this for them” so I may feel good about myself, but learning just to be a friend, not wanting not something from that person, but to be able to just stand by that person. I think only when we are able to genuinely hear and genuinely see [will we] begin to move toward a solution.
So these are the things that I am reading up on and researching and studying because I feel like I’m a novice myself. And being an Asian American, the way God convicted me is through watching that, George Floyd’s video of 10 minutes, and that Asian cop standing in front, pretending that he is not listening to what’s happening, and just doing his job, so to speak. That was such a metaphor for who I am. And in a large sense, Asian Americans, we can escape so easily toward that “model minority” where we can hide ourselves. So although that was broken [because there is a lot of COVID-related prejudice] against Asians, when it comes to the real fight for social justice, I think African Americans, [have born] the most burden on their shoulders and we went about gleaning from their work, just reaping the benefits, but never providing ourselves in the front line.
The way that God is convicting me is, David, wake up and look at this and see with me, hear with me, where my heart is aching, I want your heart to ache with me. I think that’s a starting point and slowly that will help me in my personal journey to do something, not just simply going to demonstrations, but internally, what can we do? So whenever I have some time, I just spend my time reading, hearing seminars. There’s a lot of good stuff out there.
I want to incorporate that slowly into church, and then [be] a leader to churches in that direction. [Diversity and equity needs to be included] in our definition of being a “loving, cross-cultural community.” If we’re going to do that, social justice issues have to be dealt with. Internally, of course, we want to be a church where we give equal representation and opportunity, [for people of all] different backgrounds. For now our makeup is, Asians are still a majority. It’s only 40%, but because we have Chinese and Japanese and other Asians, you know, from outside, they will probably say we all look like Koreans. So we’re going to have to be a little more intentional and proactive in lifting up non-Koreans to leadership, whether it be praise leaders and people who are standing in front, they have to represent the diversity or the direction of the diversity that we want to go to.
*This interview was recorded in July.
Q: Do you have a childhood memory that had a big impact on your life?
A: This one was not a positive memory, but a negative memory. I think being a pastor’s kid and that environment shaped me in a huge way; all the good things, but also at the same time, all the negative things that came out of it had a shaping power over me. And one of the things that I really need to overcome, or receive healing from was the lack of my parent’s presence in my life. I think there was a yearning in my heart as a child to have more of my parents’ time. I felt like I was not getting much so I was always hungry for it. There was one time when I wanted to receive my father’s attention. So I came up with a scheme, a little scheming six year old, and decided that I’m going to actually lie down in–you know, we are in the parsonage, right? And then there’s a church building right next door, and then there’s a big yard. As soon as you open the church’s door, you know, in Korea, it was all fenced up, it’s not open at all. So you have to go through the church’s main door in order to get to the yard. And I was going to sleep right on the ground [in the church’s yard] so that I can get my father’s attention.
Everybody back then left kids that are five, six year old at home, so I [was also home alone]. It was like a nice warm spring day, I think. So it was nice, not too hot. I actually laid down [in the yard] and then I think I fell asleep. Later on I felt my father carrying me inside and for a short moment, it felt like riding on a cloud, you know, that feeling of him just carrying me this way. And I was hoping that he would strike up a conversation and take time to be with me. But then what ended up happening was that he laid me on the bed and then walked away. And I got so upset because my scheme failed; he carried me inside but he did not stay with me.
And so I remember crying and walking outside. And then I just laid in the same spot again, crying. And the way it shaped me was that, even when I was married, I felt the feeling of sudden loneliness in the midst of people. Like, I feel like I’m all alone, all of a sudden, extremely lonely, and that overcomes me to a point where it’s like, what is this, you know.
But thank God, that God has given me time to reflect upon it. That’s why reflection is so important. I just decided to set a time alone with the Lord and said, Lord, I have this recurring pain that reminds me of my loneliness. Even when I’m surrounded with people and loving family, I will sometimes feel really alone. And I don’t think this is a good feeling. I don’t think it’s a feeling that you are giving me, and how do you see this, Lord? I had to just sit down and ask the question and wait on the Lord. And as I was just kind of pondering on that, my thoughts just flowed and flowed to a point of this incident that I remember; it was kind of back of my mind, but it just became something that is very real. And that’s when I had to ask the Lord, Lord, this is painful to remember. What do you see in this picture? You know, what do you see? When I did that, God’s comfort just came, at least for that incident more immediately than other times. You know, the Lord showed me a picture in my mind, and that was that David, you are not alone. He made me remember Matthew 28:21, “Lo, I am with you until the end of the world.” This is his promise. And [in that mental picture] the Lord was right there while I was sleeping, just being there and stroking my back. Telling me, You were not alone, so don’t be so lonely. I was always with you and will always be with you. And in that I received a lot of comfort. Your relationship with your father figure, authority figures often shape your relationship with God the Father, and I think from that point on, I think the Lord became someone that is closer by instead of a distant father, a disciplinary father that is in heaven rather than someone who is willing and always ready to be with you on a personal level. And that was very, very helpful for me. and that’s one memory that is vivid in my heart, but then it’s more vivid because God used that memory to bring closeness to Him and healing.
Q: I feel like it’s really easy for us to ignore when we feel pain, and then just leave our problems alone and never solve them. So that’s a really encouraging story.
A; I thank God for some of that, you know, because if it’s left undone, you will not be satisfied, but because I have lived longer than you guys I have some [experiences like this]. I’m sure many of our church members your age, you’re still in the middle of the pain, or you don’t see the end of the tunnel, but as someone who has lived maybe twice as long as you guys, I can tell you, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
A: My life is wrapped up with my church ministry, and I think it’s also my occupational hazard that I need to be able to do better in, somewhat separating [my own life from my ministry]. But I’m a product of my father’s generation too. My father retired and his friends retired, and they all died within a few years because their life is wrapped up with their church life. When they retire, they have nothing more to do. I hope that I wouldn’t be that bad when I do retire, that I will just go into like woodworking or something.
Currently though, my hope for Living Water five years from now is that our church would be a church plant, you know, even five years from now, that we could build upon the DNA of the church plant and never lose it. But also, in order to keep that alive, we need to be church planting. So in five years, maybe [more like] within two, three years, I would like our church to plant another church. I think there is a need for churches like Living Water in other cities. Each city needs at least one multi-ethnic church to be a good model. I think we could be that to different cities, maybe one in Holland or something nearby, or even distant places. I’m currently finishing up building a church and I’m beginning another project in India. I’ve been working on this for the last 10 years and I have an ongoing ministry there. And one church said that they want to name the church after Living Water. Our church doesn’t know that yet (laughter). So I want to take our church members to see what God is doing there and to those temple prostitutes. Those are sex workers, who just are blown away by the love of Jesus Christ that is modeled by the people who are visiting them.
So anyways, you know, [I hope] that our church can begin to see the glimpse of, Hey, we can be a church in Grand Rapids but also connected to our sister church in India, or some other city. And this is not colonialism. This is a way to share love. [There is] no other way of putting it, to be able to be a church that ministers to people that the dominant culture churches may not be mindful of.
And we want to be a church for minorities, or people of a third culture, so to speak. I want to see that happening, and actually actively planting churches like that in five years.
Q: Do you have any prayer requests that you would like to share with the Living Water family?
A: I need a lot of prayers, especially lately, for me to spend more time with the Lord, and not be so overcome with surroundings and busyness. I’ve been asking that more and more to people because, when I lead discipleship, it helps me because I’m more regular with [spending time in the Word and in prayer], but then when I’m off of it I’ve seen myself being, not quite with it. Doing a ministry for the Lord is different from me spending alone time with the Lord. I mean, sometimes it is, but most of the time I need to have a separate time just for myself with the Lord, just enjoying him and just being friends with him and things like that. So I need prayers along those lines.
Well that concludes our first series of People of Living Water interviews. Thank you again to Amy Hwang, Han Lee, and Anne Geiges for sharing their time and their thoughts with us, and a huge thank you to Pastor David Sung for being our guest this time around, and for actually delivering a whole loaf of soft, tasty bread to my house after the interview!!
If anything resonated with you, feel free to reach out to Pastor Sung and start a conversation, and we ask you to include him and his family in your prayers. And if you would like to have a chat with him, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a virtual meeting.
Who should we interview next? Let us know who you would like to see featured by submitting a comment down below, emailing us at email@example.com, or commenting on one of Living Water’s Instagram or Facebook posts.