Foreword by Jared Wilkins, pastor at Willow Creek
At Willow Creek, we are blessed to have a BIG FAMILY, with people who are from all over the world, who believe in the power of Jesus Christ! Just like my family of 6 has different personalities, our Church family has that plus different cultures, ages, races, languages, perspectives, and the list could go on! I have the privilege of leading Mosaic, a ministry that is devoted to learning from the diversity of our congregation and moving the conversation forward on reconciliation. A fundamental way to practice this is through Listening, Learning, and Loving.
During May, we celebrate Asian-American and Pacific Islander month, and we will have an opportunity to Learn from a few members of our family. I invite you to Listen, Learn, Love, and allow these compelling stories to shape your perspective as our hearts grow together.
Written by Charlene Hwang, part of the Willow family
I was born and raised in Singapore in a conservative Buddhist family. When I was in high school, my sister’s friend talked to me and gave me a book. I didn’t realize she was actually sharing the love of Christ with me.
Over time, I began to hang out with my sister and her group of friends, singing songs and listening to people talk on stage at church. I had no idea what I was doing at the time, but I enjoyed their friendship and kindness. Unfortunately, when my dad found out we were going to church and mixing with Christians, he locked my sister and me up at home. We weren’t allowed to go anywhere except school.
Fast forward 15 years later, I met the man who would become my husband. As we got to know each other, I found out he was a Christian, and I was excited when he introduced me to his church. I was ready to learn more about the Bible, Jesus, worship, and more. After we got married, we moved to Washington, DC and then to Chicago. It was a challenging adjustment for me, as I had to figure out everything on my own while my husband focused on his new job. And then I found out I was pregnant. Because I have lupus, I knew I would face health challenges, and going through all of this alone with no family or friends around was terrifying.
Then when our son was two and a half years old, he was diagnosed with cancer. Our lives were rocked. Being a new Christian with shallow faith, I kept questioning God and isolated myself. A few months into our son’s chemotherapy, I woke up one morning feeling weak and vomiting. I ended up in the hospital and was eventually diagnosed with meningitis. While being treated in the hospital, I had a huge lupus flare, and my body began to shut down. Alone in the ICU looking up the ceiling, I felt the comfort of a figure at the right side of my bed giving me a sense of peace that everything was going to be alright.
After three weeks in the hospital, the doctors still couldn't get my body condition under control. I was talking to God, telling Him I wanted to just let go. At that moment, I sensed a voice saying, “I am not done with you yet.” I didn't know where the voice came from or why. The next morning, I woke to the sunrise. It was so peaceful and calming. I walked to the window and asked, “God, is that you?” Suddenly, I heard a voice saying, “Your heart ... your heart ... your heart.”
For a moment, I couldn't understand, but then a sudden whisper ran through my head convicting me of two things: The first was my relationship with God. Did I put Him first? Did I focus on Him more than my problems? No, I didn't give God all of me. The second conviction was regarding my relationship with my earthly father who passed away long before we could reconcile. I never had a good relationship with him because there was so much verbal and physical pain in our home growing up. Because of pride and stubbornness, our relationship never mended before he died. I felt guilty. I wasn't aware that I had been carrying this bondage all this time, blaming myself when things went wrong.
Tears were streaming down my face as I knelt before God and confessed what surfaced in me. I prayed and asked for forgiveness and for His restoration in my life. I felt like I was born again with a renewed sense of peace, joy, and understanding. Upon returning home after almost six weeks in the hospital, I began to see the reason I needed that time in the hospital separated from my family. It was not just to restore me, but to put me in a place where I would begin to understand God more. Along the way, I witnessed to many nurses and doctors who attended to me. They saw a weak and sick patient walking out of the hospital with peace, joy, and strength. I am a living testimony of God’s great love and mercy. For without Him, there would be no me today.
And by God’s grace, my son’s health was also restored. His cancer is gone, and he’s been in remission for 14 years now. Our family is incredibly grateful to celebrate his life every year. We continue to pray, give thanks, and remain hopeful.