Lee, a refugee himself, believes strongly that the refugee support programs currently being supported in the presbytery are expressing Micah’s call.
“The Micah admonition is to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God,” he said. “Clearly, when we work with refugee resettlements, we do all three of these. It is justice work, when people have to flee their countries under threat, that we receive them and welcome them. It certainly is kindness, and it is a way of walking humbly with God by saying we’re disciples and we walk humbly before God because, but for the grace of God, there go we.”
That certainly applies to Lee. When he was an infant, his parents fled war-torn North Korea, after having fled previously during the Communist revolution in China. Eventually, the Lee family applied for asylum through sponsorship of Church World Service.
A Denver Presbyterian couple, Hi and Esther Jennings, sponsored the Lees. “Our family was so grateful to the
Jenningses,” Lee said. “Though our stay in Denver was short, we maintained our relations with them long after we left.”
The Lee family finally settled in San Francisco, joined the Presbyterian Church of Chinatown, and attended Cameron House, a joint ministry of the church and Presbytery of San Francisco.
Lee recalled being immersed in the activities of the Chinatown
community. “At Cameron House I was in the youth programs — sports, youth worship, summer camp,” he said. In addition, the young refugee learned English by going to public schools and watching television.
“I had great memories of Cameron House, being in it and part of its youth ministry,” he recalled, “and I sensed God‚s call. I remembered what a former pastor had said to me: ‘You should think about going to seminary.’
At the time I laughed it off. But recalling that conversation was the turning point for me, and I found myself at San Francisco Theological Seminary,” with the family’s blessings, he added.
As a pastor, Lee’s first call was in New York City. He returned to the San Francisco Bay Area as an organizing pastor for a new church development in San Jose. From that experience, Lee became the Presbytery of San Jose’s associate executive presbyter, maintaining an interest in new church development.
Lee had assumed the position of executive presbyter of the Presbytery of San Jose by the beginning of the 218th General Assembly. However, he will not be that involved in the Assembly.
“We have plenty of good folks on our Committee on Local
Arrangements,” he said. “What I hope we get from the General Assembly,” he added, “is the satisfaction of being good hosts, like when you throw a good party.”
“I do hope our own presbytery members, congregations, and pastors get a glimpse of the wider church.”
Meanwhile, Lee said he is “keeping my eye on the presbytery and its concerns. We still have vacant pulpits. My worries are with churches and how they’re going to survive when their membership is down and Silicon Valley is such an incredibly expensive place to live and operate, and about transition between pastorates. These are changes that can really disrupt the life of a congregation.”
Lee is grateful for the influx of one new population — the growing number of refugees from Burma and other countries — joining several of the presbytery’s congregations. The presbytery even has a Refugee Ministry Advocate.
“I will be the first to stand up and cheer when churches get involved in the resettlement and welcoming of refugees because I am a recipient of that welcome,” he said. “I hope we get more involved.” He paused. “After all, you might be welcoming a future Presbyterian minister!”