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  • Writer's picturePaul Cho

Reflecting on My Dad's Vocation on Father's Day.

A few weeks ago, in our church's small group, we posed a question: "What does it mean to truly teach?" This question arose as we welcomed our friend back from two years of teaching in Korea. As he shared his experiences of teaching students from diverse backgrounds from all over the world, we were captivated by the question: How and when can the act of teaching truly become the vocation of our lives? How can the work of teaching truly matter in the presence of God and in the world of the covenantal cosmos that God loves and cares for? What does it mean to truly teach in the way that's meant to be and ought to be in the world in which we live and work?

The month of June, the month of Father’s Day, is a time of deep reflection for me as I ponder the life of my dad, who passed away five years ago on June 23 at the age of 62. He was a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Suwon in South Korea. He spent his life aspiring to teach, and he told me that when he became a professor, he knew this was his life's calling from the Lord, what he was meant to be and do. My dad was also a prolific writer. He wrote a short essay every week, writing about the world in which he lived and observed, about global and local issues, from environmental to economics, from politics to culture. He drew on his reflections of the world, sharing both his frustration, sometimes anger, with the world as it is and also hope for the world that can be and will be.

When my dad was alive, he often brought me into his world of teaching. I saw him researching, teaching, and writing. More than anything else, what I remember about his vocation is that he didn't just teach for the sake of teaching. He genuinely cared for his students and ensured they all flourished under his care. When he noticed his students were jobless after graduation, he called his corporate friends to hire and provide opportunities for his students. He believed in his students and that they would make a difference in the world. My dad truly saw his vocation as an opportunity to share life with his students. He organized sports and hiking events and enjoyed spending time with them. He invited students to his office and our home for meals and fellowship. Occasionally, he even hosted a Bible study in his office, inviting students to come, talk about truths and the meaning of life, and share openly and deeply about the stories of our lives as they are, in the world that is.

Yesterday, while reflecting on his world of vocation and the legacy of his life, I picked up a book. It was a collection of short essays my dad wrote before he passed away. As I read, I came across a section where he discussed the environmental pollution issues our world currently faces at both global and local levels. In his writing, he expressed genuine concerns about the pollution that the world has produced. He stressed that it cannot be contained, as pollution in one area affects the whole world and causes long-lasting devastating damage, particularly to those who are socially and economically disadvantaged. I could sense my dad was trying to say pollution is more than an environmental issue, but also an economic and social one. Then, he concluded his essay by posing a question that we all should take to heart: Aren't these issues that can be solved, only if we choose to care and practice an economy and engineering inspired by the visions and values of the kingdom to come?

Reading my dad's short essay reminded me of a conversation I had last Thursday with my mentors and friends from Vancouver, Korea, and Washington DC. In the call, we discussed what economics driven by covenantal realities might look like in a world that is driven by transactional economics. The Biblical term 'Covenant' is a rich word, as Dr. Steven Garber explains in Visions of Vocation, that encompasses three dimensions of life: relationship, revelation, and responsibility. In the world of the covenantal cosmos, our Lord invites us to enter into a relationship of true love, reveals Himself to us showing us who He is and what He cares for, and invites us to live a seamless life of redemption and responsibility, embodying the true love of God in and through our vocations.

As I read this portion of the essay more carefully, I understood what my dad was trying to convey. He was envisioning a world defined by covenantal realities, a world where God calls us to embody His love through our vocation. For him, as a professor of engineering, it meant a world in which covenantal environmental engineering is fully operative for the "mutual" good, the flourishing of the whole world where both the economically and socially powerful and poor come together for the joyful life of worship and work in the presence of the Lord who gives life. By envisioning this, he was inviting his colleagues and students to work toward an engineering that is inspired by this kingdom vision of covenantal engineering that heals, restores, and brings life for the mutual good of the world to the glory of God.

As I read and reflected further on his life, both the good and bad memories, the joyful and painful moments, I wondered what his lasting legacy could be. During my dad's three-day funeral, many of his students cancelled their busy schedules and stayed with our family for the entire time. Both current and former students truly missed the presence of my dad, who strived to embody, not perfectly but proximately, God's love through his vocation as a professor. This was his legacy - the relationships of love that he cherished and left behind in his vocational world as a professor and friend to many.

My dad also left behind a profound truth to me and his students about our vocations. The day after the funeral, my dad appeared in my dream and told me, "Paul, I am leaving earlier than everyone expected, because the Lord called me to come." My dad did not say he died of cancer or because of this or that, but simply because the Lord called him. For him, life before death and life after death were no different. They were the same thing, a life defined by a calling, a calling to be and to do, to be a child of God and to serve the Lord through his vocation. Both through his life here on earth and his life after death, my dad showed me how to live a seamless life that begins with our vocations that connects the world of now that is and the world of not yet that is to come. My dad may have lived a short life on earth, but he lived it fully and seamlessly, embodying the life of the kingdom in his vocation and pointing the world through his vocation to the new world defined by the realities of covenantal engineering that heals and brings life.

My dad instilled in me an imagination, a vision of the real and true world that is to come, a world defined by covenantal realities in the truest sense. A world where engineers and economists work for the good of the world, to the glory of God, a work that begins here and now through our vocations as we step into the world.

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