After years of patiently waiting for God’s timing, I have finally enrolled into a seminary to move onto the next chapter of my life in God’s calling to become a minister of his word.
I already knew that the seminary of my choice (located in Korea) was “infamous” for being academically rigorous, but little did I know of the actual intensity that was to come; and in consequence would change my perspective in Christian discipline forever.
This is SPARTA!
I grew up and went through school in New Zealand, so I had absolutely no exposure to Korean education culture, but I did hear stories about it as I was growing up. Korea, in general, is a highly competitive society and education is no exception.
Public high schools’ curriculum finishes at 10pm (crazy compared to NZ’s 3pm!) and students usually sleep on average of 3 to 6 hours for good 7 years just so they can get admitted to prestigious universities in order to pave for themselves a good career path.
This competitive culture is permeated throughout society and you can easily find people who are highly diligent, industrious and conscientious in whatever field they are involved in, and my seminary was no exception.
The motive in the seminary however was much different to those of the world. If regular people were hard working for their own glory, prosperity and fame; the seminarians and the professors were clearly driven for one purpose: the glory of God and the expansion of His kingdom.
I went through a compulsory three-week intensive biblical Greek course in which we were made to go through a year’s worth of Greek course in just three weeks. I personally slept only 2 hours everyday for the first week and I forced myself to sleep a bit more (3-4 hours) for the rest of the course only because my health was rapidly deteriorating due to sudden lack of sleep and built up fatigue. This wasn’t just me, the whole class pretty much studied like this for three weeks, and nobody quit until the end.
I truly felt like an unprepared ordinary soldier who just finished boot camp, going straight into Spartan level training.
But why do such a ludicrous thing to begin with?
That was my first thought from Day 1. I mean it’s pretty obvious that such an intensive course, where you have so much study load that you are forced to sleep for only few hours a day for three weeks, is not going to be the most effective nor is this good for the students’ health and well-being in general.
This seemed like a broken system and I felt hopeless as I thought of how I’m just going to fail this course and will not be able to take my Greek II course in the upcoming first semester. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one who felt hopelessly discouraged – the whole class did.
The professor, fully knowing our current state of morale (as the school ran this intensive course for more than three decades now), exhorted us with love as to why we ought to study harder and pour out ourselves in studying for the glory of God.
“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in sage country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” (Hosea chapter 12, verse 5).
The professor reminded us that as we are comfortably sitting in our room with warm heaters and given the full privilege of being educated in the original language of the New Testament, some of our dear brothers and sisters in Christ were being martyred and persecuted for Christ’s sake.
He told us that as we are complaining of how overloaded we are with the word of God, there are hundreds of North Korean Christians just over the border that would give anything to have even a complete Bible.
This guy is being dead serious.
He was absolutely right, and I could tell he was being dead serious about it. I could feel that he himself lives such a dedicated and devoted life for Christ, gladly going without sleep and sacrificing all temporal things with singular purpose in mind: glorifying God and the expansion of His Kingdom.
I could finally see the true intent of this intensive course: set a new bar for the seminarians as to what extent we need to devote our lives for Christ.
I mean – of course I also “knew” that as Christians we ought to live a devoted and sacrificial life and I guess I somewhat claimed to live such a life to a certain extent, but I realized that in reality I was nowhere near being devoted.
I was so glad that through this experience, God has engraved in my heart a true biblical standard of devotion and sacrifice.
So, with such grace and mindset that I have received anew, I pray that I will violently march on and run this race with my eyes fixed on eternity, and on that day when I see my Lord face to face, I hope to limp towards him with my broken worn out body and cry out with tears running down my eyes:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me” (2 Timothy, chapter 4, verses 7-8).
Richard Kwon is from Auckland, a regular lay person who just loves the Lord.