Grace Chung (center) with friends from new church plant in Plovdiv.

A Multigenerational Dream for Global Missions

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Dec 22, 2020

When you ask the typical missionary about their call to the mission field, they’ll often tell you about a key event or turning point in their life: a missions conference or sermon during which they felt the Spirit tugging on their heart to go preach the gospel to the nations, or a summer missions trip that God used to draw them to the field. For MTW missionary Grace Chung, the story of her call begins with grandmother, in Pyongyang, North Korea.

In 1907, decades before the Korean war split the country into North and South, a Presbyterian seminary in Pyongyang held a Bible conference. There, a Korean Presbyterian minister’s preaching sparked a revival that would take the city by storm. Over the next three years, 50,000 people were reportedly converted to Christianity—Grace’s grandmother, born the year of the revival, became a Christian decades later as a result of its influence, and she raised Grace’s mother to be Christian as well.

Her father, on the other hand, came from a typical shamanistic and Buddhist-background family When the war broke out, he was the only one in his family who escaped alive to South Korea. Orphaned at 18 and making his own way in the world ever since, he was strong-willed and self-sufficient by necessity. Not long after he married Grace’s mother, he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Looking for any possible life-saving solution, he decided to go with Grace’s grandmother to a Christian prayer retreat.

“God met him there in a very dramatic way,” said Grace. “He did a 180-degree turnaround from just living off his own strength to trusting Christ.

Preparing for China

After that, Grace’s father wanted to be a missionary to China. But this was the 1960s, and South Korea and China were sworn enemies, making it impossible for him to take his family there from Korea. At a time when many Koreans were immigrating to the United States in search of opportunity, Grace’s father was working in South Korea as an electrical engineer. It was a decent job and a good life. But he felt the Spirit calling his heart, and took his family and immigrated to America—not in search of the American dream as for some—but so that he could eventually go to China as a missionary.

In 1971, Grace’s family landed in a small town in Pennsylvania where her father had secured a job. He immediately began preparing for the mission field. Though he owned a perfectly good car, he decided to ride his bike to work every day because, as he put it, “people in China ride bikes.” He learned how to fix cars so that he could help people in China having car issues and use those interactions as a chance to evangelize.

“He would ride his bike to work in his three-piece suit, and then he would stop and help people who were stranded on the road,” Grace laughed.

“He believed that he could go, but God led him to wait,” Grace added. “He waited until God called him home.”

Grace’s father passed away. He never set foot in China.

Waiting on a Husband

What that whole experience did was give me a lifetime of not only the benefits of living in a free country with good churches and wonderful experiences and volunteerism … but I also benefited from watching him just singularly prepare for missions,” said Grace. “When I was young, I was afraid of the mission field. I thought: ‘How are we going to go to China? In the ‘60s and ‘70s, China was not the ideal place to go for a teenager. But by the time I was in my 20s I had a firm belief in God and walk with Christ. Once I was in occupational therapy school, I really thought I had a call for missions myself. I thought: What a wonderful profession to help people!”

Though Grace wanted to go to the mission field herself, her very traditional father had always told her that, as a woman, it would be better for her to go with a man—either with him or with her future husband. When her father died, Grace continued to respect her father’s wishes, waiting for a husband who would go with her into missions. But when she finally did meet the man who would become her husband, she had a problem. He didn’t have a call to missions.

“I prayed about it and I felt this peace that, if it was God’s will, it would happen,” Grace said.

And so, Grace got married, and again she patiently waited.

“I didn’t nag him or anything,” said Grace. “And then one day, 11 years after we were married, he said, ‘I’m ready. I think I have a call to missions myself, so let’s start preparing.’”

It was the miracle Grace had been waiting for—the chance to finally become a missionary.

Her husband, an IT professional, quit his job and went to seminary. Classes were free for wives, and so Grace attended as well. After graduating seminary, her husband took another year to get ordained—all the better to plant and lead churches overseas. They were actively applying for different missions agencies when, quite suddenly, Grace’s husband suffered a massive heart attack and died.

“God called him home,” Grace said. “He was preaching that night—his turn on a Wednesday evening. He served his church up the last minute. He served us. He picked me up from work that day. He took my 16-year-old daughter for her pre-driver test. Even on that last day he really lived wonderfully for the Lord.

A Difficult Diagnosis

A few years later, Grace went to the doctor for a routine checkup. They found cancer.

“I thought: ‘Now it’s my turn,’” said Grace. “First my dad, then my husband, now it’s my turn to die.”

The prognosis was fuzzy. Worst case scenario—the cancer would slowly but surely drain away Grace’s life; best case scenario—surgery would cure her completely. She was scared, worrying what would happen to her two children if she didn’t make it; ready to meet her Maker, but not ready all at the same time.

After surgery, the doctors gave her the good news. Surgery had completely cleared the cancer. No radiation, chemotherapy, or annual checkups required.

“They told me, ‘Don’t ever come back.’ And I said: ‘Gladly.’ And I ran out of there,” said Grace.

A Reminder of the Call

During her six weeks of recovery that followed, Grace started to think and pray hard about her cancer, her life, and her call.

“I was at the door of death,” she thought. “How did I escape?”

It was such a strange situation that Grace remembers getting on her knees and asking God, “Do you still have something for me to do at this age?”

By this time, Grace was in her early 50s. She had had a good occupational therapy career and was looking toward retirement. She had a house, two daughters in college, and an active special needs ministry at her church. Life was good, comfortable.

“I was kind of on autopilot with everything,” Grace said. “So to pray that prayer was upsetting my boat a little bit …. And then God reminded me of my call to missions when I was 20, and I just thought: ‘No, I can’t do it.’”

She was terrified. Why now? But then—seemingly out of nowhere—the words of Isaiah 41:10 came to mind: 

“Fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

“This is so weird,” Grace thought. “I think I have to grab hold of it.”

She called MTW that very afternoon. 

The Waiting Is Over

Today, Grace is an MTW missionary in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. She’s still doing occupational therapy, helping people through their health issues and using her work as a platform to share the gospel. She also works with the local church where she has spearheaded volunteer programs ministering to local special needs orphanages.

“I would love to impact the disability world here,” Grace said. “Especially orphanages and organizations that serve the special needs population. … I would love to see the Bulgarian church take and run with this concept of being merciful out in their community, of being the hands and feet of Christ. This is challenging for churches in post-communist societies, but so important and biblical.”

Recently, Bulgarian national partners at the church in Plovdiv started a daughter church—the first church plant in Plovdiv in a decade—and Grace and her team are working to get it up and going.

After many generations being drawn toward the missions field, Grace Chung finally made it. She’s living out her lifelong dream and serving God overseas, looking forward to how he will use her for His glory.

Grace Chung serves with MTW in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

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