Good morning McReaders! Today’s entree comes to us from one of my friends and classmates, EunJoo Ryo, or as many of you at McCormick know her, as Angela. Angela is a second year student here; she walks the halls with a bright smile and typically with coffee in hand. Recently, I was in class with Angela and I heard a part of her story. We all have stories, and once I heard only a little of Angela’s, I knew you all should hear it and a bit more, and she was gracious enough to share it with all of you.

Listening to her story makes me think of the song, “City of Immigrants,” by one of my absolute favorite artists, Steve Earl. It’s a song about all of us: immigrants from somewhere else (unless you of course are a Native American). Even the latest translation of the Bible, the Common English Bible, uses the word immigrant in its translations because it is such a relevant word. This word is one that touches everyone in some way. We all came from somewhere else. I came from immigrants from the southern most part of Sweden searching for land to farm as well as French and Scottish peasants attempting to escape religious persecution. We all have a story of how we got to where we are, and here is Angela’s story. I hope you enjoy.

So, tell us your name, what year you are, and which degree you are working on.

My name is Angela Ryo.  My legal name is EunJoo, but Angela is more of my ministry name since I started as a children’s ministry director, and not many children could pronounce my name right.  Angela seemed close enough to my Korean name, EunJoo. (If it takes me this long to tell you my name, it slightly worries me as to how long my other answers will be…) I am in my second year of the MDiv program.

Can you tell us a little about your family?

I am the youngest of five girls.  Initially, they were going to keep going until they hit jackpot (i.e. a son), but I guess they (wisely) decided that I’d be their last disappointment.  Okay, as resentful as that may have sounded, I really am not.  My parents have told us time and again how grateful they are to have five girls—that they would NEVER trade any of us in for a boy.  (Wait, did that sound pretty bitter? Ugh!  I’m just digging deeper, aren’t I?)

Now, I have a family of my own with an uber cool designer-in-training hubby and two children, Luke (9) an Love Lee(8) (I just had to tag on the last name!).  Luke is an aspiring comic book artist/shop owner and Love wants to become an artist, a vet, a horse trainer, and a gazillion other things when she grows up.

What brought you to McCormick?

My husband, David, had attended McCormick several years ago and it totally rocked my boat at the time.  Having grown up in an evangelical family and church, I considered everything David was learning from McCormick as outright heresy.  Naturally, I blamed McCormick for David’s cross over to the “dark side” (after all, he IS Luke’s father…).  However, when it came time for me to acknowledge and follow my own calling, McCormick stood out above the rest.

First, it was a PCUSA seminary (I grew up in the PCUSA church); second, I finally came to recognize the transformation in David as being absolutely remarkable (and thus embracing the good work McCormick was doing); and third, I wanted to be theologically challenged as an Evangelical Christian and yet fully affirmed and empowered as an Asian American woman in ministry (I knew McCormick could do both for me.)

So, tell us a little more about you…

Hm…where to begin? Before coming to McCormick, I had been a high school English teacher in various suburban as well as urban public schools.  I really do miss teaching.  I still get to teach ESL at my old high school during summer school which I absolutely love doing.  More than teaching itself, I think I really enjoy connecting with those crazy teenagers (God only knows why!) and uncovering their hidden potentials.  I’d like to consider myself a…potentialist?  (Hey, what do you know–I just made that one up!  Definition:  one who excavates for potentials in people.) Currently, I serve a small Korean PCUSA immigrant church in Des Plaines as an English Ministry pastor for mostly young people in their twenties.  I love it!  =)

So, a little bit more about me (that’s right!  It’s all about me!).  I came from Korea to live in Skokie, one of the northern suburbs of Chicago, when I was nine years old.  After about two years, we had overstayed our visa, and our family was out of status with no way of becoming “legal” again.  It’s funny how I can talk about this so freely now because for nearly twenty years of my life, our immigration status had been the primary source of our family’s grief and shame; it was the greatest secret that weighed heavily on my heart for so long.  It feels somewhat liberating to talk about it!  Thanks for the therapy session! =)  So, let me just ramble on a bit more, if I may (in need of further therapy, I think!).

Living as an undocumented immigrant in a rather upscale neighborhood, I felt humiliated, ashamed, and more than anything, misplaced.  Mastering the alphabet alone was a tearful experience for me.  I think it took me at least several weeks!  However, social reclusion was harder to bear than learning English.  My greatest defense was to flash big, empty smiles and just eagerly nod my head “yes”; I learned quite early that it was always better to agree than to disagree.

I became very much involved in a local Korean immigrant PCUSA church.  That was my form of escape; the church made me feel “legal,” free, hopeful.  However, two conflicting and disparate identities began to torment me.  At school, I was no different than other second-generation Korean-Americans who were fully immersed into the American culture.  But at church, I was one of the “FOB’s,” those who had freshly stepped off the boat.  Our youth group exclusively spoke Korean to the point where I would be shocked upon stepping outside of the church to discover that I was still in America! I didn’t know how to reconcile these two identities.  Do I fully and truly belong anywhere?  What does it mean to be a Korean-American?

These different cultural experiences, however, really gave me the opportunity to exist in a liminal space. Now I realize how fortunate I am to belong to this in-between place of neither here nor there, this nor that.  I enjoy this place because I believe it gives me the power and creativity to think differently.  My hyphenated identity which I had once considered a curse became one of the greatest blessings; it has empowered me to see things from different perspectives and granted me the insight to criticize and analyze both as an insider as well as an outsider.  It’s a great place to practice some of that good ol’ “prophetic imagination!”

What are you hoping to do after you graduate?

Hopefully get a job that would sufficiently feed and clothe my children.  Then again, the Holy Spirit quietly reminds me of Matthew 6:25:  “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”  If that’s the case, I guess I can hope a little.  Here goes:  Travel all over the world and preach the good news!  Okay, find a little balance between the two, you say?  I think three things I would really like to be included in my future ministry would be preaching, teaching, and counseling within the context of cultural diversity and social activism.  I am not quite sure if a job like that exists—any ideas?  I’m hoping that my MDiv degree and ordination in the PCUSA would equip me well and take me closer to the heart of my vision.

What are your favorite foods to cook? Eat?

I must admit, I don’t cook much.  I don’t think many Koreans would be proud to claim me as one of their own since I don’t even know how to make Kimchi!  I used to love baking, but alas, it was a passing phase.  I think best dishes I’ve made really came from using eclectic left-over ingredients from my refrigerator and the pantry.  When I used to room with one of my sisters in college, she would not allow us to go grocery shopping unless we completely depleted our food supply.  So, we’d be left with a little bit of kimchi, a slice of cheese, couple of eggs, and some left-over spaghetti.  Oh, and did I mention half a bottle of mustard?  The challenge would be to create a dish using ALL of those random ingredients (I hope you are not eating as you are reading this!).  Yeah…I should have just left at my first sentence, “I don’t cook much.”  On a happier note, I love to eat EVERYTHING other people cook for me (except maybe my sister who would actually make a dish using all of the above ingredients!).

What are your favorite things to do with your children?

Going to the park, taking long walks, going to the library, reading together, eating together—really, anything that engages us in some deep conversations about life and God because they say the darnedest (and sometimes wisest) things!  Besides, none of the above things cost me anything other than time and love which I have plenty to go around!  (well, maybe not the former but definitely the latter!)

I want to thank Angela for her willingness to talk openly about her story and who she is!

Well, there you have it. As the Wailin’ Jennies say, this is the sound of One Voice. One voice within the walls of McCormick. There are more, and they all have stories. They all sound different, because they are and they help make us who we are here inside the walls of 5460 and outside in the wider world. The important thing is that we offer room to tell those stories and we listen and take something away with us.

Until Friday when we’ll be bringing you more of Pigeon’s corner!


Shelley D.

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