Dr. Stephen Yoon: From Swimmer to Ambassador in N. Korea!
By Bill MacLeod
Dr. Stephen Yoon lives and works in North Korea with his wife, Joy, and their four children as part of the IGNIS Community, an international NGO that aids in the healthy development of North Korean Children in the realm of medicine, Health, and Education. They live in the capital city serving in the Pyongyang Medical University Hospital. We were privileged to welcome Stephen when he spoke to Pastors and leaders here in October, and we learned so much about the people and country the Lord’s called them to for which to many of us is shrouded in mystery. We look forward to his returning as our plenary speaker this January. Here’s an exchange we had as he reflected on his life in light of our One Body, One Voice, One Mission theme…
Bill: When were you first aware of God working in your life? What age were you and what were the circumstances?
Stephen: It was my senior year in high school. My mother has just passed away from cancer, and I was seeking God’s calling upon my life. My friends and I were gathered together for a special event, and the pastor asked those of us who felt called to serve God overseas to stand up and walk to the front. Thinking that my friends would join me, I immediately stood up and started walking towards the front, but to my dismay, my friends did not follow! But I knew that night that God had a special calling upon my life, and I dedicated my life from that point onward for his full service wherever he would call me.
Bill: What did the Lord use in your life primarily to call you into the ministry you lead now?
Stephen: Initially as I received my ministry calling, I thought that God would use me as a professional swimmer perhaps in nations that were not open to traditional mission’s work. But then as I was praying, I sensed that God was calling me to do something impossible. What is impossible, I thought. Studying! As an athlete I had never focused on my studies before, and what more impossible than to go into medical missions, I thought.
Soon afterwards, I moved to the U.S. as a foreign student. After learning English, I began my undergraduate studies in pre-medicine. There I met my wife. She had a calling for North Korea. As a South Korean who grew up under the post-Korean War, anti-communist era, North Korea was never on my radar. It was actually through her that our entire family ended up serving in North Korea.
Bill: What has touched you the most about being “One in Christ” as you have grown in your walk with Him and carried out your ministry?
Stephen: As Ephesians 6:12 states, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and powers of the spiritual realms”, likewise one of the greatest spiritual strongholds over the Korean Peninsula is the stronghold of division.
Rather than fighting this stronghold face-on, our calling as followers of Jesus is to walk in the opposite fruits of the Spirit, in particularly stepping forth in unity. As a result, ministering as a united community is a powerful witness in North Korea. In a land that is riddled with division and conflict, living in peace with one another despite our weaknesses speaks of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness to those around us.
B: As you consider Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 12:12-27 about the “one-ness” of the Body of Christ, how do how see this truth playing out as you fulfill your ministry?
S: In North Korea, circumstances actually require us to live and work together in community. This means living in the same home and sharing the same space with our teammates. It can be challenging working among teammates from different cultures and backgrounds. Even figuring out what to eat for dinner is not a simple task. And since none of us are perfect, challenges and conflict can arise, but it is the way in which we handle these circumstances that demonstrates love, forgiveness, and grace to the North Korean people. We are called to be one as He is one. It is through our oneness that others will know that we are from the Father.
B: In John 10:30 the Bible speaks of Jesus being ONE with the Father, but in John 17:11, Jesus says that we should also be ONE with Them. When do you most experience oneness with the Father and Son, as you carry out your life and ministry?
S: I experience oneness with the Father and the Son when I am in the center of His Will for my life. Following God’s calling is not easy. In fact, sometimes it is extremely difficult. I have been led into isolating circumstances, areas of conflict, and suffering. But as I learn to depend fully upon the Father and be washed in the blood of His Son, the more I experience oneness with God.
God has called our family particularly to the ministry of reconciliation. As 2 Cor. 5:17-19 explains, we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation. In a divided nation, amongst divided people, we have been called to walk forth in reconciliation where there is conflict and misunderstanding. But I feel close to the Father’s heart in the midst of these challenging circumstances because I can identify with how Christ has reconciled us. The ministry of reconciliation requires sacrifice. We play the role of a bridge, and as a result, we get stepped on and trampled on. But ultimately there is joy in following the Father’s heart and calling upon our lives. It is rewarding as we see small glimpses of hope in the midst of conflict, understanding in the midst of confusion, and peace in the middle of conflict and division.
B: What would you desire attendees at Mission ConneXion Northwest 2020 come away with as a result of your participation and expression?
S: My greatest desire is for people to catch the vision of living as ambassadors of reconciliation. This is especially true for North Korea and the Korean Peninsula, but it is a calling that we all have no matter where we are or with what ministry we are involved in. God is calling us to walk forth as peacemakers, bridge connectors, and ambassadors for His Kingdom in areas of conflict and misunderstanding.