In 1965, in ninth grade, Tae Yong Pak ’22 (M.Div.) saw a short-haired girl play the pedal organ at a church service in Song Tan, South Korea, where they grown up. “Like Romeo and Juliet, I fell in love with her at first sight.”
Tae and young musician, Young Oak Pak ’22 (DASD), began dating years later when they were college students and married in 1976. “I married my first love in the same church” , explains Tae. Today, the couple have three daughters and six grandchildren.
In 1975 Tae immigrated to the United States; he returned briefly to South Korea and married Young, who came to the United States in 1977, and they lived in the Bay Area of California. Tae’s career was with the Santa Clara Valley Water District, where he retired as a senior chemist, and Young’s career was with the United States Postal Service.
With retirement, Tae and Young explored the possibility of pursuing a new dream, the one they had planned for: “I saved all your tuition. Go study. It’s what you want,” Young told Tae at the time. He admits to spending too much of his early retirement playing tennis, reading classics, listening to music and, he adds with a laugh, “enjoying Coors Light whiskey, Meiomi Pinot or Jameson Irish. “.
Pursue a new path
In 2019, Tae took the first step towards achieving his second career and enrolled in the San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS) at the Graduate School of Theology at the University of Redlands to earn a Master of Divinity, after having also received a scholarship from the Alumni Association. Young visited some of Tae’s classes and Professor Daniel Yi suggested that he pursue a degree in the art of spiritual direction. Both are graduating from Seminary this month.
Throughout their journey in South Korea and the United States, they were guided by a strong faith in God. “We were both born into Christian families,” Tae says. “We have served the church throughout our lives.”
Young already has a degree in music from Yonsei University in Seoul, and Tae has already earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in English literature, which he earned in South Korea, and the other in chemical engineering from San Jose State University. Tae’s literary upbringing influenced his SFTS studies, he says, “I read a lot of long European novels. I was interested in theology, and the Bible is the backbone of The setmaples by Victor Hugo, The Karamazov brothers by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ulysses by James Joyce, and numerous works by the American mystic and spiritualist Thomas Merton.
At SFTS, the couple moved to the student village on campus and immersed themselves in their studies. “English is not our first language,” Tae says, and they typed up their notes and recorded lectures which they listened to over and over. “Writing long reports was a hardship, but they are a sweet memory now.” With a small living room in their campus house, Young studied at home and Tae studied in the student lounge, which the other students dubbed “Tae’s living room”.
With their degrees in hand, Tae and Young will now return to South Korea as Presbyterian missionaries. “We plan to teach North Korean refugee students English, chemistry or the Bible,” Tae explains. Young says she will also teach music and “practice her knowledge of spiritual direction in the church environment.”
As they relocate again to pursue a new chapter, Tae turns to the words of Victor Hugo in The setmaples and why the formidable French army lost the battle: “Napoleon’s artillery was too concentrated on a given point to bombard it and obliterate it. The night before, it had rained and the muddy ground had delayed the mobility of Napoleon’s invincible artillery units,” Tae explains. “Hugo described it as ‘Providence only needed a little rain.’
“My confession is that the story and my life is in providence,” Tae says of God’s benevolent guidance. “I will do my best to align the rest of my life with providence.”
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