In Seoul, a friend of many years asked me to meet one of his childhood buddies. At this point, both were in their mid to late sixties, and each was a very senior Korean government official. My friend was in the President’s Cabinet, and his friend was a legislator, Committee Chairman and the leader of a political party. My friend is an evangelical follower of Jesus, and the man he wanted me to meet is a practicing Buddhist. They had maintained their friendship for almost sixty years, which is a typical Korean quality that I admire immensely.
An appointment was set up, and I was told that we had fifteen minutes. In order to honor the confidentiality of our relationship, I will refer to this man as Hyun Oh. My friend introduced me as a completely apolitical person and a man he could trust. Since they completely trusted each other, this was a ringing endorsement.
After a few minutes of small talk, we transitioned to more substantive topics. Since he was an expert in national intelligence, I asked him what his greatest concern was for the nation. He was very open and explained a difficult situation with North Korea. I am certain that he did not give me any information that I could not find on my own, but it seemed like he was being very vulnerable. As we were getting close to the end of our very short meeting, I asked if it would be all right if I prayed for him. I thought his answer was no so I stood up to leave and he said, “Aren’t you going to pray?” I explained that I had misunderstood his answer and sat back down. I prayed a very short prayer for him and the issue we had discussed. Then keeping our commitment, we left after a fifteen-minute meeting.
Late that evening I received a phone call in my hotel room from Hyun Oh’s Executive Assistant. He said that the Congressman would like to meet with me the next morning for breakfast. I accepted and agreed to meet him in the lobby at 7:30 am. Even though I already had a breakfast scheduled, I knew that it could be rescheduled and I sensed that breakfast with Hyun Oh was where God was leading.
He was right on time, which told me that our meeting was important to him because morning traffic in Seoul is horrendous. I quickly recognized him, and he told me that since this was a last minute meeting, every private room in the hotel is unavailable. I said that would not be a problem for me, let’s eat in the coffee shop. He said he would prefer a private room, so he had arranged for us to have a table in the ballroom that seats several thousand people. So we had one small table in the corner of this immense empty ballroom. It was a very unusual setting but looking back, it was a special memory for both of us.
As we sat down, he opened the conversation by telling me how meaningful my prayer was to him, and then almost verbatim recounted every word that I had said. He told me that he was under an intense amount of pressure, and my prayer was a real encouragement to him. Later, I learned more about the stress he was speaking about. Then we continued the conversation that began in his office, and he shared more details about the North Korea problem. I got the impression that these things were not public knowledge, and he wanted me to pray for them. As I reflect on that morning, I believe God used that breakfast to bond our hearts in friendship.
We began our relationship during a period of political unrest in Korea. It was a time marked by political, labor, student and farmers protests that often turned violent. On one occasion, the rioters exploded a bomb across the street from my hotel, which severely damaged the American Consulate. At times, there were hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, and the police and military were everywhere. While returning to my hotel, I experienced the uncomfortable effect of drifting tear gas more than once. The TV and newspapers were reporting criminal allegations against many politicians. It was from the newspapers that I learned that Hyun Oh was facing charges that were quite serious. The best I could discern, they were trumped up, but they were serious enough that if proven, he faced the possibility of imprisonment. I think this is why my friend wanted me to meet Hyun Oh.
One time I was meeting him in his office, and he was quite depressed and feeling very alone in the world. I prayed with him and said, “Hyun Oh, I am your friend, and I will be there for you whether you go to prison or become President.” That was so meaningful to him that later he said several times publicly, “Every person should have one essential friend like Glenn Murray. The political conspiracies eventually ended with several people going to jail, but Hyun Oh was exonerated.
We continued to meet, and since we really enjoyed each other, we had many private dinners with late night discussions. Since I speak about Jesus easily and naturally, I often wondered why I felt a check about engaging him in a serious discussion about the gospel. He and I often talked about Jesus, but it was generic in nature, or about my own faith in Christ. I was waiting for the Spirit to prompt me to pursue a deeper dialogue with him.
When that moment finally arrived, we were having lunch alone in a private room at his men’s club. Ten minutes after we sat down I felt what I had been waiting for. It was what I have come to call the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Before I share what happened that day, a little background on Buddhism would help you understand the context of our discussion. Regarding God, Buddhism claims to be agnostic however practically it works out to be atheism. Buddha said; “It is impossible to know whether or not there is a God, so forget about the question.” That means that my friend Hyun Oh had been raised in a system of thought that denies the existence of God. He thinks he doesn’t believe in God, but I felt that deep inside he must be aware of something greater than himself. So I wanted to pursue that based on several Scriptures that are central to my thinking when I meet with atheists or Buddhists’.
The Apostle Paul states “…what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” (Rom, 1: 19-20) That is supported in the Old Testament by the following verse; “…God has planted eternity in the human heart…” (Ec 3:11) In another New Testament verse, it says, “…In the past he permitted all the nations to go their own ways, but he never left them without evidence of himself and his goodness.” (Acts 14:16-17 NLT) This means that every person on earth cannot avoid having an innate sense of something greater than themselves. Therefore, I look for that in every person I meet, but wait for God’s direction about how to proceed. I had waited far longer than normal with Hyun Oh, but now I definitely felt that the Holy Spirit was prompting me, so I took the direct approach.
I asked him if I could ask a personal question and he was a little annoyed with me and said, of course, but I don’t know why you would ask me for permission. I thought our friendship allowed us to ask personal questions of one another. I apologized and said, that’s true, but this question is sensitive because it is about your religion. He said no problem, what do you want to know?
Rather than confront his belief system, the Lord gave me a question that was intentionally designed to bypass it. “Have you ever been in a difficult situation that made you feel like you needed to talk to God or that God was trying to talk to you?” He took my question seriously and thought deeply for several seconds. Then he answered; “Yes, I think twice. Once when I was a child and once during the Korean war.” My response was, I felt very comfortable asking you that question because the Bible says that every person on earth has had that experience.
Then I asked if he knew anything about Blaise Pascal, the Sixteenth Century French mathematician, and physicist? He did know a little about him, so I gave him a famous quote attributed to Pascal. “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.” I added my editorial comments and explained that a vacuum abhors a vacuum and longs to be filled. Down through the centuries men have tried to fill that vacuum with, power, possessions, pleasure, etc., but since it is in the shape of God, only God can fill that hole in our heart.
While explaining the God-shaped vacuum, I kept pointing to my heart with my index finger, and I must have given him the impression that it is a very small area in every man. He was quiet for a few moments and then as if something might be wrong with him, he said; “Glenn I think I have a very big one.” I affirmed what he was feeling and told him that I had the same feeling when I discovered the hole in my heart. However, when I surrendered my life to Jesus, he forgave all my sins, filled that hole in my heart, and gave me peace with God.
This led to many questions and a fuller explanation of the gospel. After about thirty minutes, he said I would like Jesus to forgive my sins and give me eternal life. So we prayed together, and the power of the Holy Spirit was evident as he went from death to life and from an atheist to a brother in Christ. Hyun Oh now attends a weekly Bible study with a few men, and I’m encouraged by his spiritual growth.
I am so glad I waited for God’s timing because if I had pushed him before this moment, he would not have been ready and may have been driven away. This experience helped me fully understand that God’s timing is perfect and it helped me with numerous future relationships.