As a Christian his whole life, Eddie had a purpose. Be good. Don’t lie. Don’t do drugs, and definitely don’t miss church. If that all fell in line, good things awaited.
But something changed.
“I came to a point,” Eddie says.
He is talking about his faith. His faith in God, to be specific.
“Am I gonna throw this all away, and forget about it? Or am I going to seriously pursue this?”
After a few more minutes of explaining why he asked himself that question, he speaks four very common words: It was really complicated.
A girl, of course, complicated things. The details can be spared because the synopsis (met in high school, took the relationship too seriously for the next seven years, only to see it all crumble) is all too common.
“We were just kids,” he suggests, while shrugging his shoulders and slightly smirking, indicating some sort of you-live-and-you-learn feeling.
Nevertheless, the breakup caused Eddie to question everything. And answers came slowly. For almost two years, he tromped from friend to friend, acquaintance to acquaintance, and bar to bar, seeking some semblance of satisfaction. He frequently searched outside himself to fill the void in his life.
But voids sit inside a person, not outside. Eddie began realizing this. He could feel it nagging at him.
So he asked that omni-important question.
“I had that moment,” Eddie says. “I remember it distinctly. I asked myself, 'Is this God thing actually real or not?'”
And the answer came pretty quickly.
“I felt like God was saying, 'Yes, but you gotta go all in'...So I did.”
Eddie Chun is 30-years-old. He stands about six feet tall. His approach to almost everything is laid back. Stress may come, but he always lets it go. In conversations, he chuckles a lot, listens well, and always jokes with a person, never at them. Everyone calls him “Eddie” because Edward simply doesn’t suit such an easy-going guy.
Growing up in the Southern California city of Winnetka, a suburb of Los Angeles, Eddie was raised in a typical suburban setting. Playing basketball, riding bikes, and, of course, going to church made up his normal week. For college, he ventured about an hour up the freeway to the University of California, Irvine, where he blended in with the largely Asian-American student body.
By all accounts and appearances, Eddie is your standard So-Cal guy.
But then, he picks up a guitar, strums a few times, and sings the first verse, and you realize just how unstandard he really is.
He possesses an uncanny talent for pairing his low, soft voice with the hum and twang of an acoustic guitar. A subtly balanced sound produced from a skill that Eddie describes as a gift from God.
In his family, however, Eddie is just another musician. His dad often started the day by singing Bible verses and prayers in a cappella. And Eddie’s two older brothers, who are both guitarists, led the bands for Sunday church service for many years. Playing the guitar and singing stem from Eddie’s lineage, and the family expected him to follow suit...naturally.
But as the youngest sibling often does, he resisted.
As a middle schooler, Eddie never sang. He refused to pick up a guitar or poke at a piano simply because it meant his being like everyone else in the family. His dad pushed him a little, trying to encourage Eddie to follow in the family tradition. But after a few years of direct refusals, Mom and Dad came up with a simpler plan during his eighth grade summer: put a hand-me-down acoustic guitar in the corner of Eddie’s room and pray that he picks it up.
“That thing collected a real good layer of dust that summer,” Eddie chuckles. “I loved singing when I was little but that ended when I got to middle school. Then, right before high school, something changed...One day, I looked at the guitar and thought, ‘Sure, why not?’”
Eddie, then, walked down the hall to his older brother’s room to learn a few chords and walked back to his room. Strumming came with ease. His fingers planted on frets and slid through chords at a rapid rate. Most beginners take at least two months to strum a full song. But for Eddie, it came within a few days. For the next couple of weeks, he practiced by himself in his room. Sometimes, he watched his brothers play, observing their finger placement, and then retreated back to his room to replicate what he just saw.
“He learned really quickly,” Ray, his second to oldest brother, remembers. “We taught him the very basic chord progressions, but he learned a lot by just watching us.”
Eddie began flipping through a hymnal book his dad oh-so-subtly placed in the room next to the guitar. Each page laid out the lyrics and chords of the songs Eddie heard each week at church. He already knew the tempo, melody, and progression of most of the songs. All he had to do was try it himself. This became a common scene in his room. He sat on the carpeted floor, legs stretched out and back leaning against his bed.
For the first few weeks after he picked up that guitar, the songs from the book were just that, songs. Just words and notes scrawled on a page. But one day, something shifted in the room.
He placed the hymnal book on the floor and opened to the page titled, “I Surrender All.”
As Eddie sang... I surrender all, I surrender all, All to Thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all ...he wept. The weight of those words became so heavy with reverence, love, and depth, that tears couldn’t help but fall. It defined the moment Eddie surrendered himself fully to God.
“It was crazy,” Eddie says. “As I sang, I could feel God so heavy upon me. I just kept playing and singing, and I made those words my prayer. I sang, ‘Jesus, I surrender all,’ and I really meant it.”
For the next several years, Eddie’s musicality blossomed. He started leading a local church’s youth band and took hold of the responsibilities that came with it. Setting up, playing a worship set, and tearing down the equipment became standard operating procedure on any given Sunday. His faith and understanding of God subsequently grew as he took on a leading role in the church. He even continued to lead worship at his home church throughout his college years.
throughout his college years.
Church life came easy for Eddie. His overwhelming talent caused pastors and leaders alike to simply throw him up there on stage. And Eddie joyfully answered the call to use his gift.
But that ended when his seven-year relationship with his girlfriend disintegrated. All of a sudden, things stopped being easy. The comfort that comes with a relationship was flung out of the window.
He had days of complete sadness and quickly realized that being alone spurned anxiety and depression. Feelings he had never felt. And all of a sudden, leading the band on Sundays wasn’t so easy.
The day eventually came when he needed to re-evaluate.
“At this point in my life, things became tough. I was lost,” Eddie says. “The church stuff all kind of became routine. I still knew I wanted to pursue music full-time, but I didn’t really know in what context.”
Two years later, in the summer of 2009, some buddies invited Eddie to a huge evangelical outreach event at Angel’s Stadium in Anaheim, California, called Harvest Crusade. Eddie knew the event well. Both Christians and nonbelievers pack into the stadium to watch popular Christian music bands perform, followed by a short gospel message from well-known pastor Greg Laurie.
Eddie shrugged off the invitation at first, but once his friends told him that Chris Tomlin, one of the most famous contemporary Christian music artists in the country, was scheduled to perform, he agreed.
Eddie arrived late, strolling into the stadium right as Tomlin began his set. The familiar voice boomed in Eddie’s ears. He looked on in awe. There stood a very normal looking guy, with a simple but strong voice, singing the song, “How Great is Our God” in front of tens of thousands of people.
“How Great is Our God” in front of tens of thousands of people.
“I have had the chance to sing this song in country after country,” Tomlin said midway through the song. “And I’ve tried to learn it in language after language.”
Then, Tomlin began to sing the song in different languages. And as an estimated 30,000 people scattered about the baseball stadium sang back, Eddie had a new vision for his life. He wanted to write songs that would impact people all over the world.
Eddie walked away from that night excited but also motivated to move forward. He knew a big next step loomed, and now was the time to act.
So, he began Googling music programs across the States and abroad. One school that continually popped up was Hillsong International Leadership College, the training college of Hillsong Church. Eddie could not deny a pull in that direction.
“I had been listening to Hillsong’s music a lot,” Eddie explains. “I knew they were doing amazing things, and I really wanted to travel. I wasn’t really attached to anything anymore, so I went for it.”
Hillsong Church, which is based in Sydney, Australia, is an internationally-known megachurch. It boasts of campuses across Australia, Europe, South Africa, and New York. Known for its influential music, the church’s international recognition grew from its chart-topping songs as far back as the mid-to-late 1990’s.
“I thought I was gonna learn about music,” Eddie says. “I was wrong.”
From the first time he led worship at 13-years-old to the summer he left California in 2010, Eddie relied on his natural ability.
Quickly after arriving at Hillsong College, however, he realized that this music program had very little to do with his musical ability.
music program had very little to do with his musical ability. The program’s opening seminar made it clear that before anybody hits the stage, they must do some grunt work first. Although they would soon learn how to lead worship, the program wanted its students to learn the importance of serving before leading.
Disappointment plagued Eddie. He ventured to the other side of the world to become a better worship leader. He felt like God had given him a gift to use. So when that didn't happen right away, frustration flooded. He spent all of his money to get there and enroll. And yet, shortly after arriving, he had to find a part-time job to cover the high costs of living.
The temptation to pack up and fly back to California tumbled through his head numerous times.
Six months slowly passed. And as they assigned him to sweep, arrange chairs, take care of kids during Sunday services, and even help in a women’s ministry, it finally hit him: God was refining him. Leadership roles and opportunities to stand in front of congregations had always been handed to Eddie, but he eventually got burned out. This time, God wanted to carve out that servant’s heart in Eddie first.
“It was very humbling,” Eddie admits.
His perspective shifted the more he assisted with the mundane side of keeping a church running. God began revealing to him what it means to be a man that pushes through amid any circumstance.
Eddie learned that a person has to be willing to give up everything for Him...for God. Then, and only then, are talents or giftings worth using. A person does not own a gift from God. But if a person shows an unwillingness to give it up, that person denies where it came from. With every aisle straightening task, or seat ushering assignment, this concept sank deeper into Eddie’s heart.
Eddie finished out the year at Hillsong College a different man.
“God is intense about answering prayers,” Eddie says. “I surrendered everything when I was there. I realize now after I left Hillsong College how much that prepared me for what was to come.”
During his time in Australia, Eddie was offered a position as a worship leader at New Harvest Ministry (NHM), the English Ministry of Sarang Community Church, located in Seoul’s busy hub of Gangnam.
“I always wanted Eddie to lead our congregation in worship,” Pastor Doug Park, of NHM, says. “I had him in the youth group back in California, but when I heard he left California, I thought it might be a good opportunity for him to be a worship leader in a larger ministry context.”
NHM has three services on Sundays and sees anywhere from 1,200 to 1,400 in attendance on a given weekend. In the fall of 2011, Eddie began leading all three services, which means organizing music, instrumentations, and rehearsals for a lot of volunteer musicians and singers.
But Eddie still needed a day job to supplement his income. A connection helped get him hired at an international K-12 school in Seoul, called Global Christian Foreign School (GCFS).
“I had served a lot in the kids’ ministry at Hillsong, so I knew God had prepared me for this,” Eddie says. “I was still in over my head as the sixth grade teacher, but I had full faith that God was doing all of this for a reason.”
Over a two-year period of teaching at the school, Eddie learned how to type up lesson plans and manage a classroom. But God wanted him to figure out something else.
“I learned how to pray,” Eddie says. And not just a simple prayer before a meal. Or a few words before bed. Eddie started to have vigorous times of prayer everyday at work throughout his week. Why? Because of the newest sixth grader at his school.
A transfer student shuffled into his classroom a month after the first semester started. The first day played out great. Smiles and excitement burst from that face. The second day, tears burst. The third day, screeching screams and high-pitched complaints about other students. The fourth day, a complete meltdown fueled by temper tantrums.
This student came to school everyday, looking for something Eddie could not give. Love at home. Encouragement and respect from family. Parents that constantly told him that he is a smart student with a bright future.
Eddie only saw the student at school. And everyday, when the two of them would go to the side to chat about bullies, or go to the hallway to discuss disruptive behavior, or sit on the stairs to hash out why it’s bad to be disrespectful, Eddie would tell him he is smart, intelligent, talented, and well-liked. The student, after a few hard minutes, would nod his head ever so slightly in agreement. And Eddie would then look to the sky, thanking God for yet another breakthrough.
Almost everyday, this would occur. And then, every next day, without fail, that student would show up with hurt written all over his face. An abusive home life will do that to an 11-year-old child.
But Eddie, in the context of experience, stood ill-equipped for this daily struggle.
struggle. So, he would ask God at the end of the week, “What can I do? How can I help this child?”
God’s answer? Be a man of prayer.
“If there is one thing that I learned at GCFS, it is how to pray,” Eddie repeats.
While the student still came to school carrying an unusually heavy load of self-condemnation, Eddie had hope. He always walked into his classroom with this thought: maybe today will be different.
When the last day of school came, Eddie led the high school band for the final chapel service of the school year. Students from kindergarten to 12th grade scattered about in different seats. As he started playing, a large chunk of kids stood in silence. Many students, more concerned with looking cool than worshipping God, simply stared forward with hands in their pockets. Eddie’s student played that part well at nearly every chapel service.
Eddie, on the other hand, belted the words about Jesus. He held nothing back. He sang his heart out, as if sincerely speaking to God. There was a lot to be thankful for, after all. It was the end of the year, and summer vacation had arrived. Eddie was set to be married in July to a beautiful woman he met in the fall, another answered prayer, and joy was written all over his face.
As he piped choruses and verses into a mic, his eyes scanned the crowd. Of course, he always desired to see them singing, but he understood if they didn’t. After all, he acted the same way in middle school.
And then, he saw it. On the right side of the room, amongst the elementary section, his student moved his lips a little. And then a little more. And by the last song, Eddie witnessed an answered prayer right before his eyes.
The student sang with him.
“I totally teared up when I saw that,” he remembers.
After the music ended, Eddie walked to the back and said, “It was all worth it.”
Music means a lot to Eddie. Ever since that day he sang “I Surrender All” by himself in his room, music has played an integral role at each phase of his life.
In the good moments, he sings. In the bad moments, he sings. He sings at work. He sings at home. He sings in the shower.
Music is truly Eddie’s gift from God. And his connection with Him.
“For me, worship means praising God in everything I do,” Eddie says. “Not just on Sundays or when I am leading a worship team. But in literally everything I do, I should give thanks and praise to God.”
The summer of 2013 has sped by. After getting married in California, he flew back to Seoul and began the application process for a graduate seminary program at Torch Trinity Graduate University.
Going to seminary had never been on his agenda. But he also knew that if God pushed him to go all in, only good would come of it.
Just like when he picked up that guitar 17 years ago.
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