Peter Kang’s Facebook says many things, but overall, it says one thing: he knows how to live life.
On July 19, 2013, he posted this: Five am, getting ready to climb.
A camera phone snapshot accompanies the fragmented sentence. The picture frames two sunny-side up eggs sizzling between two strips of bacon in a cast iron skillet with one of those European stovetop coffee makers, simmering on the corner burner. A breakfast seemingly fit for an all day rock climb.
July 4th reads: My girls at my volunteering house are growing up, such a trip. Now I’m understanding how parents must feel.
The “house” he refers to is an orphanage that Peter has volunteered at for over four years. One of those girls is Sunju. Peter has shown up once a week for an hour to teach her English for the last two years. Her 13th birthday had just passed shortly before Peter wrote this. He can’t help but appreciate some sarcasm and sass coming from her these days. It reminds him of himself at that age.
February 5th’s Facebook post has a video link under it that redirects to an online video series called Semipermanent. The post reads: Haven’t watched it yet but this is an episode from semipermanent. Enjoy!
The show follows the hosts, a hip, young expat couple, as they tackle some of the cultural nuances of being a foreigner living in Seoul, South Korea. This episode is dedicated to the art scene. The first segment of the episode features Peter at the pottery studio at his university. As a graduating ceramic potter, his twist on traditional Korean pottery aesthetics becomes the focus of the segment. “The simplicity and elegance of each form, and the purpose it serves, holds a subtle but powerful presence,” Peter insightfully explains in a soft, yet expressive tone to open the show.
soft, yet expressive tone to open the show.
On June 26th, Peter’s Facebook profile has no sentences posted. Just a graphic with cool type that reads: Deaf Spanish @ Kuchu Camp.
Peter posted the flyer to spread the word about a gig that his band, Deaf Spanish, had in the next few days. Peter plays lead guitar in the band and sings as the frontman for the indie-inspired quartet.
All this to say, Peter currently lives the dream. And has for the past few years.
——————————— He is one of those guys that when he does something, he just kind of does it. Nothing stops him. And that helps people to reach the things they dream about without any fear. In that sense, he is one of the most inspiring and admirable people. -Solnae, keyboardist/singer for Deaf Spanish ———————————
At a young age, Peter recognized an affinity for art and underground culture. Growing up in Minnesota, he remembers his school giving students ample opportunity to learn about and work with different mediums of art.
He got his first guitar in seventh grade and ollied his first skateboard around the same time. As high school came and went, leading into university, Peter continually found himself drawn to things like art, photography, and alternative sports.
He has rocked long scraggly hair multiple times in his life. A nose ring poked out from his face for awhile, and people have been known to call him “Mowgli,” a reference to the shirtless, tree climbing, main character of Disney’s The Jungle Book.
“Mowgli,” a reference to the shirtless, tree climbing, main character of Disney’s The Jungle Book.
One might observe Peter and blurt out, “He is, like, one of those artsy kind of people.”
Maybe. Actually, probably. But Peter is unique among the uniques.
Why? For one reason.
Peter has a deep relationship with Jesus.
On most Sundays as a kid, his parents attended a Catholic church in downtown Minneapolis. He remembers the standard images of a Catholic mass. He liked it, but nothing ever really stuck. And as the family slowly stopped going to church during Peter’s middle school years, he steadily drifted away.
Then, in 2006, as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (UMN), Peter moved into a dorm directly across the street from the Catholic church that he attended as a kid. So, when Sundays came around, Peter found himself settling into the pews.
“Something in me just wanted to go back,” Peter says. “I had old memories and old friends there. I had no reason to not go back, I guess.”
But the reasons started becoming clearer as he waltzed through that first year of college. He began questioning his existence. His surroundings suddenly felt off. A feeling in his chest beckoned him to answer questions about who he was and what all of this was about. And feeling unsure of who he was quickly burdened his days and nights.
“All of these emotions started coming up and I was struck with a huge identity crisis,” Peter says. “My friends didn’t know what was going on. I was physically present but my head was elsewhere. I was like an empty vessel. I didn’t know my worth."
At the center of this remained Peter’s desire to shed the layer of residue from the previous four years of high school.
Those four years can be summed up in one scene: a day in Mr. Johnson’s psychology class during the 11th grade.
Mr. Johnson’s classroom setup was standard for a big public high school. Rows of desk-chair combos lined the middle of the room. The door opened and shut near the corner, and the windows overlooked a neighboring forest. Mr. Johnson’s desk sat in the corner opposite the door. And behind his desk stood a shelf filled with vinyl records. The cover art for a lot of the LP’s resembled the psychedelic moon-lamp tones of the acid-rock era from which they were produced. Albums of bands like Jefferson Airplane and Sly and the Family Stone huddled on the shelf, while Gandhi and other famed cultural icons looked down from posters on the walls.
“Mr. Johnson was your typical cool teacher,” Peter remembers.
Peter also remembers the day the class watched The Wizard of Oz on mute and played Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” over it. This got Peter particularly excited. Unlike many of his other classes, Peter was vocal in this class. He and the subject material, simply, vibed.
They vibed so much so, that before the The Wizard of Oz day, the only thought that ran through Peter’s head was, man, I gotta be high for this. So, during third period, right before psychology class, Peter and his buddy snuck out into the woods and did just that, got high. All giggly and glossy-eyed, Peter strolled into class, slid into a nice slouched position in his desk, and watched as the movie rolled on.
“We were such typical potheads. We lived it out,” Peter says.
Sure, Peter sometimes smoked before school. And he got pretty savvy when it came to sneaking off of campus without getting caught. Yet, even as he attempted to keep his "hobby" under the radar, it didn't last forever.
Peter displays a broad range of emotions while reminiscing about high school. To him, the first few years of heavy marijuana use were innocent recreation. He started smoking right before he entered high school, and it was initially just good fun amongst a few curious kids. But it took a turn, and the fun eventually soured.
By his junior year, Peter’s mom started to catch him almost weekly. She found glass pipes tucked away in drawers and started to recognize the scent on his clothes when he came home. She could see that he was high just by looking at his eyes. And when he failed to qualify for Advanced Placement Studio Art, his best subject in high school, the consequences started crashing all too often.
“I just kept getting caught and having close encounters with cops,” Peter says. “Apart from that, I knew it wasn’t good for me because I was turning into such a burnout.”
He began recognizing that he wanted to be a better person. A nagging urge to be "good" settled in. But at this point, he only identified with the kid in a skate crew that smoked a lot of weed.
So when the identity crisis hit his freshman year at UMN, Peter realized that getting high suppressed his ability to process internal hurts. He didn't like this realization. Feeling empty felt wrong, and he knew the time was coming to do something about it.
“My sophomore year of college, I just took off,” Peter says. “I didn’t think twice. I just knew I had to leave.”
Peter decided to take a semester abroad in Seoul, South Korea. It seemed misguided to a few people, but he simply knew what needed to be done. Even as paperwork and applications constantly hit snags, he didn’t worry about it because something inside kept telling him that this was going to work out. And he was a firm believer in the old adage, “Everything happens for a reason.”
——————————— When I talk with Peter or spend time with him, I am able to sense the purity of his heart. I just feel like there is no façade, no masks. He is just a very open and honest and genuine person. He has such a good heart. -Roy, friend ———————————
So, on August 21, 2007, Peter entered the international dorms at one of Korea’s top schools, Yonsei University, as an international exchange student.
From night one, Peter fell in love. The expressive people, the crowded streets, the language he wanted to study, the smell of street food carts, the gritty looking city life...he loved all of it. Within days, he had a new crew. Kids from all over the world looking to live out similar run-away-from-it-all fantasies, and Seoul became the asphalt canvas for which their adventures were painted on.
Peter could feel a new freedom coming out of him. He still had questions about who he was and why he was here, but they weren’t hopeless questions anymore. Now, in the midst of his semester abroad, they were questions with reachable answers. Being completely removed from the comforts of home, discovery became commonplace.
discovery became commonplace. And Peter sought answers diligently.
At the time, he understood a basic principle that God existed. Growing up, he never felt hurt or jaded by church, but he didn’t agree with the notion that there could be only one belief system. In that first semester at Yonsei, Peter often found himself in the middle of conversations discussing spirituality and beliefs. Nothing malicious. Only good-hearted talks on the meaning of life.
One conversation in particular sticks out.
While chatting with his Eastern Asian Philosophy classmate, Anna, she began sharing about her faith in God, and more specifically, her belief in Jesus. Peter loved these moments. He curiously listened, wanting each word to impact him. His desire to know the higher meaning of life drove a subconscious urge to talk about faith.
Anna just kept sharing about her experiences and about her life. So, very naturally, Peter began asking questions. A lot of questions. And towards the end of the conversation, Anna felt prompted to give Peter her tattered Bible she had been reading since high school.
“He was so inquisitive,” Anna remembers. “And he was so accepting of whatever I was trying to express of my own experience and of what my own faith was like. It was always so casual. It never felt like evangelizing. It just felt like two friends talking. He had such a childlike ability to just get right into it and take things at face value.”
Over the next several months, he read the Bible and asked a myriad of questions about it. The people around him that could answer some of those questions eventually invited him out to a Tuesday night meeting with a Christian group on campus, called Yonsei International Christian Fellowship (YICF), now known as Emmaus. And even though he did not really believe a lot of what the Bible said about Jesus, he couldn’t deny how accepting the people in the group were. So he started attending the Tuesday night meetings regularly.
Week by week, his understanding began to evolve.
The pastors that spoke at the Tuesday night meetings explained that Jesus was a person, still very much active in one’s life. They read from the book that Peter found himself so enthralled with, deconstructing verses to reveal that Jesus is a relational being. And as Peter sat in the seats among other students, he started to see how Jesus could be an answer to the questions he came to Korea with.
“I never had any [belief system] forced on me. I had a perception of God but I never knew Jesus as a relational being,” Peter says. “There wasn’t any intimacy in that relationship. But I remember the first time communion came out and I was about to take it because in my Catholic background, it was just a tradition. But my friend told me that I probably shouldn’t because I wasn’t a believer. And that was the first time that it struck me that there was some substance to this stuff.”
At this point in Peter’s time in Seoul, he not only attended the weekly meetings on campus but also Jeil Sungdo’s English Ministry (now known as New Philadelphia Church) on Sundays. Peter remembers trying to clap to songs he didn’t know and process intense teachings about things he didn’t really believe. But just like the first Tuesday night meeting at YICF, he was drawn to the people. So he kept going back.
Peter continued to wrestle with the idea that a man could die and come back to life. And he often battled his logic regarding certain Christian theology.
But the people at this church openly accepted Peter for who he was. And for him, that meant more than theology.
A few months later, in the spring of 2008, at a Good Friday service, which commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter heard yet another sermon about Jesus. But this time, it was different. No longer did he care about how a man could die and rise again. What stuck out this day was why it happened. Jesus had died for Peter’s sins. God sent His one and only Son down to earth as a living sacrifice for the sins of man. Finally, Peter understood. So, this time, as the communion plate was passed around, he took a piece and silently committed to follow Jesus.
Just a year earlier, Peter flew out to Seoul in search of some answers. Who was he? What was all of this about? What is the meaning of existence? And in the process of people accepting him for being him, Peter recognized that God wanted only that. For Peter to be himself. And while doing it, having a relationship with Jesus.
The following week, at a YICF Bible study, he told everyone what had happened on Friday.
“So, I think I’m a Christian,” Peter casually told the group. They all looked around, somewhat confused at his mellow delivery. Then realizing what he had just said, they burst out in celebration with high-fives and hugs.
“That semester, I remember him coming out to the church,” Judy, his Bible study leader at the time, says. “And just those acts of faith, I think, allowed me to see that he was in for it. He was gonna get it. And with God, if you put yourself out there, He will meet you.”
Over the next several months, Peter began to turn everything over to Jesus. His revelation that Jesus truly was the only way and the only truth started resonating in every part of his life.
resonating in every part of his life. And he realized that he didn’t need to change who he was just because he went to a church.
And just like that, he decided to stay in Seoul to live out that revelation. The city, his new church, the people around him, all of it became an open door of opportunity. Without the confines of his previous lifestyle holding him back from his hopes and dreams, Peter found peace in knowing that just being himself is exactly what Jesus wanted all along. That next fall, he applied to the top art school in the country, Hongik University, and got in.
“My faith was huge, especially coming off of not being very wholesome as a person,” Peter says. “Being empty and then reconnecting with God and faith, it was really powerful. It was that subconscious thing I had been seeking all my life. I found it. It was worth giving up everything I knew for. The healing and blessing were all because of it. My life would be in a totally different place had I not stayed. I am so grateful to the ministry of New Philly.”
——————————— It's always fun to be around Peter because he is always doing something fun. He has a very childlike spirit, and people naturally gravitate towards that. He is somebody that has a lot of passion for what he does. That is something I have always admired about him...how he pursues his dreams, how he pursues his craft. And I think people are drawn to someone that is not only skilled but really passionate about what they are doing, and they're willing to go all in. -Todd, roommate of almost three years ———————————
Peter’s greatest ministry to this earth—his most important impact—is him being him. The rock climbing. The band. The pottery. The photography. All of it has been specifically placed in Peter so others can join in.
He is a man of few words but of many smiles. When he has to allude to his own accomplishments, he doesn’t say much. But when he talks about a night out with friends, a trip with some buddies, or climbing with the people closest to him, he can’t stop talking.
Peter’s revelation of Jesus can be seen, not heard. He most resembles Jesus in how he genuinely loves those around him. And how he accepts, fully, the people that stumble across his path. Like how people did when he first stumbled into church.
Watching Peter be Peter, simply put, inspires.
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