‘I was actually an illegal immigrant’

Ben’s story | Bringing joy to refugee hearts

“I was born in South Korea, and we immigrated to Australia when I was one. My father was a farmer so we rented land in western Sydney. I was actually an illegal immigrant. I didn’t receive my Australian citizenship until Year 11, so it caused a lot of issues and anxiety for me. Even if I did graduate from school, would I be able to receive my HSC?

I was also angry with my dad. Why did he call us over here, if we couldn’t settle properly? Then my parents divorced, a week before I started Year 7. It was a really stressful time and it added more fuel to the fire. I joined the wrong crowd and I was pretty violent. A lot of my friends were drug dealers. They weren’t from the best backgrounds either.

My parents were actually second-generation Christians and they went to a Korean church. I used to go with them, but I didn’t understand much of the sermons. I knew about God but I never believed in him … and after a while, I stopped going. It was much more enjoyable to go to parties with my friends.

But back in Year 5, I had made a friend whose family went to Mongolia as missionaries. He came back to Australia when I was in Year 10 and I went back to church, just to see him. It was a bit awkward. They were still happy and innocent and I was very angry. But he kept on messaging me, asking me to hang out at church. I did once in a while. Then one day, I heard a sermon on iniquity. It struck me to the heart. I started to go back to church more regularly. I was studying acupuncture by then. I even joined the worship team as a singer.

But then I had a bad breakup with my girlfriend. I was awful. I really saw how wicked my heart could be. It was so bad I was contemplating suicide. For four months, I didn’t eat anything. I was just drinking alcohol and energy drinks. Then one of my church friends told me he wanted me to meet someone. Apparently, there was a group having a mission conference and they were looking at sending a mission team to the Middle East. I met the guy in charge and he told me they were looking for acupuncturists as part of the medical team. Then the worship service began. That’s pretty much where I met Jesus for the first time. The Bible verse was from Isaiah 43. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (vv18-19)

While the verse was being read out, I just completely broke down. I knew that God was calling me back. I had done so much wrong, but now he was doing a new thing in me, in Christ. He was bringing new life to me. He had forgiven me and covered me. He wanted me to look to him and have hope. From that day on, I stopped drinking.

In the next year and a half, I went three times to Lebanon with the mission team. The first time I was there, I saw Syrian refugees in Lebanon, including kids working on the farms with no hope. It was just like me as a child. They could be expelled at any time. I got really emotional and God spoke to my heart, saying, “This is what I will be using you for – to bring joy to their hearts.”

Later, I went back to Lebanon for two years, and I worked with the refugees and I helped out at a youth centre for boys. It was an interesting time – there was the Beirut explosion as well as the economic crash and the start of the pandemic. But I saw the grace of God in the small things. At first, the boys wouldn’t open up to us, but over time, they began to sing with us and laugh a bit more. Those were the moments.

In 2021, I came back to Australia and married my wife. I’m now studying at Bible college, but I’m most grateful to God that he doesn’t leave us there, in pain. He treats our wounds gently and he even brings something wonderful out of the hardest times in our lives. He gives us hope.”

Ben’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click here for more Faith Stories.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)