Reflecting As A Father

When my wife travels, I sleep with a daughter tucked under each arm. Their heads nestle into my neck. Their stray hairs tickle my face. Their knees press insistently into my torso. I angle my head so I can kiss the warm forehead of my eldest (age 8) on the right and my youngest (age 6) on the left. They snuggle closer. I am emotionally at peace and physically in pain. This was easier when they were smaller. This is perfect and uncomfortable. This is fatherhood.

I remember their birth. When I held each of them in my arms for the first time, I wanted to pray for their safety, but I didn’t. My instinctive prayer for my children’s safety would be mostly selfish. Their birth made me vulnerable. I wanted to protect myself from pain or loss. (“Would you rather our children be scared or scarred?” I remember asking my wife in bed one night, months before the birth of our eldest. “Neither,” she replied, quite sensibly. “But, if I had to choose, scarred. I would rather she tried and risked than never tried at all.”) So I prayed that God would be with them, wherever he led them, into safety or into pain. Perfect and uncomfortable.
I remember working with my wife to choose their names. We wanted something that would do more than reverberate pleasantly in the air. So, for both, the names of women who challenged male leaders to trust God’s word and power. For the eldest, the name of a woman freed from spiritual oppression and freed for the first resurrection proclamation, Mary Magdalene (the origin of Madeleine), and the name of ruler who guided the leaders of Israel to trust God, Deborah. For the youngest, a middle name shared with a woman who takes decisive action to enact God’s purposes (however violently), Yael. We also like how their stories are linked – one completing what another has started.
(“Are you going to be the kind of dad who greets potential boyfriends at the door with a gun?” I’m often asked. I think on the names I’ve given my daughters. “No,” I say. “I expect my eldest, like her namesake, will be fully able to thoroughly rebuke a boy who isn’t yet a man. And the youngest, like her namesake, will be fully able to protect herself.” I would enjoy it if her nickname was “Spike," so I anticipate meeting potential suitors at thedoor with a liability waiver, not a gun. Those boys are on their own. That would be perfect, but possibilities for future harm and grief make me uncomfortable.)
I remember countless moments where I have to make choices in front of their watching eyes. Consistently casting vision for their mom’s work, even when it takes her away from home for weeks a year. Curtailing work and sabbatical plans so I can be a father who cooks, cleans, and cares for them when they are sick. Confronting sin (my own – and my sin replicated in their behaviors) and asking for forgiveness. I anticipate countless more moments in the future where I learn to die to self and to serve.
My daughters are the agents of God’s discipleship in my life. Perfect, and uncomfortable.
~ Greg Jao

Greg Jao serves InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA as Senior Assistant to the President. For the majority of his 31 years with InterVarsity (as a student and at IVP and in the field), he has been discipled and supervised by women. He is married to Jennifer (an assistant professor at Mt. Sinai Hospital & Ichan School of Medicine, where her research focuses on HIV mother-child transmission issues) and father to Madeleine Deborah (who is reading her way through the Lunar Chronicles) and Kirsten Yael (who is on her first re-read of Harry Potter.)

Ministering and Parenting with Pastor Kitty Soto

I had a chance to catch up with Kitty Soto, who has been ministering and pastoring 20 years to children, youth and women. We wanted to use her sharing to encourage the many mothers who are balancing a life of full-time ministry and raising a family. We also want to give a shout out to the many spiritual mothers out there. Have a great Mother's Day one and all! ~ Manni

ML: How were you called into full-time ministry?

KS: I never planned to go into ministry but in 1996 I realized I was not happy even though I was paid very well and quite successful in the field of advertisement. When I heard how others experienced God with joy and meaning, I wanted to experience it for myself. I took a year off to go for ministry training.

Then while driving one day, I heard a voice say, “Full-time ministry.”  I was not convinced, so I spoke to my pastor who told me to fast and pray because it will be a tough life to go into full-time ministry. He said to ask for a word from God. I did and again, I heard from God, “Isaiah 49:1-7.”  After reading it, I cried because I was reminded that I would have died at birth if God had not chosen me.  Since then I’ve been a full-time minister for 20 years.

Ministry is not just work but an enjoyable lifestyle for me. I can truly say God has prepared me for being in the frontlines -- serving underserved communities of children, youth and families in Brooklyn to now working with DV, sexual assault and trafficked women.

ML: How has your family been a part of your calling?

KS: Family life keeps me in check. They keep me accountable to act on my word.  When my daughters remind me that I’m not doing what I preach, it is humbling. At times, it’s even painful, but I do grow as a result.

ML: How do you and your husband share in parenting?

KS: He does the drop-offs, I do the pick-ups. I help with homework and he works on projects with them. Since we’re both in ministry, the line gets blurred at times when it comes to responsibilities. Our priority is: God – first, family – second, and ministry – third.

ML: What does it mean to parent daughters?

KS: I remember God led me to read Chronicles when I was wondering why there were more women than men in the church. I noticed how the mother’s names were mentioned when referencing good kings but not so much for evil kings. It spoke to me that we women can have such a lasting impact on the next generation to follow God faithfully. That’s what I see myself doing – living out a good relationship with God in my prayers and my actions to give Jesus to the next generation.

ML: What is your desire for your daughters?

KS: I want my daughters to never stop learning and discovering. I want them to love God with all their heart, mind, body and soul – to live out what God has purposed them to be – for them to keep dreaming with God and for God to become their own God, not mommy’s or daddy’s God.

ML: If you worry about their future, what would that be?

KS: That they choose to follow the world rather than follow God. I want them to make their own choices, so that they can enjoy good consequences. I try to help them understand that they have to make the choices in life by trying to demonstrate how to make good choices with Christ. To help, I do talk about how I have messed up, and I’m always ready to say sorry to the kids when I am wrong.

ML: What do you enjoy most about being a parent?

KS: Growing up I didn’t have a great relationship with my parents. After becoming a parent, I learned about unconditional love tangibly. When you love, you will do anything for a person. It is sacrificial selfless love. They’re a part of me. I relate better to God’s love for us, because of this.

ML: Do you have any advice for parents?

KS: You have to be real. They are watching you all the time. Parents need to be consistent in the home and in the church. They need to see that Christ is the one that you really look to. If you don’t lead them or lead them while they’re young, other people will.

Pastor Kitty Soto has been a children’s minister for 20 years. She started at Metro Church with the Yogi Bear Sidewalk ministry and is currently the Children’s Pastor at House of the Lord. She is also the Pastor of Garden of Hope NYC . She is married to Wolf Soto and together they are lovingly raising Imaani and Nia.

Pastor Kitty Soto has been a children’s minister for 20 years. She started at Metro Church with the Yogi Bear Sidewalk ministry and is currently the Children’s Pastor at House of the Lord. She is also the Pastor of Garden of Hope NYC . She is married to Wolf Soto and together they are lovingly raising Imaani and Nia.

Worth the Wait

On April 8, 2017 I became the second woman among Chinese churches in Texas to be ordained into the pastorate. What a privilege and blessing to have West Houston Chinese Church confirm my longstanding calling into pastoral ministry, consecrate this calling to be set apart, commission me into leadership and commend me as an approved worker of Christ worthy of trust and respect.  After 11 years on staff, it was worth the wait!

One thing I learned through this process is that dying to oneself is part of the Easter calling we must carry throughout the year.  For when there’s death in Christ, what must follow is resurrection.  I thank God I did not quit; I would not have learned to persevere.  The Scriptures instruct, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…who for the joy set before him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:1-2). 

Having received God’s call to shepherd his flock, I experienced the range of emotions regarding the prohibition of women’s ordination in my church – frustration, anger, discouragement, hopelessness.  Yet, did not Jesus face the most egregious injustice of all time?  Nevertheless, he obediently took on the sins of humanity for the joy of reconciliation with our heavenly Father. Resurrection came on that third day and oh was it a glorious moment when Jesus sent Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James to tell the apostles he has risen from the dead! 

Our – not just my - resurrection moment came last week: a celebration of one more church stepping into the light.  May we together have hope that our perseverance through trials and running faithfully the course marked out for us will be commended in due time.    

Jodi Chung is Youth Pastor, Wife to author and professor Michael Chung and Mom of their adopted children, Cole and Noelle. 

Jodi Chung is Youth Pastor, Wife to author and professor Michael Chung and Mom of their adopted children, Cole and Noelle.