40 Years in America

Growing Up with True Parents

Jim Stephens

I joined the Unification Church in 1973 when I was 24 years old. Looking back on 26 years of experiences "growing up" in this movement, I started out rather naive about what it would take to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth in my lifetime. That goal is still far away, but life has been rich with deep experiences. There are two things for which Iím really the most grateful above all.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s and was a "truth seeker." So I consider the Divine Principle as Godís greatest gift to me. It has provided me immeasurable benefits all these years. Lifeís major questions for me were answered: the existence and nature of God, the purpose of life, life after death, evil and Satan, and the purpose of history. The answers are so second nature to me now that Iíve almost totally forgotten what itís like to live without the answers.

Also I like that the Principle is very logical. I apply it to real-life situations and it gives me understanding. It also gives me solutions for my problems. Many times when I had my doubts about the Unification Church, there was always a "bottom line" for me which was, "Where else can I go?" There is no teaching like this anywhere else.

The second thing Iím most grateful for is the Blessing. Before the church I had given up hope of finding a good spouse to live with for the rest of my life. True Parents matched me to an eternal partner through the Blessing. We now have five children that Iím extremely proud of. That has made me spiritually a very rich man. My family has given me true love. I believe this is the pathway to true happiness, something very few people on earth really experience.

When I joined the church, the members were very idealistic. We were always talking about "changing the world" and "building the kingdom." It was a joyful time of hard work and excitement. Little did we notice that the other 5 billion people (now 6 billion) out there werenít interested, or worse, were going to oppose us. We believed all things were possible. We had God on our side and that made us the majority.

I was able to change myself very rapidly in the beginning. I gave up drinking and cursing. The way I wore my hair, my clothes, and my material possessions all changed quickly. I remember thinking that at such a rate of speed I could probably reach "perfection" in three years or less.

In actuality, life continues to get more complicated year after year. With each new responsibility of leadership, or marriage, or family, or child one, two, three, four, etc., my heart has had to go through growing and stretching which is usually painful. Family responsibilities of course forced me to divide my time with church activities. This left me with feelings of guilt because I canít spend as much time "helping God" as before.

The Principle speaks in nice glowing terms about how the individual works for the benefit of the family and the family works for the benefit of the community, etc., etc. But in this fallen world itís not like that at all. You can give and give to the community and never get anything back and then you "burn out" emotionally and spiritually. So you have to strike a constant balance back and forth between taking care of yourself and your own needs, then taking care of your family and so on. True Father has set the standard of giving so high that itís impossible to understand how to live up to it. I struggle every day to know what God really wants me to do.

In the movement that is supposed to bring True Love to the world, one would expect that there would be a lot of love coming all the time from brothers and sisters and also from God and True Parents. In truth, I have rarely felt it. Iíd compare it more to a war zone, a spiritual war zone of constant struggle with selfishness within and evil forces from the outside. Weíre constantly involved in "cosmic" events and "spiritual restoration" that we donít understand, often limping around wounded in one way or another. On rare occasions a medic would pop up for a short while, sent by God to see if I could possibly survive. Then heíd go off to help someone in worse shape than I.

Often I would get leadership responsibilities, which in effect made me the "medic," but I didnít have much in my medicine bag. Many of my good brothers and sisters wandered off the path, shall we say, or got left behind in the rush to the next battle because they couldnít reconcile the loving ideals we espoused with the war we were experiencing.

I always wanted to be perfect. In our teachings I found out what that really means. Itís all a matter of heart. But thereís a slight problem. According to the Principle, for a sinless person to grow to perfection is supposed to take 100% of his or her effort. How can I ever be expected to make if I have a huge additional burden of sin to overcome as well? Then thereís also the burden of inherited sin leftover from my ancestors, my race, my country, etc. I still want to be perfect, but itís going to take a little longer.

How Much to Sacrifice?

After 26 years Iím still confronted every day with the ideal of sacrifice. Am I sacrificing enough? Am I sacrificing the right things? It would be nice if God would just send email messages telling me precisely what to sacrifice. Those famous quotes "you have to give up your life to gain your life" and "if you have faith, God will take care of you" are nice as ideals when you hear them. But when itís time to make a real-life decision, Iím usually left with a lot of confusion whether I made the right decision or not.

For many years I was a full-time church leader, working from early morning until late at night. In one mission, Iíd be gone for weeks at a time. My wife and children almost never saw me and they were definitely affected in a negative way. Especially my children were in need of a fatherís presence and love and guidance. In my hometown, Iíve been able to be around home a lot with my family. But Iím not actively doing church work or helping God in any apparent way, so Iím constantly feeling guilty. Itís been great to have quality time with my family. My relationship with my wife is wonderful and continues to get deeper and better all the time. Iím proud of my children and believe they are great kids. However, I wonder if God is satisfied with this or He would have preferred that I had continued to work full time for the church. Surely I could have contributed a lot more to "the providence."

A related question to "how much to sacrifice" is how much money to give. The church is always in need of money and therefore sending out special requests beyond tithes for one project or another. All of them are worthy causes. But every time we receive those letters, we get a new burden to deal with.

For a while I kept putting it on a credit card thinking that I would pay it off later. What really happened, though, is that a new request for money came before we ever started paying down the debt. Eventually I reached a place where my monthly income couldnít match my expenses plus my credit card bills. Then I started using the credit cards to pay the credit cards each month. And still the next project or event keeps coming along and a new request for money comes. What do you do? My faith mind says, "Make the donation and somehow money will come to pay for it." But my practical mind says, "The hole is getting deeper and deeper with no end in sight."

Sometimes the request for money seemed to come with the added implication that if I didnít give enough, then Iíd somehow end up on a lower level of heaven or I might not make it into some special realm of the Kingdom. I can sure understand how a person might build up resentment against those kinds of "requests." When Fatherís direction went out for members to go to their hometowns, I ended up disobeying two Korean Regional Directors at the same time. I was told not to leave until a replacement could be found, and my new leader wanted me to go to a city other than my hometown and be the state leader.

I believed in my heart that God was sending me to my real hometown, so I went there. Still to this day I believe thatís what God wanted, but now after many years of no apparent external results, itís hard to figure out why God sent me here for sure. Brothers and sisters who stayed in their missions, "disobeying" the hometown directive, have many more accomplishments that have helped the church. So whatís going on? What is Godís Will? Iím afraid I donít really have a clear answer for that one.

I find it more and more difficult to see how we can actually build Godís Kingdom in my lifetime. There seems to be just too many people to change and Iím having enough trouble changing myself. The only thing that might do it is if God Himself starts interfering more directly in peopleís lives. Whether that is going to happen remains to be seen.

Iím realizing I have to place more emphasis on raising our children to continue the process of building the Kingdom. If itís going to take 300 years instead of 30, then Iíve got to do some deep thinking and rearranging of priorities. I have to educate my children to help build the ideals. Not only do I have to inoculate them against the evils of the culture we live in but I have to teach them to stand up against these evils and help society overcome them. We also need to find ways that are more successful at changing the world around us for the better.

Mid-Life Crisis

As I reach my time of "mid-life crisis," Iím finding it necessary to deeply reflect on the future. The oldest of my children will soon be going off to college, followed by each of the others in turn. Not only must I reflect on my own future but the future of my children, my church and all the things I love.

One of the harshest realities of the "mid-life crisis" is looking back over my life and seeing all the mistakes that I have made and learning to live with it. Then thereís adjusting to the reality that Iíll make a lot more mistakes in the future.

I want to live my life so that at the end I wonít have any regrets that I didnít offer enough to God. For me, right now is a time of transition, a "crossroads," so it is a time of confusion. I need to find Godís perspective and use that as the basis for making my choices. 2,000 years ago when Jesus died after teaching only three years and gaining just a handful of believers, there was almost no record left behind of his life. From a realistic point of view, it is totally unimaginable that the world could have changed so much because of his life. Therefore, God has to be behind history. How God is working is often a mystery to me. That God is working is an established fact.

All my reasoning and experiences still lead me to conclude that the Divine Principle is true and Rev. Sun Myung Moon is the historical True Parent of mankind. Regardless of what everyone else does, whatever else happens, or how I might succeed or fail, I have decided that this pathway is the correct one. Now all I have to do is walk on it every day.

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