An Interview with Dr. Justin Suh

An Interview with Dr. Justin Suh

Dr. Suh, right, front row, with his Compassion Korea staff in Seoul, South Korea.

Read about the Christ-centered leadership principles Dr. Suh follows.

Q: What is your background?

My parents immigrated to the United States when I was finishing elementary school. I grew up in Los Angeles.

My first degree was at UCLA, and I studied economics. In my third year of college I started my own business, and God really blessed the business. After I graduated I was making more than what I could ever have imagined making.

But I had a deep calling for full-time ministry. But for 2½ years I struggled because I never felt I was qualified and kept tearing up the applications.

Then I got a confirmation from my mother. When I told her I really need to go to seminary, she asked me when I started thinking about this.

I told her, and she said, "You know, that's when God changed my prayer for you. I was praying that God will bless you in business and do something for His glory, but about that time, I started praying, 'Lord, if it is your will to have him in full-time ministry, speak to him.'"

I was overjoyed. At first I went to Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, then I transferred to Biola, which is Talbot Theological Seminary. I graduated from Talbot and then I had another strong conviction to pursue a doctorate.

So I went back to CalState Long Beach and finished up my M.A. in education because I didn't study education, then I finished my Ph.D. in Christian Education.

While doing that I did a Campus Crusade for Christ Ministry. Also, I got married and started a family.

Q: How and why did you move back to South Korea?

I came out to Korea to learn more about ministry here. Then a seminary called and asked me to teach in Korea, so I taught there for six years.

But since my kids were all born in the States and are Americans, I felt if they are not able to speak English and identify with the culture, it would be a disaster, so I took them back to the States.

That's when I applied to Trinity Theological Seminary and also Cornerstone in Michigan. Then Compassion called.

When I learned about Compassion's philosophy and principles, my wife and I felt we were receiving a second calling from the Lord.

The next day, without even submitting my application to Compassion Korea, without even going through any Compassion interviews, I called the two schools and told them, "I'm sorry, I won't be able to go because God is leading me to Compassion."

They asked, "Have you been hired by Compassion?" And I said, "No." They said, "Have you sent in your application?" And I said, "No." They said, "Then how do you know you're going to be working for Compassion?" And I said, "Well, I believe God is so definite about this."

Three days later Compassion called me and said, "Would you be interested in starting Compassion Korea?" It was a confirmation from God of the calling.

It wasn't easy. My oldest boy was in sixth grade, the second one was in fourth grade, and the third one just barely finished kindergarten. 

But the family supported the move and because of God's confirmation and our unity we have never regretted it. 

Q: So when you came back to Korea then, what was it like to start Compassion Korea?

People always ask me, "How did you give up your business to come to Korea?" And I always tell people, "I never thought that I gave up anything. Christ gave up so much for me, and He wanted to use me. And I was so overwhelmed that He wanted to use me that He's calling me in a very special way.

When I first came to Korea I started with a fax machine and computer in my apartment. 

It was a completely different ballgame here. I knocked on the doors, and I was never able to meet one person because the question was, "How do I know you?" 

Korean business is so relational that before you do anything you have to get to know the person and you have to build the trust.

So an organization comes with a person. Since I can trust you, I can trust your organization. Whereas in the States it's principle based. So if the principle aligns with my principle and vision, yes, I'm willing to work with you.

In Korea this is important, too, but what's more important is, "Do I know you and do I know you enough that I can trust you." This requires a lot of time. And one person can't build trust with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. 

But the Lord has brought success. All I could do was just pray. So I said, "Lord, I have this strategy, but I can't do it on my own." 

A turning point came after many months of prayer when a famous musician went on a trip to see Compassion's work and started a ministry called Friends of Compassion.

And her sphere of influence got together and started throwing parties and bringing their own spheres of networks to share about Compassion Korea.

So every other month we had a party, for over two years. 

Then I took a movie star's husband overseas to visit Compassion's student centers and he said, "Why don't we do a Compassion band and go with Pastor Suh when he speaks?" So we formed Friends of Compassion then the Friends of Compassion Band.

So when Compassion friends at these church meetings are happening, they come and do a special song or special presentation just to help me because they feel sorry that I'm just working so hard to make things happen.

Well, this Compassion band grew to 70-80. Now they have Bible studies every Tuesday night.

The Friends of Compassion group has Bible studies and worship every Wednesday night. And some of the members of this group were Buddhists. They came and visited some Compassion projects. And through this influence they accepted Christ.

So, not only do they see that what they're doing is really making an impact out in the field, but through their influence people are coming to know the Lord. So, hearts are being stirred. And they are coming up with plans.

So it became almost like a volunteer marketing task force. They are coming up with ideas. And they say they must cover the costs for these ideas since they are doing it for the Lord, so they are bringing in companies that are sponsoring these events. We are not paying costs. They are all volunteering and donating everything.

Q: How many Korean sponsors does Compassion Korea have now compared to when you first started? 

After my first nine months I had 780 sponsors.

Then this Friends of Compassion movement started to happen almost at the end of the second fiscal year, which moved from 780 to 3,300.

And then after that we more than doubled. The third year we had 7,400.

And the year after, this is when Friends of Compassion really started to launch and start working, and then the band started forming. And the media started giving us exposure, and after that two mega-churches joined and I asked if they could do a full-blown Compassion Sunday.

So we went and two churches brought in 6,500 sponsorships. One church, five services; the other church, four services.

And then 6,400. So we end up from 7,400 to 20,500, which is again almost triple. And this is unthinkable because we had done 13,000 in one year! Now we have more than 40,000 Korean sponsors! 

If you ask me about my strategy, I will tell you I carefully pray for each event, each engagement, each offer that people will give. 

Recently I met a man who wanted to give a 25 million dollar house to Compassion Korea for our office. He said, can I give it to you? I still remember before I went I prayed about it and I told him, No, I don't want the money because God can always give me the money. You give your heart and your network to Compassion and see how God uses you.

Money is the last thing that God wants. I reject many offers. You know, with the start of an office, having that big real estate costs. I have told them, no, I'm not into real estate, I'm not into owning the property.

I can truly say that God has given me enough experience for me to trust Him. It's all up to Him.