If you haven’t already had the pleasure, meet Pastor Ji Yung (Jennifer) Choi. She loves reading and, more recently, experimenting with baking which she took up during the lockdown days of the pandemic. Her neighbours benefitted greatly from this new skill. 😉
Jennifer pastors at Portage Ave Church in Winnipeg. After a few career changes and educational pursuits, God led her here, but not without using her previous experiences to further the work of His Kingdom first.
When Jennifer was young, her parents moved their family to Canada from Korea. Jennifer had been in love with Korean literature, but because of the move, she couldn’t fathom a way for that passion to lead to a career, so, on the advice of her father, she pursued nursing along with Grade 10 and 11 biologies where she very quickly learned that this field was not for her!
She then pursued an education in criminal justice and youth social services, later securing a job as a social worker while living in BC. In BC, she married and then moved to Winnipeg, where she got involved in immigration consultation with victims of immigration scams. Jennifer was offered work with an immigration consulting group that advised her to get her own license, encouraging her to open an immigration consulting business of her own to help Koreans navigate the immigration process.
“Now I understand why God did that…why he let me go down that path. I got to give happy news here! Welcome to Canada! You’re a landed immigrant – Welcome!”
Later on, after becoming a pastor, she recognized another way that her work in immigration aided her pastoral ministry. Travelling to China as a business person rather than a pastor allowed her more freedom to visit all the underground churches.
Her pursuit of pastoral ministry began while working alongside a Korean pastor who ministered in Winnipeg and Korea. Jennifer helped him set up the church, sometimes acting as a translator for him and working with the youth in the church, translating and aiding with their immigration process. She desired to be a faithful deacon to support her pastor – that was her goal. Becoming a pastor was not on her list of careers!
But one day, her pastor suggested that she become a youth pastor so the church would have a leader while he was away on his trip to Korea. He encouraged her to pursue education, so she did, starting with a course or two at CMU and the University of Winnipeg. But something changed dramatically in 2016.
“Well, I don’t know how I can describe it, but it was like a spiritual experience. What I saw was this…this evil force…our enemies working so hard and so busy. I just saw that and asked ‘What am I doing?’ They were working so hard! How can I just be relaxing like this? I’m just sitting here doing my business, raising my kids. It’s not enough! So I said, God, I want to dedicate my life full time to you.”
That vivid image she saw in 2016 compelled her to say yes to full-time studies at the University of Winnipeg, completing her Master of Divinity in 2019.
Jennifer has always felt her steps led by God as she has moved through her life – landing at Portage Ave Church is no different. While completing her mDiv, her pastor showed up at school over her lunch hour and said they had to meet someone with a sense of urgency that Jennifer couldn’t ignore.
They had been looking for a partner church to do mission work together – a church that aligns with them theologically and missiologically. They had knocked on many doors and had just as many closed. But on this day, her pastor was driving down Portage Ave in Winnipeg, and God just told him to knock on the door at Portage Ave. So he did, and guess who opened the door – Pastor Jedidiah Carpentier! But Jedidiah didn’t speak Korean, and the pastor didn’t speak English, so they couldn’t communicate, and that is how Jennifer got pulled from lunch at the university.
That first meeting led the two churches to a time of discernment and fasting, ending with Portage Ave Church becoming their home church. They have been there for six years now and have watched the diversity of their church grow, fulfilling the visions they once held separately and now together.
Today, Jennifer thinks much about her Korean family and the disconnection between first and second-generation Korean Canadians. A language barrier between these generations is removing the ability for Elders to communicate with their youth, resulting in a loss of culture and wisdom passed down. Youth struggle to connect with their parents and elders over significant issues and life decisions – they can talk about the everyday stuff, like what’s for supper, but the ability to connect on a deeper level is lost.
Jennifer is a 1.5 generation – born in Korea and raised in Canada and hopes that she can act as a bridge. Her heart aches to provide support which she intends to do through a Youtube ministry that will touch on cultural differences and offer support to both the first and second generations.
So pray for Jennifer as she continues to follow God’s path. Pray for Portage Ave Church as they strive for and navigate the complexities of diversity and pray for the people who have struggled with the disconnection and loneliness that results from a loss of language and culture.