I was born in South Korea and grew up there until I was eight years old. Even as a child, I was fascinated with foreigners. It was rare that I saw an American person, but when I did, I thought it was the coolest thing. Through my dad (step-dad who was the only father I ever knew and called, "Dad") who was stationed in South Korea, I got to see so many Americans at the military base. He was half white and half American Indian in love with my mom who was completely Korean. They didn't even speak each other's language, but somehow miraculously fell in love... He proudly showed me around the base, and I felt like I was literally in another country and LOVED it. After my mom and he got married, they told me that we were moving to America... I couldn't contain the excitement! I told all of my friends at school and couldn't wait to move. Everyone told me that America is the best place to live and that my life would get so much better. I remember watching "Little House on the Prairie" dubbed in Korean and imagined myself living like the girl in the show. I really thought that "America" was like the way western movies and shows were and thought I would get to wear fluffy western dresses and hats. :) I quickly learned that that wasn't the case. At the age of eight after the longest flight ever (I flew by myself!), I finally landed on American soil in 1987 in Atlanta, Georgia. My parents picked me up and drove me back to South Carolina where we lived at the time. I knew nothing about this country. Nothing... I didn't speak English AT ALL! I only knew how to count to ten, say "hello", "good-bye" and that was about it. My mom translated everything between me and my dad. I came during the summer, so they tried to teach me as much as they could in the two months I had before I had to go to school. I clearly remember my dad teaching me how to count money, how to speak practical, short sentences like, "Where is the restroom?" and whatnot all in the deepest Southern accent. Being young, I learned very fast and wanted to learn anything I could. My dad was Southern as Southern could get. He didn't just teach me English, but how to eat butter beans, fat back (some of you may have to google that one), black eye peas, okra, fried cat fish and collard greens. No matter what though, he couldn't get me to drink sweet tea, and I still can't! :)
September came around and my courageous parents put me on a school bus (a handicap bus I later found out) and waved goodbye. Looking back, I can't believe they did that to me! When I got there, it was an all African-American school. That was the only school that offered ESL (English as Second Language) classes for me which was pretty far away and hence the handicap bus was the only one that could pick me up. I don't even know how, but I somehow found my class.... one teacher was hispanic and the other was Vietnamese. Even at that age, I couldn't gather how I was going to learn English from two teachers who couldn't speak Korean to me. Well, with a lot of body language and sign language, I learned everything fluently within one year and caught up academically with all of my peers. Numbers are the same for everyone in the world (which I thought was so cool back then), so I had no problem in Math. My mom woke me up early every morning to watch Sesame Street and everything just came together and I quickly learned how to read. My teachers and parents were AMAZING!
Those were the good things. But, not everything was so easy... I was the only Asian kid in that school. Can you imagine...? When I walked in the hallways, all I heard was, "YOU CHINESE!" And, I always replied back with, "No, I'm Korean." :) I'm sure you can imagine that they did the whole slanting their eyes up at me and other "typical" things people do to make fun of Asian folks. I did have a couple of friends who were very nice to me - thank God! And, I tried to stay as close to them and my teachers as possible. One day after Art class, the teacher told us to line up behind the door, and I was the first one there. But, this girl who was THE most popular girl in school (but, was mean) told me to get back of the line. Something inside of me just turned and I said, "No." She insisted that I moved, but I kept saying no. She then shouted, "You're a butt!" Keep in mind... my English is limited and all I could think of was, "And, you're a butt hole!" LOL! Everyone gasped and guess what? The teacher of course only heard me say what I said. She grabbed me by the arm and told me to go to the principal's office. I said, "She has to come with me." The teacher insisted that I go by myself. I said no. By now, the teacher is dragging me, but I kept resisting. I told her that I'll go only if the other girl comes with me. The teacher gave up and took both of us back to the classroom and sent the rest of the class out for recess. She sat in front of us and asked what happened. I told her my side of the story and then the girl started sobbing. I started crying too and we both apologized to one another. We hugged and from that moment on, we became best friends. Remember that I said she was the most popular girl in school? Yup, and being her best friend made me pretty cool too and no one messed with me ever since. I even got to make a speech at our 5th grade graduation and shared this very story.
We then moved to Augusta, GA, after my dad retired from the Army after serving for almost 28 years! Wow... I was and still am so proud of him although he did pass six years ago. I started middle school in this neighborhood and again, my parents didn't really tell me much about the school. They just put me on a school bus, and this time, it was an all white school. I again was the only Asian along with maybe 2-3 other students whom I didn't know. Had to adjust again... Culture shock again... But, I adapted. High school was the same and I survived all the cliques by just minding my own business and focusing on school work to the best of my ability. During these teenage years, it was "white world" during the weekdays and then "Korean world" on the weekends where I went to church. Weekends were with my Korean friends since the church we attended was all Korean. I never got into trouble because all I did was study and go to church.
Then in 1997, I left as what we called "Disgusta Augusta" to the city called Atlanta! To me, it was like going to New York City! I got into the college of my dreams, GA Tech, and I was ready to conquer the world only to find out that in this school, I was the dumbest kid. But, I tried and tried and after countless miserable nights of studying and crying, I somehow graduated and earned my degree in Computer Science - a department where it was 90% guys and 10% girls. Again, I was a minority even in the gender aspect. That was a culture shock too! If I learned one thing from that school, I learned endurance and anyone who went to GA Tech knows what I'm talking about.
As soon as my parents dropped me off at the campus, I began to mingle with Koreans and ONLY Asian students. It wasn't my intention, but it happened. I got connected with a Korean church in Atlanta and those were the only friends I mostly hung out with. After five years at that church, God stirred something in me. I just knew that there was something 'more' to life than this. During those years, all I wanted to do was sing and worship Jesus! I wanted to get better with my singing voice, but being a poor college student, I couldn't' afford voice lessons. I had two and after that, I just couldn't make the money happen. But, one day when I was driving to worship practice to church, an ad came on the radio station. (Some of you might ask what a radio station is!) They were advertising a Christian music seminar by Babbie Mason, and my naive self thought that this would be the opportunity of a life time! So, with a friend, I signed up! Not knowing what to expect, I just went for it. The seminar was few days long and they began each session with a worship service. For the first service, I went by myself. I sat down and waited for it to begin. When the worship leader began, we all stood up and got our 'worship on'. :) Keep in mind that this was a music seminar, so just about everyone that attended knew how to sing... well! Very well! As soon as the first note hit, it was as if the entire congregation broke out into an eight part harmony. That's what it sounded like anyways. I was astounded. I couldn't sing at all... my entire being was shocked by the beauty of this sound... It was the most angelic, holy sound I've ever heard. It that moment, I know God spoke to me and that moment was one of the turning points of my life. God said to me, "Look around.... who is like you?" I said, "No one...." I was the only Asian person there. He then said, "Heaven has all of my children... all of them." I knew God was calling me to make a change in my life.
After learning from the seminar that I couldn't sing like the way I thought I could (hehe), I left very humbled. When it came to singing, I left disappointed, but on the other hand, I gained a new purpose in my life. I immediately phoned a friend who was very resourceful and asked her if she knew of any multicultural churches around the area. She gave me the name and the number of the person I should contact. I called Eunice who was attending a multicultural church and gave me all the info. That Sunday, I went by myself. I clearly remember walking into Victory World Church.... I was so surprised at how big the building was... I've never heard or even seen a multicultural church, and the last thing I expected it to be was so 'big'. As soon as I stepped my right foot into the lobby, God spoke to me again, and He said, "This is your new home.". I felt this instant peace and felt welcomed and even though it was my first time, I felt comfortable. Worship began and the leader that came forth was the SAME one that was at the seminar! That was just another confirmation for me that I was in the right place. I looked around and I saw every color.... every skin color that is. It was one beautiful sight... Again, I didn't know a church like that especially in the South could exist. I mean, it's not just a few cultures, it's over 100 nations! But, there I was and the joy that I felt was indescribable. It was heavenly.... I quickly got involved with the young adults ministry there by auditioning for their band and a small group. After a year, I applied for a job there as the youth ministry's administrative assistant and met Craig on my first day of job. You may know our love story, but one of the things I loved and still love about Craig is that he really loves everyone. The fact that he was attending this church showed me that being multi-cultural is important to him also. If you know him, he talks to ANYONE! I've never seen him treat anyone differently because of what they looked like. He definitely didn't do that with me and actually really showed so much interest in my culture and background and put a lot of effort into learning about Korea. He even bought a little Korean-English dictionary to learn a few basic Korean words. The first time he asked me out on a date, he asked in Korean. :)
Every time we went out with our friends, our group was unique in that we were very 'mixed'. There was always someone who was white, black, asian and hispanic. ALWAYS! Almost every couple we hung out with were inter-racial couples just like Craig and I. Yes, we got many stares... we still do! But, we don't judge those stares because we know that it's still not considered "normal", so that's ok. Our calling is to be "abnormal" and not stereotypical so sometimes we enjoy the weird stares. :) To us, living in America, being intentional with culture and race is very important. But, what's more important to us is not just talking about it, but really doing it. So yes, when we have a birthday party or any gathering in our home, we make sure that every culture is there. But don't get me wrong... we don't just pick out different raced people just to fit our "friendship demographic". We genuinely love our friends for WHO they are, not WHAT they are, but we put ourselves in places where we can meet and become friends with every race. If you don't intentionally put yourself in those situations, it won't happen. When you're not with your "own kind", it can get uncomfortable, but just like anything else, we practiced it and got better at it. So much better that when we are in a place of just one race, THAT now makes us feel uncomfortable. I've always seen our church as a precious gift... without the teachings from this church who stands for racial reconciliation as one of their four pillars of their core beliefs, our lives would not be the way it is now. For the last couple of years, we have been attending Cross Church and they have the same values. I believe that racial reconciliation has to begin with the church, so not attending a one race church is important to us. I love that our children have seen every race, every culture in our home and at church. I love that they see that as "normal". They know that what we look like on the outside is nothing but a physical description.
Now, what does this have anything to do with our business? One day, after about a year of being very active on Instagram for our business, I just happened to look at our Instagram grid, and it dawned on me that our clients were very multicultural. We had black couples, white couples, Asian couples, hispanic couples, and many combinations of 'mixed' couples. I showed Craig and said, "Look! Look at how multicultural our clientele is!" I believe that happened because our circle of friends are multicultural, our clientele became that way also and we are so blessed by that! In fact, we've had many inter-racial couples say that because we have an inter-racial marriage, they could relate to us and felt that we "get" them. Black couples, Asian couples, hispanic couples, Indian couples, Nigerian couples, Jewish couples, etc.... all have noticed our clientele and the assortment of our portfolio with every race and loved that we have experience in weddings of their culture. We love answering, "YES!" when any couple asks if we have shot their culture's wedding. We enjoy and have fun learning about new cultures and their wedding traditions!
This blog isn't to 'brag' about our clientele or to boast to you about "Look at what we've done!" No... it's to just simply share our history, our story and the testimony of how God is unfolding every cultural experience in our lives and to recognize what HE has done, and I'm truly thankful for each and every difficult and wonderful experiences. I praise Him for it all! I believe that everything that happens to us is for a divine reason... It is so neat to look back and see how He has given me a season with the black culture, white culture, the asian culture and now all of the cultures together where we now only see ONE culture which is Jesus's culture. Our goal is to live out His culture and not focus on my earthly culture and the needs that I have; rather, focus on what His culture looks like, serve the needs of others and to live that out. We believe that living in America, we have a very unique opportunity that you can't find anywhere else in the world. We are all of God's children and that is one thing that we all have in common and the only thing that matters. Now, does this mean that we think if you're not in an inter-racial marriage or going to a one race church that you're sinning? No, please take all of this with a grain of salt. We do believe however that if there's a conviction in your heart for racial reconciliation that it begins with you. Striving to create an environment and an atmosphere that welcomes all is an effort that we need to make. Make the initiative... make the invitation to invite someone into your home that isn't like you. What a simple invitation can do to someone is powerful! It can literally change people's lives because invitations express love. It's easy to be stuck in my own little world, but I have found that although it takes work, discovering the big world out there is fascinating. As individuals, if we each begin to seek out, have interest in knowing and learning and understanding other cultures and race, change can and will come.
With much Love,
Craig + Unchong