Written by Conor Sweetman of Toronto, Ontario
Jung Lee is a pastor and missionary who makes his home in South Africa. Jung and his wife, Helen, founded the organization Precious to Jesus to protect women and children from rape and abuse. In this interview, Lee explains his experiences, findings, and what lies at the heart of his mission.
When did your Christian work in South Africa start?
I was born again quite late — at 27 years old in 1999. When I got married, I got a job at an immigration office and served at Vancouver Korean Presbyterian Church as the missions deacon. During that time, in 2000, I started going to South Africa and got involved in a lot of fundraising events. In 2009 my job at the immigration office gave me nine months off with full pay, and my wife told me she wanted to lead children’s ministry, seeing as she was already a pre-school teacher. So, we started looking for a place where we could settle down and carry out ministry, and right away God told us “South Africa.”
What was the reason you began Precious to Jesus?
In the first month we started our children’s ministry in South Africa, one of the boys got raped – and we didn’t know how to deal with it. Then a few months later, another girl out of our 12 kids got raped. This was way beyond what I knew how to deal with.
As we realized what these kids were facing we knew we had to do something, so we began a campaign called Precious to Jesus. We designed a t-shirt that would help develop a sense of worth in these children, recognizing their value to God as their creator, as well as acting as a stern warning to others not to mistreat these kids. The campaign grew quickly, and in 2014 we registered as a charitable organization. We ran successful campaigns called the Children’s March through cities that drew big crowds across the country.
Besides the Children’s Marches, you were doing further research, what were you finding?
There was a definite sense of reliance on the young men to make it through life on their own. We found a shocking percentage of young men ages 16-18 responded to our surveys with answers like, “My life is hopeless, there is nobody to go to.” As the young men became more isolated, they would resort to violence and drinking to let frustration out.
There is this sense of isolated independence. Another way it is developed in the tribe I work with: the boys undergo a ritual to move into manhood, it’s a very important time in their lives. As these boys grow up, they begin to realize that, in many cases, nobody is there for them – you just have to man up and take care of yourself.
After the ceremony, the men live alone for a few weeks in a hut, surviving off the land; they take pride in their survival of the primitive circumstances. After they have succeeded, they are accepted back into the community as new men. As a part of the celebration, the young women join the celebration and dance for them. Throughout the celebration, there is drinking and revelling, and the men are pressured to sleep with a random woman to prove their manhood. As a result of all this, there is a significant social problem where young girls are raped, become pregnant and then rely on their mothers to help raise the children with no money or support.
As these boys grow up, they begin to realize that nobody is there for them — you just have to man up and take care of yourself.
How did you respond to all this?
I didn’t know how to process some of the stories I was hearing and seeing firsthand. I was shocked. The heaviness of the situation got very overwhelming.
There was one instance where a few men on my team got into a car accident and one of them broke his back. As I drove to the scene, I was at my wits’ end and told God “I can’t do this anymore.” Then, miraculously when I arrived at the hospital, the man walked out of the emergency room completely fine. That was the encouragement I needed – I knew God was with us.
How do you think God is working in this challenging situation?
The South African census states that 80% of the population identify as Christian. Our findings don’t make sense with this. Witch doctors are a big part of the culture; there is a prevalence of ancestor worship. We all deeply desire respect, and often this is sought from the community and the ancestors. Respect is equal to reputation, so external appearance is the most important.
Respect is equal to reputation; they don’t care about inner goodness, just as long as they aren’t exposed.
I started understanding that ancestor worship is prevalent even in the Christian church – the Bible is considered to be judgmental, and many believe they need to find their own spirituality through experience with their ancestors. There is an attempt to have God without Jesus, and the Bible is considered a source of discrimination rather than hope. Often, where there are broken family relationships and distrust because of abuse, there isn’t a reference point for the sacrificial love of Jesus. These relationship issues need to be resolved by experiencing love in a day-today context.
To show this kind of life-altering, divinely inspired love, we need to walk with people, encourage them and show them what Jesus’ love truly looks like. It goes to the root of so many issues. God needs to be seen as He truly is – the Saviour and lover of our souls – not as an ancestor who can offer wealth and respect. Jesus Christ will certainly be worshipped if His glory and power to set the captive free are seen and experienced.