As a ninth-grader in 1965, Tae Yong Pak ’22 (M.Div.) saw a girl with short hair playing the pedal organ at a church service in Song Tan, South Korea, where they grew up. “Like Romeo and Juliet, I fell in love with her at first sight.”
Tae and the youthful musician, Young Oak Pak ’22 (D.A.S.D.), started dating years later as college students, and wed in 1976, “I married my first love in the same church,” says Tae. Today, the couple has three daughters and six grandchildren.
In 1975, Tae immigrated to the United States; he returned briefly to South Korea and married Young, who came to the U.S. in 1977, and they lived in California’s Bay Area. Tae’s career was with the Santa Clara Valley Water District, where he retired as a senior chemist, and Young’s career was with the U.S. Postal Service.
With retirement, Tae and Young explored the possibility of chasing a new dream, one for which they had planned: “I have saved all your tuition. Go and study. That’s what you want,” Young told Tae at the time. He admits spending too much of his early retirement playing tennis, reading classics, listening to music, and, he adds with a laugh, “enjoying Coors Light, Meiomi Pinot, or Jameson Irish whiskey.”
Pursuing a new path
In 2019, Tae took the first step toward realizing his second career and enrolled in the University of Redlands Graduate School of Theology’s San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS) to earn a Master of Divinity, having also received a scholarship from the Alumni Association. Young visited some of Tae’s classes, and Professor Daniel Yi suggested she pursue a Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction. Both are graduating from the Seminary this month.
Throughout, their journey in South Korea and the U.S. was guided by a strong faith in God. “Both of us were born into Christian families,” says Tae. “We have served the church throughout our lives.”
Young already holds a degree in music from the Yonsei University in Seoul, and Tae previously earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in English literature, which he earned in South Korea, and the other in chemical engineering from San Jose State University. Tae’s literary education influenced his SFTS studies, he says: “I have read many long European novels. I was interested in theology, and the Bible is the backbone of Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ulysses by James Joyce, and many works of the American mystic and spiritualist Thomas Merton.”
At SFTS, the couple moved to the campus’s student village, and they immersed themselves in their studies. “English is not our native tongue,” says Tae, and they typed their notes and recorded lectures to which they listened repeatedly. “Writing long reports was an ordeal, but they are a sweet memory now.” With a small living room in their campus house, Young studied at home, and Tae studied at the student lounge, which fellow students dubbed “Tae’s living room.”
With their diplomas in hand, Tae and Young will now return to South Korea as Presbyterian missionaries. “We plan to teach North Korean refugee students English, chemistry, or the Bible,” says Tae. Young says she will also teach music and “exercise her knowledge of spiritual direction in the church environment.”
As they once again relocate to pursue a new chapter, Tae looks to Victor Hugo’s words in Les Misérables and why the formidable French military lost the battle: “Napoleon’s artillery was too focused on a given point, to bombard and obliterate it. On the previous night it had rained, and the muddy ground retarded the mobility of Napoleon’s invincible artillery units,” says Tae. “Hugo described it as ‘Providence needed only a little rain.’
“My confession is that history and my life are located in providence,” says Tae of God’s benevolent guidance. “I will do my best to align the rest of my life with providence.”
Learn more about the Graduate School of Theology.