I’ve tried to keep things as focused and to-the-point as possible, hence the bullet point format.
- I was raised in a Christian family, both my immediate family and wider family generally.
- My grandfather on my dad’s side was a pastor in the Presbyterian church. My uncle is a lawyer for the church too.
- There are lots of missionaries in the extended family on my mom’s side. Indonesia, China, Mexico, and so on.
- When I was growing up, my family went to a church that was part of the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination, although upon some reflection now that I’m older, the church was really more like an Evangelical church in Presbyterian robes. At any rate, I was in Sunday school from the time I was young until my first year of high school, so basically my whole childhood.
- When I was somewhat older, I sat in on several studies targeted toward us teenagers. One in particular stands out in my mind, where we had a military guy (shoutout to “G.I. John”) teach us about interpretation principles and more. “Context is key,” he would say. It was good stuff.
- We moved states when I was 14, as my dad got a different job, and then went to a Methodist church for a while before my parents eventually settled at a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) church.
- None of these churches were really my home after we moved though. I didn’t get very serious about things (make my faith my own) until I was about to graduate high school (2014), and at that point I came across Ichthys.com, which has since then been my spiritual home, the place to which I turn when I have questions or need guidance on some spiritual matter. (The person who runs this teaching ministry, Dr. Robert Luginbill, a seminary-trained Classics professor at the University of Louisville, answers questions over email: email@example.com).
College Part I: Georgia Tech
- I started college at Georgia Tech in Fall 2014, thinking I’d end up an engineer like my dad. I did well in classes, but I had positively no idea what I was supposed to do with my life. I was actually undeclared engineering (rather than being mechanical, electrical, aerospace, etc.) for a full year before I finally chose industrial engineering as my major.
- After a couple months of testing out several campus ministries, my freshman-year roommate and I ended up at a church on campus falling under the umbrella of Acts Ministries International. It was pretty focused on Asian-American folks, but we white guys were definitely welcomed with open arms. I was involved with weekly small groups from this church the whole time I was at Georgia Tech. It was cool to be in the orbit of all the Korean folks that were part of this community, and to get to see a snapshot of their shared culture and its relationship to Christianity.
- After a semester or two of college under my belt, I started leading a weekly Bible study alongside attending the community group meetings. It started when I had several long talks with a couple of the other guys in one of my small groups, and we were all interested in going a bit deeper on the formal study side of things. In my time leading this Bible study, we went through some of the Peter Series on Ichthys, the book of James, and the book of Jonah, among other things.
- In Fall 2015 I took some classes relating to industrial engineering (like calculus-based probability and a data science class in Python), to try to gauge my interest in the field. I was beginning to get a bit unsettled by my lack of conviction, and spurred by some positive feedback from my Bible study friends, was beginning to wonder if maybe I was called to something a little more formal ministry-wise. I decided to try to obtain some work experience in matters relating to industrial engineering to get me more data for my decision, so in Spring 2016, I got an internship at a consulting firm in Atlanta.
- As my work experience wore on, I came to decide that God was leading me to learn Greek and Hebrew and undertake a teaching ministry more formally. There was a lot of prayer and thought in this period, trying to figure out that to which I was called. This decision was a very momentous one since it required me to transfer Universities. Georgia Tech is great in engineering, but it doesn’t even offer a single class relating to Ancient Greek.
- For this reason I transferred to the University of Georgia (UGA) in Summer 2016.
A video going over my decision to transfer schools and undertake a formal path of ministry
In one week of our study of BB6A: Peripateology (an Ichthys study going over the concept of the Christian walk) we were discussing discerning spiritual gifts and areas of ministry. In the context of this discussion, I shared some of my thought process in transferring schools to prepare to serve the Body of Christ as a Bible teacher. The relevant bit picks up at 18:46 in the video, and goes on for a few minutes.
College Part II: UGA
- I started out at UGA as a Classics double major, majoring both in the Classical languages (Greek and Latin) and Classical culture (which is more the history/sociology/anthropology/etc. side of things). I also took a full year of Hebrew, so that I’d have both Greek and Hebrew. Between learning the original languages (Greek and Hebrew) and formally studying the cultures and histories of Greece and especially Rome (the cultures around the time of Christ – the cultures throughout which the gospel message initially spread), my hope was that I’d receive good preparation for teaching the Bible more formally, and fortunately I think my experience has born this out. (Although if I were to do it all over again, I’d worry about the actual degrees less, and only take the classes that I wanted to/classes that were useful for preparation, which would end up letting me graduate a lot faster, even if I didn’t end up with the official recognition afforded by diplomas).
- I started off thinking I wanted to be a Classics professor just like my mentor, but after a long series of conversations with him and lots of research about the pros and cons of that path, I eventually decided to add a third major in Computer Science, and then work as a software engineer as my form of “tentmaking” after graduation, rather than trying to make academia work. This was another huge decision that I was a bit shaky on at first, but over time, the conviction has come quite strongly.
- I had also briefly flirted with the idea of going to seminary and following a more traditional route in the church, but ruled it out rather early on as an option. Going to seminary would be more necessary if I felt I was called to a more traditional pastorate (as it is the general expectation for such positions), but that is never really where I felt like God was leading me. This is not to say that the other more conventional approach is always 100% wrong (although I do think modern trends in the church visible are making it a harder and harder path to walk without compromising on one’s beliefs – for example, many modern seminaries, even conservative non-denominational ones, have confessional standards that contain much that is problematic), but just that this traditional approach is something that I personally am not called to.
- When I was at UGA, I got involved with a local house church, and in fact lived in it, with my rent helping subsidize the community. The first couple years I was at UGA I focused on my studies a lot (learning Latin, Greek, and Hebrew simultaneously is no joke) and didn’t lead any Bible studies, but the last couple years I was at UGA, despite me being exceptionally busy as a triple-major once I added the third major in Computer Science, I started leading a Bible study again, with some attendees coming from my ever-changing set of roommates (I lived with quite a diverse group of people over the years – probably 10 or more people passed through the rooms in the house over my time there), others coming from my classes in Greek and Hebrew, and then my sisters too when we all overlapped at the University for a year.
- One exception to this general pattern of studying and leading Bible studies was Summer 2019, during which I studied abroad in Rome, Italy. (Several of us also took a train to Florence over a weekend, staying in an AirBnb). I didn’t learn much Italian on this trip, but I did get lots of good knowledge about Rome and its long and complicated relationship with Christianity – from the Julio-Claudian emperors, to the fall of Rome, to the dark ages, to the Holy Roman Empire, to the Renaissance, to Mussolini, and even into the modern day.
- I graduated in December 2019 (a full 5.5 years after I first started college) with three completed majors:
- B.A. in Classics: Greek. (I dropped the Latin and switched to a Greek-only focus when I added Computer Science and decided I wasn’t going on in academia).
- B.A. in Classics: Classical Culture
- B.S. in Computer Science
Establishing an online Christian community, starting to work to support myself, figuring out specifics for my own ministry
- In 2019, I had conversations with Dr. Luginbill of Ichthys.com and several other individuals in the Ichthys orbit about the possibility of setting up an online fellowship community for those who read Ichthys. Given my study of computers and software engineering, I would be able to set up a self-hosted forum in a way that had not previously been an option on the table. We had a lot of upfront discussion to ensure we designed and managed the community in a proper way (keeping the primary focus on spiritual growth and edification rather than social interaction per se, for example), but after all that, a community was launched in early Summer 2019. Technically this happened before I graduated college (preceding it by a few months), but I really do consider it more part of the “post-college” phase of my life, as things didn’t take off so much until after I graduated.
- A bit later in the summer, some of us who got to know each other a bit better through the forum also started to chat over audio as well, eventually settling on Zoom for our meetings (with the occasional WhatsApp call if there is a conversation only between two individuals). These meetings have persisted since then into the present, and will likely continue for the foreseeable future.
- I was very busy my last semester of college (Fall 2019), taking a couple challenging computer science classes (Operating Systems, Databases) as well as finishing off my Greek major with a Biblical Greek class… all on top of preparing for the Bible study meetings I was still leading. I was also trying to figure out exactly where I would work after graduation, eventually settling on a software engineering position with the Air Force in a webapps-focused squadron (one of the support squadrons under the umbrella of the 402 Software Engineering Group (SWEG)).
- At any rate, it wasn’t until graduating in early December 2019 that I really had time to consider ministry things more formally. Around this time, I decided to have our now-consistently-scheduled weekly Zoom meetings start focusing on one of the sections of Ichthys’ Systematic Theology, the part titled Peripateology: The Christian Walk. We decided to record our meetings and post them up on YouTube.
- I moved to an apartment of my own in late January 2020, and then started my job in early March. It took me a bit to get settled in, but after things stabilized, I realized I definitely had a lot more free time working a 9-to-5 than I did as a triple major in college. It was a different set of pressures though, and being fully financially independent (rather than leaning on my parents) did of course introduce responsibilities that weren’t there before.
- For six months or so after I graduated, I was honestly in recovery mode, and didn’t get a whole lot done. As a triple major in college (on top of already being behind from changing majors and schools), I took heavy semesters, and didn’t have summers off either, instead taking full class loads so that I could graduate faster. I was pretty burnt out after several years of extremely hard work and constant responsibility, and once I had no direct pressure on me for the first time in years, everything caught up with me and dragged me under for a bit. (Of course, I was also busy getting up to speed at my job, and acclimating to working full-time).
- Eventually, I started whipping myself into form again, and set out to start building the ministry website that had been the on-again off-again focus of mine for several years prior to this point. Armed with a Computer Science degree and plenty of hands-on design experience from my day job as a full-stack web developer, I set out to build an online Bible teaching ministry leveraging more advanced content functionality, tackling certain UI/UX improvements that I’d identified as possibilities through my own use of other Bible teaching websites.
- At first, my focus was almost entirely on text as a content medium. Month by month, we did keep recording our Zoom meetings, but for a long time I thought it was just a common-sense thing to do since it didn’t cost me much time to do so, and maybe someone somewhere might find the recordings useful. I hardly viewed it as a primarily ministry outlet for myself, in other words – instead, I thought I’d follow a similar format as Ichthys, my mentor’s online Bible teaching ministry, which has longform text studies. However, as time wore on and I started formalizing our weekly study more (for example, by organizing each week’s content into presentation slides), eventually I let go of my narrow focus and started to much more seriously consider a wider variety of potential ministry opportunities, including video as a primary content medium.
- After thinking about things for some time and doing a bunch of research, I determined that far from being somehow disadvantageous, offering video (and thus audio too, as it is easy to rip audio off MP4 videos) alongside text is only to the good, and well worth the added time it takes for me to produce things. This is because adding video and audio versions of content is additive; rather than being mutually exclusive with text, these other mediums in fact supplement the text version of content that is still there. Everything is further enhanced if I as the content creator spend some additional time upfront to enhance the content. For example:
- Offering text both in a formal study format (unbroken prose), and in a version split into separable slides.
- Fully timestamping all the videos (creating links to all topic transitions)
- Creating hyperlinked full transcripts for all the videos
- I’ll skip the bulk of the nitty-gritty details, but on top of thinking through things enough to settle on the above (it actually took me a long while to figure out that this was what God was leading me into in terms of ministry structure), I taught myself a good bit about audio and video editing to offer better content, and then tackled a vast number of technical matters related to designing, testing, and integrating all the things necessary to get the ministry website live. I coded a fair bit myself (as I couldn’t find off-the-shelf options for many of the things I wanted to do), and also had to figure out how to get everything to play nicely together, for lack of a better phrase. It was more work than I had ever imagined it would be, but a good bit of this is because much of what I decided I wanted to do has not been done before (at least not that I could find), so I was breaking new ground in many areas. If I had done something more basic, things would have gone much faster. As it was, even though I had intended to launch my website soon after graduating college, it took me more than two years of development time just to get the content framework implemented and polished to my standards.
- Partway in the middle of this (around Summer 2021) I started a formal video teaching series all of my own. The initial efforts here were most constructive in informing all the outstanding things I still needed to finish polishing, and in working out the remaining kinks in the system. I was consistent for a time (making about 20 videos over a span of 10 weeks or so), and then paused the series as I turned my full attention back towards getting the full launch completed as quickly as possible.
- In preparation for going live, on top of the website, I also bought a house, with the ultimate purpose behind this being to host Bible studies there in-person. I spent some time after this figuring out how I wanted to organize seating for the Bible studies, researching and eventually buying and setting up a projector, projector screen, and tiered seating. Just as I had work in getting things ready on the website front, so too did I have to prepare on the physical front.
- Finally, just before the public launch of my ministry, I spent a fair bit of time renovating our existing community forum in preparation for opening it up much more. Over the span of the years it existed prior to my full launch, the community was composed only of people explicitly in the Ichthys orbit – a fairly homogenous group. In launching my own ministry, I expanded the forum to encompass a couple more new sections: a section for Bible-related discussions among a wider group of Protestants generally (all those holding to some common axioms relating to the importance of scripture and so on), and then also a section for formal debate among a yet wider group of people (including Christians from Catholic and Orthodox systems of belief, for example). The forum community needed roles set up to visibility-lock the sections as appropriate, and I had many other various technical matters to handle in getting the platform ready for a heavier influx of new users.
Ministry launch, and initial content focus
- Finally, after many years of preparation (no exaggeration – I set out on this path formally all the way back in 2016), my ministry went live officially in August 2022, soon after I turned 26. I scaffolded content in each of the initial content sections (Shorter Topical Studies, Longer Topical Studies, Verse-by-verse Studies, Q&As) before launch, and then started working my way outwards from there.
- After launching, my primary initial focus has been getting the large backlog of content that has already been generated put into the fully-fleshed-out format, with complete study text, alongside full timestamps and transcripts. This is taking me a while.