Outside a church near downtown Los Angeles, a dozen teenagers sit on the steps. Hanging out with them is Ki Kwon, 46, who spends much of his free time serving the youth of Koreatown—an area where luxury condos adjoin homeless shelters. Every moment with these kids matters. Many of the teens Kwon works with have a difficult home life, often due to the effects of poverty, broken families, or abuse. “You can feel the intensity of the hurt they feel,” he said. “I let them know I understand because I’ve been there.”
When he was a child, Kwon’s parents worked long hours to make ends meet. And with mom and dad mostly absent, he and his older brother fought regularly. One day, when Kwon was 13, his brother hit him hard with a stick, piercing his scalp. Counselors at school took notice. Soon after, the authorities came to take Kwon away and place him in a foster home.
Kwon’s anger grew as weeks passed into months and his mom and dad never visited him. Finally, he ran away to live on the streets and joined a gang, who took care of him like family. By 16, Kwon was depressed and exhausted. So he took a revolver and, with one bullet in the chamber, played Russian roulette alone. He pulled the trigger—click. Click. Click. And by the fourth time, something in him said to stop, so he put the gun down. It was then that he noticed a voice on the radio in the background—that of Dr. Charles Stanley.
A friend’s mom heard about Kwon’s situation and took him to church. As he received guidance there, Kwon felt his bitterness and depression begin to leave him. And then, he answered the call to surrender his life to Jesus.
In the years that followed, Kwon devoured anything he could find by Dr. Stanley—sermons, articles, books—all of which encouraged him on the path of discipleship. Today, Kwon continues to read the In Touch devotional, which he uses to lead morning prayer groups.
Decades after he held a gun to his temple, Kwon is now calm and secure in His relationship with God. And he has clout with the teenagers. They know his story, and so they readily open up, showing trust in ways they don’t with other adults. Kwon knows that by being involved in church, they can find a refuge from gang life. And that as long as they feel loved and heard, they won’t fall into the life he survived by God’s grace alone.
Photograph by Ben Rollins