What were your Monday mornings like in second grade? Did you look forward to playing with your friends at recess after not seeing them for a few days? Or did you dread Mondays because you knew were in for a beating from the teacher? That such a thing would happen regularly and openly seems unfathomable to the 21st-century mind living in a free society, but it was a very real part of second-grade life for a young Jonathan Park.
Born and raised in South Korea, Park, president of the Southeastern California Conference, experienced firsthand at a very young age what it meant to follow Christ regardless of painful earthly consequences.
Both of Park’s parents became Adventists as young adults, and they went on to become fervently engaged in ministry, primarily as church planters. To this day, they actively seek soul-winning opportunities, give Bible studies, and lead others to local Adventist churches.
The first few years of his education, Park attended Korean public schools, where mandatory Saturday attendance was the norm. Though in first grade he was allowed to skip school on Saturday, in second grade punishment awaited him every Monday morning for having skipped Saturday. The teacher would hit him and make him wait in the hallway on his knees with his hands raised. There was zero acknowledgment of, much less respect for, differing religious convictions.
Though Park’s parents pleaded with the school for better treatment, they finally made the decision to withdraw their son from public school and instead send him to the “nearest” Adventist school, which was a two-hour commercial bus ride from home.
Because the school was so far away, the family made special arrangements for their elementary school son to stay at the dormitories for junior high and high school students, making him the youngest in the bunch.
As he reflects on the experience now, Park likens it to a similar arrangement Hannah made for her son, the young Samuel, to go live and study with the priest Eli. Park quickly learned to enjoy
his new arrangements and enjoyed living with the older students as well as the kindness and healthy, positive lifestyle shown by the teachers.
When he was in his early teens, the family immigrated to the United States, where Park went on to attend San Pasqual Academy (SPA) for high school, which was an Adventist boarding school at the time near Escondido, California.
“I treasure many fond memories of San Pasqual Academy,” Park said of his time there. “I've appreciated all the teachers, for they were both parents and teachers to all of us.” One memory that Park is particularly fond of is the thriving gymnastics program led by coach Paul Chung and the mentorship he received under his guidance.
“He has impacted my life by mentoring me, allowing me to grow up as a responsible student and eventually to a man,” Park recalled. “He spent quality time with me, and all his students, by inviting us to his home for dinner and fellowship.”
Park appreciates the fact that Chung, along with the other faculty at SPA, taught students the value of honesty, hard work, and Adventist Christian values, not just at school and academically but through spending time with students outside of class time and ongoing mentorship.
The choice to become a pastor was a fairly simple one for Park after a lifetime of examples of faith in his own family—from his parents and from an uncle who is a pastor (now retired)—and the examples of kindness and mentorship shown to him through Adventist teachers and mentors.
Though his family never pressured him to become a pastor, they were nonetheless Park’s biggest supporters through positive affirmation, encouragement, and unceasing prayer. And through his uncle’s example, Park learned that as a pastor he has both the privilege and the responsibility
of making a difference for eternity in people’s lives.
Park has dedicated his life to making a difference for eternity through service to the church. He went on to earn his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Andrews University. He pastored numerous churches in California up until 2013, when he went on to serve at the conference level at Southeastern California Conference—as vice president for Asian/Pacific Ministries from 2010 to 2013, executive secretary from 2013 to 2021, and now as president.
Jonathan and Ashley Park are the parents of three adult, and nearly adult, children—all of whom are thriving in their respective studies and professions as a teaching principal at an Adventist school, a student missionary, and a soon-to-be academy graduate.
For Jonathan Park, Adventist education is something he experienced firsthand, even before attending an Adventist school. He saw it modeled in the life of his parents first and then in his teachers and mentors. He believes that Adventist education is an extension of home life, and as such it is a powerful tool for building the kingdom of God. He believes that when young people have a positive, healthy foundation in their Adventist experiences both at home and at school, it prepares them for the world in the best way possible.
“I believe in Adventist education. If I didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t have put my three kids in Adventist schools,” Park emphasized. “The value of what is taught at home is very important, and Adventist education offers another layer of Christian values that children need to experience in order to expand and grow.”