Notes From The Chaplaincy

Overcoming Trauma is a Journey

I stretched my little legs as I felt the warm rays of sunlight hitting my face. I opened my eyes, hoping to see a warm steamy bowl of food in front of me. Instead, I saw the piles of garbage surrounding where I slept. I had grown accustom to the smells of thrown out dish water and rotting food. The smell of rooting food to me was my invitation to look for my breakfast. The scorching humid summer air was unbearable along with a hefty dose of odors in the large northern city of Korea. There was nothing exciting about this year, 1977 was just another year I was fighting to survive and keep myself from starving to death. The streets of Korea were narrow and paved with hardened dirt. At the time, I was 3 years old and running with hundreds of other kids just like me. I continually dreamed of having a full stomach and nice clothes. My shirt I had found was in ribbons gently flapping in the summer heat. I quickly ran down the street stealing food from a business and eating as fast as I could. I darted down a side street so I wouldn’t get caught.

In Korea, summer changed to autumn and the days started to become cooler. I started to worry about the harsh winters that would invade the countryside of Korea. As each day passed, my body was growing weaker and weaker. I was having more difficulty finding food to eat. My body started to involuntarily shake to try and keep warm. I had found a sewer vent and tried to keep myself warm. I was nearly 4 years old and I didn’t even weigh 40 pounds. This one particular day, I decided to be brave and go find something special to eat. I tried to get close to a couple food stands only to be chased away. I finally spied a vendor who had his back turned to me and I quickly darted in and stole my food. I took off running, thinking I had escaped. I slowed down and started to inhale the food. To my surprise, I heard a noise and I turned around to see a policeman reach down and grab me. I twisted and struggled to get away, to no avail. I finally gave up. The policeman’s vice-like grip hurt me and knew I was in huge trouble.

I was taken to the local police station. They questioned me and asked where my parents were. I told them, I had no parents and I had no home. They laughed at me and threw me into jail. After what seemed to be eternity, the policeman opened the door and walked into the small damp cell. He told me that they couldn’t let me out on the street, so they were going to send me to an orphanage. I begged to be let out and not to send me to an orphanage. He ignored my pleas and left. The very next day, I was taken to a small country orphanage with hundreds of other little kids just like me. I was given a small reed mat to sleep on the floor. I was given two meals of rice and once a week we had a little meat.

In 1978, through Holt International Adoption Agency I was chosen by my current parents to come to America. The American couple adopted me and made me a part of their family. I was 40 pounds under weight when I came to Oregon.  Running through the streets of Korea I had contracted the T.B. virus. I was sick and undernourished; I was one step from starvation.

My new family gave me all the wonderful things that a loving family had.  I was taken to the doctor where I was given proper treatment and to this day, I have been T.B. free thirty some years. To this day, I do not know where my biological parents are.

I worked at my family’s meat business at the age 12 and I learned how to cut deer, elk, and even ostrich. I wanted to go back to school, so I went to Chicago and received my Masters. I was a paid-on call firefighter at Woodburn Fire and a volunteer at Silverton Fire. Currently, when I have time I volunteer at Cloverdale Fire. I learned some valuable lessons through my experiences. It has been a process and what I have learned has been vital to my journey through life.

I have seen how my struggles have made me more compassionate and caring. I don’t have to understand everything to realize that we all hurt at different times in our life. Through my past and many years of training it has changed me for good. What I can do is to be a support in all that I do and say. It is a privilege to serve our First Responders. I want to give others a little hope that there is help and that people do care. I am a living witness to that.

What is your journey? How are you handling hurt and pain? I have scars that have healed but have left marks. They don’t go away but rather they are reminder of where I have been and where I am going. It is a process and it takes help. Reach out and ask for help. I did.

Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Chaplain Joel


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COPC exists to serve and support our First Responders, Law Enforcement, Fire, Medics, and Dispatch. We serve our men and women with the focus to assist them and while we are doing that our chaplains serve and support the communities of Central Oregon. We walk in the trench with our First Responders. Thank you to our First Responders.

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