Torchbearer: Hyepin Im. Los Angeles, CA. Korean-American.
Hyepin, a non-profit executive and community advocate, faced multiple layoffs and challenges but she found the good in her goodbyes by answering God’s calling and then watched miracle after miracle happen in her life.
This is her story, in her own words…
Let’s Start with Accounting
Being in accounting seemed safe, so that’s why I took that route.
I went to Berkeley Haas Business School. At the time I was trying to get my foot in the door with investment banking – it's tough to get those interviews. I was finally given a letter to sign up for an interview slot and that's when I saw this posting for an accounting job with one of the Big 4 accounting companies. I don't think I even paid that much attention to my accounting classes so I was far from prepared. But I said – you know what? I know that this is prestigious, what do I have to lose? I signed up and I got the job offer!
When the Accounting Shoe Doesn’t Fit
Being a Tax Accountant really wasn’t my forte.
The nature of the work wasn’t a very straight path. It was always a “what if” scenarios. And as someone who likes to look at all of the possible options, it was overwhelming!
I tried to get out of Public Accounting. I used Headhunters, told them I wanted something new but they were more concerned with their ROI and kept giving me the same kind of jobs. I went to another firm and was laid off. After that, I tried another accounting firm and it just wasn’t a good fit.
My dad encouraged me to go get my MBA, so I decided to get my MBA at USC and although I ended up in public accounting, it was consulting. Even that was not necessarily the most exciting job. It was like number crunching.
Here I was getting laid off, while my friends were making six figure incomes, flying all over the world.
After being laid off enough time times, I felt like I was suffering. You don't ever feel good when people tell you goodbye – but actually it was almost like a relief. During the same time, I was president of a nonprofit that was like the NAACP for the Korean community; Korean-American Coalition (KAC). Even though it was all volunteer work, I lived and breathed KAC and in that space I thrived. I thank God that he gave me some grace with KAC because I felt like I was running into walls.
Answering the Call I did my MBA and my CPA - only God can drag me back to school!
In junior high school my dad said - hey, you should go to seminary and then teach. For me, seeing my parents in ministry, there was a lot of miracles but there was also a lot of pain. There was violence in our family and a lot of poverty. I equated poverty with ministry. There was also a lot of hard work, especially the way my parents did ministry: early morning prayer, Wednesday night bible study and all the other things. It's a lot of self-sacrifice - TOTAL sacrifice! My mom's story was like the story of Jonah in the Bible. God called her to ministry and she ran away. After that came a lot of pain but she ultimately ended up in ministry.
I didn’t want to end up like Jonah but I believe that you should be called before you go to ministry.
I said, God, if you ever call me, just make it really clear and I'm going to obey because I don't believe in going through unnecessary pain, then having to do it anyway.
I would pray, pray, pray.
Then in 2000, some events happened that compelled me to send an application for seminary. I had to be compelled enough to even do that! What was really amazing is that God didn’t even wait until I submitted my application for Seminary, but literally from that moment on, the doors that had closed in my life all started to swing wide open. It was mind-blowing!
Bridging the Gap
I needed to convince government and others to take interest in the Asian community.
I was working at First AME Church in the venture capital fund space. First AME created an affiliated non-profit, allowing them to work like any other nonprofit, including starting a venture capital fund. At the time, Andrew Cuomo was the secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and there was this faith-based initiative that actually started under Clinton called Charitable Choice. This initiative was just for HUD, but Secretary Cuomo wanted to do a faith-based economic development conference in LA. However, the government had no database of faith leaders. Instead, they reached out to C.U.E.D (Churches United for Economic Development), a group of churches that were consistently doing great work.
My boss, Mark Whitlock, was the chair at C.U.E.D. They had black, white and latin representation, but no Asians. That’s when Mark reached out to me to bring the Asian representation. I worked with a reporter to write an article to help with outreach. That ultimately led to over a hundred calls of interest from across the country.
During that HUD event, about 900 people came out and about 60 were Asians that I personally recruited. 60 out of a 900 is nothing – but it definitely stood out because no Asians had ever showed up to any of these events! I was then asked to host a conference for Koreans. I saw it as like a sign from God.
We ran into issues. The university that was supposed to be helping me was locked out of their own building because they didn't pay their bill. HUD could no longer partner with me because other groups were saying that hosting an event specifically for Koreans is discriminatory. So, if I wanted to move forward, everything was on me. Even though HUD helped a little, I had to do all the fundraising, printing and things like that. To make things worse, the week before the event I was laid off from First AME Church.
When I checked the registration list for the event, only 10 people had registered. My heart sank and my world turned dark – How did I bring myself to this point? I put my job on the line, the White House was flying in and people had to take off for vacation.
But for some reason, when HUD asked how many people I was expecting, I said 350.
As bleak as my situation looked, I remembered how God delivers at the last minute.
That gave me the courage to move forward even though people were telling me to cancel or make the event free, over 350 people came!
Faith and Community Empowerment (FACE)
So, I asked myself, could there be a better way?
After the conference, the participants were asking what's next and I would tell them call a certain number – but I felt guilty. I knew I was sending them into a black hole where they didn't have the political clout or the capacity. I carried this burden, there needed to be an entity that could be like a broker, a marriage broker, where we could promote the interest of the Asian community.
This was very important to me, I saw how faith-based organizations, including my parents’ ministry, answered God's call to ministry to preach the gospel, but they also end up becoming unpaid social worker.
I founded Faith and Community Empowerment (FACE) as a national nonprofit serving as a bridge between the Korean/Asian American community and the greater community at large. We empower churches and nonprofits to leverage their resources to build their capacity, leadership and partner in economic development.
Words of Wisdom God said let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and praise your father who's in heaven.
I think of Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent. She came on stage and the judges, audience, everyone was booing her because she just didn't look the part. But when she opened her mouth and started to sing, even the worst naysayers who rolled their eyes suddenly became avid fans.
God has given each one of us light. We need to be able to embrace that light and shine! Some of those the naysayers will become avid fans.
More Information on Hyepin's work: www.facela.org
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