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Finding Healing Amid Spiritual Tension

After living out his freshman year during one of the most divisive years in the U.S. and the globe, Ethan Kim ’24 is intent on pursuing a life of fervent prayer and Christ-centered community in addition to his studies in economics and classical languages.

Words: Peter Biles ’20

Ethan Kim headshot Wheaton College

“We can’t change all these crazy things that are happening, but we can control how we respond in Christ.”

Ethan Kim ’24 has lived on three continents in the past ten years. Born in New Jersey, he moved around often in the state until his family relocated to London. From London, they moved yet again to Hong Kong. “I initially went to the University of Bath in the U.K. to study math,” Kim said. “But I’ve always loved talking about God and evangelism. And honestly, that was how I decided on Wheaton.”

It’s been a winding road for Kim up to this point, but he’s glad he decided to pursue a theological education at Wheaton, despite the challenges it took to get there. He’s now an economics and classical languages major—a handful of an integration, but one which he believes combines his love for Scripture with additional technical skills he wants to develop in the long run.

“Believe it or not, I feel like coming to Wheaton was a bigger culture shock for me than going somewhere else,” Kim admitted. “I thought it was going to be fine, just because I’ve lived in America and I’m a Christian.” Kim’s background in more secular environments, however, did not prepare him for immersion in an atmosphere where people talked more about their denominational backgrounds than their place of origins.

Anyone who’s been up to speed on the state of the world over the past two years will know that it’s been tough being a college kid. Trying to have a normal college experience amid a global pandemic wasn’t easy for anyone, and with the political tensions in the U.S. being so fraught and people so polarized, Kim found himself navigating ambiguous terrain. “To see people within the body of Christ disagree so vehemently was hard. It was a hard first year,” he said.

Kim described himself as a sort of mediator—someone who doesn’t fall neatly into any earthly or political tribe, but who nonetheless refuses to compromise on his beliefs. Looking back on his years at Wheaton so far, students from both sides of the political aisle often approached him and asked if they could get meals with him and just talk. Often they were looking for someone who would neither regurgitate their point of view nor condemn them for expressing certain opinions. As it turns out, Kim offered them a key ingredient of healing for the spiritual malaise of tribalism and tension: understanding.

The political divisions in the United States, including within many churches, proved to be the biggest culture shock for Kim. He admitted that he still doesn’t know where he stands on many hot topic issues. But at the end of the day, he remains committed to Christian harmony and brotherhood. Kim said he is passionate about unity in the Church, and believes such unity is crucial for the survival of the church. Amid the world’s tensions, Kim remains optimistic about Wheaton and its future.

“We can’t change all these crazy things that are happening, but we can control how we respond in Christ,” he said.

As one example of this Christ-centered response, Kim recalls walking through the Traber lobby after playing basketball one evening in February 2022 and noticing a group of students praying together. At first, he didn’t know what was going on.

“I just knew something big was happening,” he said. Then it dawned. Russia had just launched an aggressive attack against Ukraine. Kim noted how special it was to see Wheaton students coming together in prayer over a tragic situation. He and his roommates also united in prayer over the Ukrainian refugees. Members of Christ’s body responded in unity—like Christ himself prayed for.

Looking ahead, Kim wants to keep sharing the gospel and perhaps even start his own nonprofit after college. He looks forward to serving as a resource and a friend to Wheaton students and keep discerning the way forward in his vocational path.