From Skeptic to Seminary
After a career in theoretical physics, Dr. Samuel Lee is studying to become a pastor to reach out to the Chinese population in Milwaukee.
When Dr. Samuel Lee came to the United States more than 30 years ago, he did not believe in God. Now, he’s in his second year of the Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) program at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, and he leads a Chinese fellowship at Elm Grove Lutheran Church in Elm Grove, Wis.
Lee says that God used friendly Christians and the theoretical physics research he was doing at the time to point him to Christianity. “I solved a long-standing problem [in physics], but then I found more problems from that. Questions kept coming. Why, why, why? From those things, I realized this is not something we can fundamentally grasp. There’s some mystery behind it,” he recalls. “I became humbled. … I knew there was a God.”
After attending several different churches, Lee eventually found his way to a Chinese fellowship group that was meeting at Elm Grove Lutheran Church. He met the pastors there and started learning about Lutheran doctrine. “From my own personal experience and also my own reading and understanding of the Bible, I believe the Lutheran confession is exactly what the Bible says — grace only,” Lee says. “I had my own personal experience with that. I have contributed nothing to my own faith.”
As he works through the SMP program, Lee also serves as vicar at the Elm Grove church, where he is under the mentorship of Senior Pastor Eric Skovgaard. The church and the LCMS South Wisconsin District are working together to support his studies, with the hope that he will one day plant a church for Mandarin speakers in the area.
“Recent Lutheran Church Extension Fund studies show that we’ve got about 5,800 Mainland Chinese people within about a 15-mile radius of my office. The fields are ripe,” Skovgaard says. “The first years of the mission church would be very much Chinese-language driven so that first-generation immigrants and visiting scholars would have a natural home.”
Lee’s background in science makes him an ideal person to reach out to skeptics who think as he once did. Plus, Skovgaard jokes, Lee is a “one-man greeting machine” who has no trouble striking up a conversation. Early on, he took it upon himself to become the unofficial greeter for the church’s 1,000 members.
Prior to the pandemic, Lee was holding a Bible study for about 30 Chinese speakers each week. After their meeting, people usually stayed for a meal and fellowship time. Even though in-person gatherings have been suspended for now, he is still holding the Bible study online and reaching out to people individually.
A few of the ministry’s participants have already become members at Elm Grove Lutheran Church, and Skovgaard and Lee are looking forward to seeing the ministry develop even more after Lee’s ordination in the fall of 2021.
“We saw God opening a door here. The mission field has been brought to us here in America,” Skovgaard says. “We’re going to keep plugging ahead and hoping that God will open the appropriate doors.”
Megan K. Mertz
Managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World and chief copy editor for LCMS Communications.