CSM Group Leader
Every so often, God causes individuals to make small cameos in our life stories in such a way that they drastically alter the plots of our narratives. Such was Eric Peng’s experience with Robert*, whom he met on a CSM trip to Chicago. At the time, Robert was a homeless man begging on the streets. It would have been easy for him to fade into the background of Eric’s story, but God had a different plan. He amplified Robert’s voice to the point that it awakened a dormant passion for inner city ministry. This is the story of Eric Peng’s life interrupted.
Eric Peng is an associate pastor at The Ninth Hour in Chicago. During his years attaining his Master of Divinity at Moody Theological Seminary, he was a youth pastor at Hanmee Presbyterian Church in Itasca, Illinois, where he met his wife Janice, who was the children’s pastor at the time. He would lead mission trips with his students to Honduras. As he saw the problems going on in Chicago, he questioned why the church was not addressing the issues in its own city before sending people abroad. He researched inner city missions organizations and came across CSM. He brought his students for a week-long trip in Chicago, during which they served at By the Hand Club for Kids, a children’s ministry and after-school program that serves four of the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods in Chicago. In a CSM activity called “Immersion” in which his group was sent to explore the downtown area, they spotted a homeless man named Robert holding a sign that said “God Bless You.” He was begging pedestrians for a week-long train pass so he could sleep on the train. As Eric and his students talked to Robert, they were encouraged by his godliness and positivity as well as his thankfulness despite his circumstances. A year later, they came to Chicago with CSM again, and they came across Robert, still in the same place begging. He was genuinely surprised that Eric recognized him. As his group left Chicago, Eric was troubled by the brokenness of poverty. He thought to himself, “The gospel has to be good news for people like Robert, for the least of these.” He noted that to love neighbor as self is an inextricable part of God’s greatest commandment that we often forget. He later attended a conference where Francis Chan spoke, and he was convicted by the heart Jesus had for the marginalized, healing them spiritually, physically, and socioeconomically.
Eric could not ignore the change that had taken place in his heart. He became an associate pastor at The Ninth Hour, a church on the Near West Side of Chicago that strives to address inner city issues like racial and social justice. For a year, he commuted to work from Palatine, a Chicago suburb. Finally, God called him to dwell in the inner city as well. At The Ninth Hour, Eric and Janice, along with several other church members, helped launch The Ninth Hour Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization that strives to improve the surrounding impoverished community; Janice is a board member of the organization. As a part of his job, Eric constantly works to partner his church with ministries that understand the needs of the community and are working to bring about social justice, which Eric has come to firmly believe is at the heart of the gospel. Furthermore, after initially falling in love with the holistic ministry of By the Hand Club for Kids on his first CSM trip, Eric started working as a volunteer recruiter and trainer for the organization.
God has a habit of shaking up our plans. Eric Peng could not have anticipated the degree to which his encounter with Robert would redirect his life. What is truly incredible is the heart change that took place in Eric as a result. The human heart is a force to be reckoned with, and it cannot be changed apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Years later, as Eric visited one of By the Hand’s ministry partners, he saw Robert at the intersection where he had seen him twice before. God reminded Eric of how profoundly He had interrupted his life. Eric is an example of what happens when we allow God to speak louder than us over our own lives. As Proverbs 19:21 (ESV) says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” May we eagerly await God’s divine interruption of our plans on a daily basis.
*Name has been changed