Shelly Ngo portrait by Joel Kimmel
Shelly Ngo
Portrait by Joel Kimmel

I GREW UP IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA near a medical school, with multiple hospitals located a short distance from my home. I also attended a Christian denominational K–12 school that encouraged its young people to become doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals so they could serve the world as medical missionaries. It was easy to think one needed to be either a doctor or a pastor to be doing the Lord’s work.

With an emphasis toward careers in science and medicine, my high school offered advanced classes in biology, chemistry, and anatomy and physiology — none of which were my thing. At my first biology class dissection, I sliced my worm entirely in half instead of using my scalpel to gently cut through each layer of skin.

Fortunately, my dad isn’t a stereotypical Asian father who might have pushed his kids to become doctors. He had already broken ranks to study business while his two brothers graduated from medical school.

“Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” — Frederick Buechner

I grew up watching my father enthusiastically help people as a financial consultant and planner.

Widows came to his office bereaved and stressed over how to deal with finances following the death of a spouse. My father advised them on tax considerations and pension distributions.

Young couples met with him to figure out how to strategically pay down student loans or buy a house. He provided financial advice so that people could educate their children and care for aging parents. My father’s financial counsel was his mission work, and by his example, I learned that we can all participate in God’s redemptive work through our endeavors.

The late theologian and writer Frederick Buechner, who passed away in August, once wrote, “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.”

I frequently thought of that quote while working on this issue of Response. Vocation was something Zelda Tiemann ’22 never thought about through her turbulent childhood. She ended up serving time in a women’s prison before a mentor introduced her to God and helped turn her life around. This year, she graduated from SPU with a 3.6 GPA and now helps other women through her job at Union Gospel Mission’s Hope Place in Seattle.

Skip Li ’66 founded the nonprofit Agros to help impoverished people in Latin America achieve the rare dream of becoming landowners.
You’ll want to read about Eric and Keri Stumberg, whom SPU recognized this year with the President’s Award for Philanthropy. And Steve Bell, founder of Bellmont Cabinets, was honored this fall with the Frank Haas Integrity in Business award from SPU’s Center for Faithful Business.

It’s inspiring to read about these industry leaders. It’s also amazing to encounter altruistic alumni such as Bobby McLaughlin ’89, who not only donated a kidney to a stranger but also helped organize a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro by living kidney donors to help raise awareness of what you can still accomplish with just one kidney.

I hope these stories encourage you to reflect on how God is calling you, as Buechner would say, to the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

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