Riding a Wave of God’s LoveRead the story of how Rick Ahn found God's purpose at The Salvation Army.
Many stories about people being introduced to Christ through The Salvation Army have to do with some type of redemption or rehabilitation. Rick Ahn’s story is different because he and his family were already born-again Christians with successful jobs and firmly established church memberships in their native Hawaii.
“I grew up in Kukui Gardens, a low-income housing project in Kalihi,” Rick explains. “There was a faithful church group that would come to the housing and offer to take us kids to Sunday school each week. My parents are immigrants from Korea and could hardly speak English. They thought they were sending me and my siblings to school to learn English! As kids, we were just happy to get out of the house!”
“I was the son of poor, first-generation immigrants, who were just trying to survive. My father was an alcoholic and a gambler, which made life more difficult. In spite of that, Jesus came into my life and gave me hope,” Rick continues.
Rick gives credit to his Sunday school teacher, Sister Barbara Lee — it was in her class that he vividly remembers asking Jesus to forgive his sins and to be his Lord.
“I knew Jesus was real, and I was filled with joy. That faith and trust in Jesus would carry me through many difficult times. Looking back now, I see how the Lord pursued me and my family, and as a result of the outreach from a tiny church, our entire family eventually came to know Jesus.”
Later as a young adult, Rick developed a dream that he really couldn’t describe at the time. “I prayed that the Lord would use me to be a part of building His kingdom. Of course, eventually He led me to the Army, but not before years of shaping me through a variety of career opportunities and character-building experiences, some … included incredible highs while others were heartbreaking.”
For example, Rick was affected by the 2008 financial collapse when he was let go from a coveted job. He knows this was all part of God’s plan. After being unemployed for several months, he was offered a position at a construction company as a project manager. He had been in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1990s, but when he left the Corps of Engineers, he switched industries and had no intentions of ever going back to engineering or construction work.
Then an announcement heralded throughout Oahu that a Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community center was coming to Honolulu. “So as many come to realize, ‘never say never’ because God has a sense of humor. Little did I know that He was working on a bigger plan. I humbled myself and accepted the construction job, and because of my construction experience, I became The Salvation Army’s construction liaison, working with the general contractors who were building the Kroc Center!”
“I never would have guessed that being let go and going back to an industry I thought I had left was God’s plan to shape and prepare me for the calling He had for me. I continue to be in awe of His goodness and how He works, even when things do not make sense,” he says.
“I was excited to hear that the Army was building a Kroc here, because I knew it was a Christian-based organization with steadfast values — something I knew the community needed,” Rick says.
“I contacted the local project leaders, Major Phil Lum and Bram Begonia, and I told Major Lum and Bram that I had some relevant experience and that I would be glad to help in any way. I served as a volunteer consultant over the next couple of years, and in 2010, I officially joined The Salvation Army.”
Rick certainly had ample qualifications to help with the construction project. He graduated with an engineering degree, and then served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Later he worked in Silicon Valley, and was able to travel to Central America, Asia and Europe for business.
But then the tech industry crashed.
By that time, he had returned to Hawaii “where my heart was” and worked for seven years at a high-end premier health and social club in Honolulu. After that, he worked at a West Oahu resort development company — that’s when the news about a large community center in Kapolei, complete with a fitness center, aquatics center, preschool and more came.
“After a few years of volunteering to support the development of the Kroc center, I transitioned into a project position utilizing my previous engineering and development experience. I was so excited to work for an organization that does so much good, and all in the name of Jesus!” Rick says, smiling broadly.
All that time, Rick, his wife and their children were already attending a fast-growing church, “but after working in the Army and learning more about the history of our movement, my family and I decided to transition our time and resources to support The Salvation Army as soldiers of the Honolulu Kroc Corps.”
Rick is a committed soldier and member of the Kroc team, and evangelism is a top priority for him.
“I have been reminded to live with urgency in sharing God’s love to those who do not know Him,” he says, “and to encourage fellow believers who do. We are all a work in progress, and every person needs encouragement on this life journey.”
Every day at the Honolulu Kroc, Rick is in contact with scores of members using the facility for whatever reason. Many of them are burdened with fear, guilt, pride and shame.
Rick knows how to develop construction projects; now he also helps develop lives among the hundreds of Kroc members, both inside and outside the corps programs.
His message to them is simple: “God can help you overcome these things that the enemy intends for evil, so that we can move ahead to live the abundant life which only Christ can deliver!
“I love [the Army’s] mission — there is nothing like it. It aligns with who I strive to be as a disciple of Christ. I appreciate our history and that our organization is called to be a movement of saving souls, growing saints and serving suffering humanity. Our world needs Jesus, and this is what The Salvation Army is all about!”
Now Rick gets to help make Him known while making a difference in the world.
“I grew up with tremendous self-doubt, but the Lord turned it all around when He gave me His identity. Now through the Kroc center, I get to pay it forward and help others experience Jesus for themselves!”