Two Steps Back and One Step Forward
From a child living on mission in South Korea back to the states where he is originally from, Casey Peterson has been taken on a journey that one cannot experience without such a relationship with Christ.
Something special seems to make an impact on certain students who walk through the doors to Missouri Baptist University.
There is a saying that once a MoBapian, always a MoBapian, meaning once you come to MoBap you never leave.
Some people seem to find themselves taken in by the love, community, happiness and fellowship at the university, making it heart-breaking to leave.
It does not take a toll on the life of every student who walks out with a degree, but there are a special few who will always be known as those who never left.
One of these students, Casey Peterson, who is now an alum, leads current students through the joys and hardships of college.
He encourages all students to shine their brightest each day, spreading the love that Jesus Christ has shown us all.
Where he is now is not where he was when he started as a young student in South Korea.
Peterson, AMP minister of students for spiritual formation, had a typical childhood living in Modesto, Calif.
His family was middle class and his parents were Christians, raising their children to love the Lord.
But there was one day that changed it all.
“When I was in second grade my parents felt called to the mission field, and we ended up selling all our possessions … we sold everything we had and moved to South Korea. We had a nice house with a pool and everything, then we moved into this little 600-square-foot apartment … and that is where we lived for 10 years,” said Peterson.
It was not until he arrived and began his life in South Korea that Peterson learned the shift the Lord would make in his life.
The culture in South Korea was completely different than the United States.
Living on mission with his family, both parents and two sisters, kept Peterson strong in his relationship with the Lord and close to those he loved.
The living conditions, food and environment, as well as people, were just a few of the challenges he would face.
Relationships were difficult to maintain in South Korea throughout his childhood, and there was never a time Peterson recalled having a best friend.
The children in his area would play sports and other activities together, but it was not the same as it would be growing up in the United States.
In his class growing up, Peterson was the only blonde-haired, blue-eyed caucasian.
The other kids in his class often pointed out his ethnicity, comparing him to a Backstreet Boy or a member of NSYNC.
Peterson shared how he was quick to make friends because people were not always in the same place for very long.
“There were two different places I lived in Korea … I had friends in school … people would move whether they were missionaries, in the military or even if they were Korean. They would come and go … and that was normal for me to hear a friend basically give a two weeks notice. Then you just make new friends and you go on to say goodbye,” said Peterson.
All it took was a few years, love from his family, and reliance on the Lord to help Peterson cope with moving into a new culture, but it would not be long before he would go through it again.
As a sophomore in high school the Lord put the desire on Peterson’s heart to one day become a pastor.
While keeping this on his heart, Peterson completed high school in South Korea and it came time for him to decide where he wanted to go next.
As a senior in high school, he began looking for colleges that met his criteria.
“I went on a website … it asked me what I was looking for in a school. One of the main things I wanted to do was play volleyball in college,” said Peterson.
Since MBU had a volleyball team and ministry program it all seemed to suit him well.
Peterson sent game highlights to Coach John Yehling, head coach of men’s and women’s volleyball. Not long after he received an invitation via email to come join the team.
Since Peterson was in another country, Terry Dale Cruse, former director of admissions, had to make a special call to South Korea for his scholarship interview, making it official for him to become an MBU Spartan.
Not knowing a single person, Peterson came back to the United States in 2008 to attend Missouri Baptist University.
He began by attending Welcome Weekend and quickly learned this shift in his life would be much different than any other he had experienced before.
Peterson moved back not knowing much more about the culture than when he had left. It was difficult keeping up with pop culture, let alone telling people of the same ethnicity apart from himself.
“It was hard for me to tell people on the volleyball team apart because we all had to wear the same shirt that said ‘MBU Volleyball’ at practice, and I really could not keep everyone straight … especially the girls,” said Peterson. “I was used to seeing Korean people all the time. I was the only white kid in my graduating class. There was many times I called someone the wrong name and it was really somebody else.”
The school year began not bringing much change to how he felt about the surrounding culture.
Since Peterson did not know anyone when he arrived to MBU, it was difficult once again for him to begin relationships. The process was different than what he had experienced while developing relationships in South Korea.
“It was hard for me to wrap my mind around people that had grown up in the same household their whole life … who had never been outside of the country or been in the same school,” Peterson said. “They knew people their whole life … like they had a friend that had been with them the whole time. … I had never had a friend for more than a year at a time because people moved away and moved in so quickly.”
At first he felt like an outsider. Everyone had friends or family they knew and could visit on weekdays or weekends.
Peterson said it was difficult to build relationships because it seemed others were more impervious to new relationships, taking longer for them to build trust.
Peterson was accustomed to more personal conversations. What is considered small talk in the U.S. was just surface level for him, making it difficult to participate in conversations because he was not yet accustomed to American culture. While struggling to make friendships, Peterson would soon learn there would be more shifting of his direction.
During the first week of school somebody stole Peterson’s wallet while he was at volleyball practice. “I had 80 bucks and it was my whole money for the semester and then it was just all gone,” said Peterson.
Although it seemed to be the worse moment at the time, it ended up being one of the best situations in his life. A young man, Adam Wilson, MBU alum, stepped up to make the situation better for Peterson.
“He was the guy that helped me … report it … the only guy that cared and genuinely wanted to help. Other people were just like, ‘Oh that is too bad,’ because to them I looked like just any other guy from St. Louis,” he recalled. “He knew my situation, that I did not have anybody here, I didn’t have any friends … he was my first best friend.”
The two remain close friends today.
Soon Peterson experienced the cultural shift that made an impact on his life with God and brought him through the journey to where he is today.
From his perspective, he was going from one culture of Christianity to the American version of Christianity, making it taxing.
“For awhile I became sort of condescending, judgmental because I felt like these people do not get it, but I do … though I met people that were not that way and in my classes I learned a lot about who God was and what the Bible teaches … I became dismissive and discontent with those kind of people. But then God softened my heart and showed me my own pride,” said Peterson.
It made a huge impact on Peterson’s life and who he was as a Christian. He did not understand how somebody could be pictured as being a really fantastic Christian without even being part of a church.
This whole idea became what he saw as his spiritual journey.
Peterson began to open his heart and see it was not a person’s choice to be born into the American culture and live their entire life here.
“So just because someone else doesn’t have the same experience as me doesn’t make me better or make them worse. In some ways they are better than me as far as their experiences and the things they know, then in other ways there are things I can teach them,” said Peterson.
The Lord made several shifts in Peterson’s life throughout his journey at MBU, but he continued to grow a stronger relationship with the Lord during each one.
His best friend, Wilson, introduced him to his sister, Brittany Wilson, MBU alum, a few weeks after they became friends. Brittany and Peterson started dating almost instantly.
“From the moment I kind of met her, I just knew we were going to get married, and so did she. … We got married while we were still in college,” said Peterson.
He graduated from MBU in 2011 with a degree in religious education, emphasizing in youth ministry.
Peterson shared a hilarious dream he had hoped for when graduating.
“I was hoping when I graduated from MoBap that Brandon Van Marel, the RD, would leave and I could take his spot, so I could live here and go to Covenant (Theological Seminary),” Peterson said, “but he didn’t leave and I ended up becoming really good friends with him.”
After graduating, Peterson wanted to get involved in a church right away and after much patience he was hired by a local church.
He worked diligently every day of the week and dedicated most of his free time to making the church an inspiring and loving place.
While working alongside his wife, Peterson became a youth leader as he had always wanted.
As time went on the Lord laid an idea on his heart that it was time to move onto something new.
Peterson continued to pray for guidance about where he was supposed journey on to next.
Once again having to walk into unknown territory of the Lord’s plan, Peterson and his wife left the church.
After leaving the church, Peterson searched for a job and found himself back at the place he never would have imagined, Missouri Baptist University.
In 2012 he was hired by MBU to be an admissions counselor. He worked for a year and soon realized he was led to go to seminary.
Peterson began attending Covenant Theological Seminary in 2013.
“After my first year of Covenant I saw that the ministry office had a position open and I applied. I didn’t hear back for six weeks … I just thought I didn’t get it and I was already looking for other positions,” said Peterson.
Jonathan White, campus pastor, sent him an email to offer him the position. Being shocked because the position had skipped his mind, Peterson instantly accepted the offer.
He started working for campus ministries in fall 2014 as the AMP minister of students for spiritual formation.
Since then Peterson has transformed the ministry of students at MBU, making an impact and developing relationships that reflect the love of Christ.
This spring Peterson will be graduating from Covenant and hopes to gain a position as a pastor.
“This means I would have to leave this position, which I am sad about … with all the relationships I’ve made with students and … I just love MoBap,” Peterson said. “I love being here. …There are a lot of times when I am not even clocked in that I am here, because I love … the people here.”
Ever since he has been back in the United States there has not been a place more central to making Peterson who he is than MBU.
The impact the university leaves on students is not necessarily expected, but it becomes clear the Lord implants MBU into a part of their heart.
Student after student will continue walking through MBU’s doors in the future. Each one will have a different trial, journey and past.
And they will leave not knowing if they might someday come back to the place they have called home.
Peterson said, “There were only nine months in my life that I have been back to the U.S. that I was not connected to MBU somehow … MoBap … it is home.”