He stood in the entrance to the train station in Seoul, Korea, quietly looking around. It had been more than 50 years since he last saw this room, but it was all familiar. The benches where he had slept on cold nights, the doorway where he had begged for food.
Now he was back, but no one would recognize him. It was 1988, he was 53 years old, wearing a dark suit and a missionary name tag. He had returned to his homeland to serve as president of the Church's Korea Seoul Mission."Returning as a missionary was an awesome feeling, very humbling to go back to my people," Paull Shin, now a Washington state senator, a former university professor and a member of the Edmunds 2nd Ward, Lindwood Washington Stake, said during a Church News telephone interview. His soft-spoken voice often choked as he spoke of his Korean heritage or the changes the gospel of Jesus Christ brought into his life those many years ago — changes that included gaining a family.
He was 4 years old when his mother died and his father left him. He went to live with his grandmother. When he was 6 years old, he saw himself only as another mouth to feed, so he ran away. He lived alone on the streets of Seoul and slept at the train station.
And he counted stars.
"Because I was hungry, I counted stars. Because I missed my mother, I counted stars. Because I was lonely, I counted stars. Because I was hopeless, I counted stars," he recalled during the interview. But then, he continued, something changed. "By counting stars, I began to see dreams and hopes, and I found a star."
That "star" was a dentist in the United States Army who introduced the young man to the Book of Mormon.
By the time he was 15 in 1950, war had broken out in Korea, and American troops began flooding into South Korea. The wiry teenager became one of the lucky ones. He was able to get a job with the U.S. Army as a houseboy for seven officers, including the LDS dentist, Ray Paull of Salt Lake City. "He inspired me. His actions and behavior were different than the other soldiers," Brother Shin related.
But he was even more touched with how well the man treated him. One day, the Army officer found the Korean boy sitting on a nearby hill crying. The older man asked why he was sad. "No one had ever cared about me that way," Brother Shin recalled. The two became fast friends and began to share many conversations, including about a Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon. "This was my first experience with the gospel. He gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon."
But the book was in English, of which the boy knew little. "But because he gave it to me, I got a Korean/English dictionary and started reading the book."
He read it five times in the next year. In addition, the relationship between the officer and houseboy became one of father and son. In 1952, Ray Paull decided to adopt the young man, who took his adoptive father's surname as his first name and kept his Korean name for his own surname. An immigration delay kept him from the United States until 1955 when he was 19. There, he joined his new family in Salt Lake City. But there were still many obstacles.
Brother Shin had not spent a day in a classroom, but with all his heart he wanted an education. Through help from the principal of Olympus High School in Salt Lake City, he studied for and passed the high school equivalency exams in 1956. Soon after, he walked into his first political science class at BYU. The professor at the time, Mark Cannon, now of the McLean 2nd Ward, McLean Virginia Stake, remembers the then-awkward young man.
"When you have a couple of thousand students over the years, you don't remember very many of them, but I vividly remember Paull Shin," Brother Cannon told the Church News. "He was kind of half-embarrassed about being freshly in school, and yet exulting that he'd made it to a school after all these years. I was not an easy professor. I was fairly demanding. The fact that the next quarter he signed up for another class, I thought, 'He really wants to learn.' Then he signed up for a third class."
And he kept signing up. Brother Shin received his bachelor's degree in political science from BYU in 1962, his master's in international relations from the University of Pittsburgh in 1964, and his doctorate in history from the University of Washington in 1976. Also, in the late 1950s, he served a mission to Japan and served in the U.S. Army in Germany.
On June 12, 1963, he married his wife, Donna, in the Los Angeles Temple. They have two children — who are adopted as their father — Paull, 32; and Lisa Passey, 30. The Shins have four grandchildren.
Over the years, Brother Shin has taught history at BYU-Hawaii, the University of Maryland (Hawaii campus) and at Shoreline College in Washington. He also worked for 15 years as state trade adviser to governors. After returning from his mission in Korea in 1991, he ran for state house of representatives as a democrat in a republican district and won in 1992. To introduce himself to voters, he walked door-to-door in his district and went through four pairs of shoes. He was elected to the state senate in 1998.
Brother Shin seems to live the scripture, "For of him unto whom much is given much is required." (D&C 82:3.) And, despite the bitterness that could have been his, he has also found forgiveness. While serving as mission president in Korea, he sought for and found his biological father, living in poverty. After many awkward conversations, Brother Shin asked his father why he left. With great emotion, the older man said that at the time he was being sold as a servant and could not take his son. "I was condemning him. Poverty is not a crime. So I apologized to him and said, 'Pack your bags.' "
Brother Shin brought his father and his father's family home to Washington. The older man died in 1993. (Brother Ray Paull died in 1986; Brother Shin's adoptive mother, Eloise Paull, still lives in Salt Lake City.)
Speaking of the effect of the Atonement in his life, Brother Shin said: "Without that, you couldn't forgive. I had a harsh life. The world was hostile, but I think the gospel has softened my heart."