Elder Choi reached goals, but not in anticipated ways

Big dreams have been set aside by Elder Yoon Hwan Choi to answer calls to serve the Lord.

Elder Choi, who has been serving as a counselor in the Asia North Area presidency as an Area Seventy since 2007, was sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy during the 179th Annual General Conference on April 4.

When he was 16 years old, he and his parents listened to the missionaries and were baptized. Elder Choi’s father, Dong Hun Choi, was faithful and a dedicated member missionary. Within 18 months, he brought more than 120 family members and friends into the Church, Elder Choi said. “Every week was a family reunion” in Church meetings, he added with a smile.

He had a strong testimony and was active, especially in youth activities. All the while, he said he harbored the dream of someday becoming a general in the South Korean military, being a leader of men. So when he was asked to speak in stake conference on preparing to serve a mission, he said he couldn’t because he wasn’t planning on a mission himself.

Soon after refusing to speak he felt very guilty, he said, and started thinking seriously about a mission. By the time he was old enough to apply for a mission, he gave up his military dream, choosing instead to join the missionary army of the Lord.

“He knew he had to be a missionary,” said his wife, Bon Kyung Choi, who was in his ward at the time. “His worldly dream was so strong” that he at first thought it would be OK for him to forego missionary service. Besides, he knew he would have to be available for mandatory military duty at age 20 anyway. “But he took missionary service seriously, changed his mind and it changed his life.”

He accepted a call to the Korea Busan Mission, served a year and was honorably released upon being drafted into the South Korean army. He served three years in special service as part of the national president’s protective team.

A big blessing in his life was the course followed by his future wife, Bon Kyung Koo. When she was 6 years old, her teenage brother, who had joined the Church, started taking her with him to meetings. The Church was still young in Korea at the time, so she was 12 years old before anyone, including herself, thought about baptism. But, she said, she knew the Church was true and believed everything she was taught. Her real conversion, she continued, came when she was attending a Christian high school where the minister criticized her Church during classes. She applied herself to finding out more about the Church which led to a stronger testimony. She even was able to take some of her classmates to Church with her.

About that same time, Yoon Hwan Choi started to attend the ward with his family. She greeted him because, she said, “I wanted to be nice to the stranger to the Church.” She added, “He was a good, handsome man.”

He, likewise, was impressed with her. Both their families were active in the ward, their fathers even serving as home teaching companions. Through their teen years they became well acquainted through Church activities, such as Mutual, as they planned together, practiced together for special programs and attended seminary together.

“I respected him so much,” Sister Choi said. “He was a good boy in the Church and I knew he had a strong testimony. He was also very patient.”

As he was doing his military service, Elder Choi asked his longtime friend to marry him.

“I didn’t say ‘no,’ but I didn’t say ‘yes,’ either,” she said. However, she did have feelings about his missionary service.

Elder Choi said, “She was the main influence for me to go on a mission again.” He said everyone else told him he had already served an honorable mission and should go on with his life. “She was the only one encouraging me to finish my mission.”

Sister Choi responded, “That’s because I knew him. He would finish two years. It was his will, and I recognized his will.”

She said he was on her mind all the time he served that second year in the Korea Seoul Mission. “I knew he would come back to me with another proposal,” she said. And the answer was “Yes.”

They were married Sept. 25, 1982, before there was a temple in Korea, and were sealed in the Laie Hawaii Temple on Sept. 24, 1983.

They later returned to the United States for his university education, but felt that it was important to heed what the prophets had taught about returning to their own country and building Zion there.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from BYU-Hawaii and a master’s degree from Utah State University in business information and systems, he embarked on another dream. He wanted to rise in the world as a successful businessman with a name known well enough that he could influence people with his faith. Well on his way to reaching that goal, he said he received a request to go to work for the Church as regional manager for temporal affairs in Korea.

He asked if it was a job offer or a calling. He was told it was both. He would be a paid employee, but his name had been cleared by the area presidency, the Presiding Bishopric and the First Presidency.

Though his business success obviously offered greater temporal rewards, he accepted the Church employment.

“Spiritual things always come first for us,” he said, “so it was easy for us to choose. What the Lord asked me to do changed my life.”

Reflecting on his dreams to be a leader among men and having a name that would be well known so he could be a positive influence for the Church, he thought on his recent sustaining by millions of people around the world as a General Authority. Though his life didn’t follow his plan, putting spiritual things first has enabled him to reach his most important goals.