Culture | Michael Urch
Photo for The Clarion by Kristine Schmidt
Johnny Yang is easily recognizable. With a grin that is broader than his shoulders, he has a laugh that could put a smile on anyone's face.
Yang balances a busy life. In addition to a full class load, onerous piles of homework and extroverted social habits associated with the standard college student, Yang has several other time commitments.
He is the student director of Asian Christian Fellowship (ACF), a segment of United Cultures of Bethel (UCB) and he wakes up at 7:30 to get his brother ready for school everyday.
He also leads a team for Twin Cities Outreach (TCO), has two additional jobs and volunteers at his church’s youth group. Even Yang doesn’t know how he gets everything done.
In the midst of life’s stormy sea, Yang displays a profound sense of self-forgetfulness.
“He’s not a receiver, he’s a giver. He gives his heart; he gives his life,” Zakiya Robinson, executive director of UCB said.
The joy and love for others that Johnny displays is contagious, especially considering that his life has not been easy on him.
He commutes from his home in Vadnais Heights. His mother, a diabetic, suffers from health issues related to a seizure she had a couple years ago and is unable to find employment because of her health.
One of his brothers is trapped within a meth addiction and a self-destructive lifestyle.
A bandage on his leg covers a still-healing wound from last February, when he was playing basketball and suddenly felt a sharp pain in his leg.
“It was like someone stabbed a knife into my leg,” he said.
Yang was suffering from compartment syndrome. Essentially, the blood flow to his muscles caused them to lack oxygen and his muscles started dying. Yang needed to have surgery immediately to save his leg.
Lacking insurance, Yang did not receive a skin graft for the 7-by-3.5-inch wound. Even now, six and a half months later, it has not fully healed and Yang has to clean it twice a day.
Yang was confined to a wheelchair for a month and a half and missed a couple of months of school—forcing him to make up classes over the summer.
In April, Johnny’s suffering extended beyond his own injuries: his father was shot six times and killed. According to Yang, this ended a relationship that was just starting to grow and left him without a father.
“It was the worst spring ever. I literally felt my heart ache,” he said regarding this loss.
“Some people might see me: ‘he’s a student’; ‘he’s a senior’; ‘he’s laid back’. I’ve had a hard life,” Yang said. “You don’t know the complexities of a person’s life until you really sit down, slow down and talk about it.”
And in all of his suffering, Yang lives focused on others.
“He’s absolutely amazing. He’s dynamic. He is cooperative; he is just a shining light for Christ,” Robinson said.
According to Yang, he doesn’t buy himself lunch very often unless his friends get him something, but Robinson said he buys snacks for ACF out-of-pocket.
“He’s even free when it comes to money; all the way down to if he has it, he’ll give it to you,” she said.
Yang has had a hard life, and through all he has experienced, has learned to live in a different way.
“It is hard for me to say no to people who are in need because of when I was in need,” Yang said. “All the struggles I have gone through have made me to be who I am today."