Isabel Lee finds personal faith in her Christianity


Megan Tsang

Isabel Lee, despite growing up in a Taiwanese-Korean household, has discovered faith in a Christian youth group.

Sarah Kim and Megan Tsang

“I really didn’t get exposed to any kind of religion until I was in the sixth grade,” senior Isabel Lee, also a youth group leader at Wellspring Church, said.

Despite her words, her story says otherwise. While Lee may not have been raised under a formal faith, religion shaped her family’s history. Religion was what motivated her grandparents, both Buddhist missionaries, to emigrate from Korea to Argentina. Religion was what allowed her father to gain an education: he attended a private Catholic school in a lackluster education system.

In many ways, Lee’s own journey mirrors that of her father’s experience. Like him, she attended a denominational school in her youth; also like him, she felt a disconnect with the scripture and ritual she was taught in class. Both balanced two cultural worlds — willed doctrine at school, inherited customs at home.

At age 18, Lee’s father moved to America for college. While he still held onto his Korean roots and Argentinian culture, he took on the religious identity of his new country. Lee’s father surrounded Isabel and her younger brother with a cultural tapestry — “generic American [holidays] like Christmas and Halloween” were woven together with Taiwanese traditions like Lunar New Year, conversations were shared in Mandarin, Korean, English and Spanish.

But while the role religion played in the life of Lee’s father has faded, it has continued to grow over time for his daughter.

The turning point for Isabel was in sixth grade, when she decided to accept her friend and fellow Dougherty student, Caria Lee’s, invitation to attend a youth group with her.

“I was meeting new people in middle school and I wanted to join a different community … I never really imagined that I would become a Christian. I kind of thought I was going there to hang out with my friends.”

Her casual involvement quickly became a regular commitment. In church, she found a community and identity at a time when she felt lost. She describes her spirituality at the time as “broken.” But even though she began attending church services every week, it took a few years before she felt like she truly belonged.

“I didn’t really consider myself a Christian until the summer of my freshman year when I got to go on a mission trip. My youth group and I went to Barcelona, Spain, and we conducted an English camp there. And just seeing how God was in not only my presence, but the presence of the community there, that was when I really thought that I was a Christian,” says Lee.

She became baptized shortly after at 14.

Despite her later introduction to Christianity, she doesn’t feel that her experience has been any different from her friends who have been attending church since birth. The only point of contrast is how it has affected her relationship with her family. Lee describes the initial reaction of her devout grandparents as “disheartening.” It took them awhile before they could accept her.

But it was a different story with her immediate family, all of whom are non-religious except for her. Lee says that religion has actually brought her closer to her family and explains that “they were always a part of [her] process.” Recently, her brother has even started to join her in attending church, at their mother’s suggestion. Perhaps it was easier for her father to support her because they both made the same decision in the end — they chose their own will rather than that of their parents’.

“When my family was going through some difficult rough patches … it has given us a new sense of hope. Even my mom, she’s been like, ‘You can pray for your family.’ … So even though she’s not religious, she does believe there is some hope in that and that it has an impact on my life.”

This year, she took on the role of youth group leader, a position reserved for high school seniors. She helps lead mission events and mentors members of her youth team.

“How I act in school, how I act in my private time … everything has been impacted by religion,” Lee shares with an easy smile. “I think it’s just a huge part of who I am now.”