As a second-career seminary student, I am often asked about what I did for my first career. I struggle with how to respond because there are several answers I could give. Immediately before moving to Wisconsin to begin seminary, I worked in law enforcement at a Christian university in Southern California. Prior to that, I served as a youth pastor at a Chinese American church. Before that, I led worship music for various Baptist, non-denominational, and Evangelical churches. But technically my “first” career was in aerospace engineering.
After graduating from high school in 2007, I enrolled in an aerospace engineering undergraduate program. As an engineer, I hoped to accumulate wealth and thus secure a life of happiness and peace. What about peace with God? That was the last thing on my mind. Sure, I was baptized. I was catechized and confirmed in my faith. But growing up, religion was only something I did for an hour on Sunday. The rest of the week was all about me and getting the most out of my life. Eventually, I stopped going to church altogether. Besides, Jesus was for the weak. I, on the other hand, was not weak. I prided myself in having the fortitude to keep far from alcohol, drugs, sex, and other vices. So even though I had left the church, I thought God must be pleased with me.
In reality, I was blind to my sin and could not see my need for Jesus. But in his mercy, he saw me. At the height of my arrogance, the Lord humbled me by tearing down the walls of my little Jericho of a life. The people I thought could never fail me did fail me. My trust was betrayed by those closest to me. I became weak and vulnerable.
And my self-made idols offered me no comfort or peace. Amazingly, the God I refused to hear heard my cry. After a season of soul searching, I found myself sitting in a pew in a Baptist church, listening to a man talk about his Savior. He spoke of Christ as if the whole world could be taken away from him and yet he would still have peace. As I sat there, I found myself wanting what he had. It was not the clearest gospel I would ever hear preached, but through the Word I heard my Savior calling me to repentance and faith. And the more I heard, the more I wanted to tell others.
The Lord then led me down a long, winding path of preparing to become a pastor. I left my engineering studies to begin undergraduate pastoral training at an Evangelical (Reformed) university in Southern California. However, an interesting thing happened. By the time I finished my graduate studies, my understanding of Christ and the gospel had deepened, and I soon realized I could no longer stay within the Evangelical church and remain faithful to Scripture. I wanted to belong to a church that focuses more on Christ’s objective forgiveness than on my own subjective feelings; that emphasizes what Christ has done for us rather than what we do for him; that centers everything on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. God be praised, I found such a church in the WELS!
After my wife and I became members of King of Kings in Garden Grove, California, I spoke with my pastor, Timothy Wempner, about my desire to enter the ministry. He quickly put me in touch with Prof. Allen Sorum at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Because of my prior studies and family situation, he graciously arranged for me to fulfill my pre-seminary training remotely. I am thankful I could continue to provide for my wife and children as I took classes online and with my pastor in my spare time. In God’s providence, I even had the privilege to study Scripture in Greek with former seminary professor David Valleskey, who was serving in retirement at Beautiful Savior in Carlsbad, California. Once I completed the prerequisite courses, my wife, two children, and I packed up our belongings and made the long journey from California to Wisconsin. In the fall of 2019, I finally began classes at our seminary. It was not easy leaving everything I knew and everyone I loved behind. It was not easy to leave a stable career to enroll in seminary for a second time. But the way of the cross is never easy. And if my cross means others will hear about the cross of their Savior, then that is a burden I will gladly bear.
Erik Alair Served as a vicar during the 2021-22 school year at St. Jacobi, Greenfield, WI.