As bass player for Hillsong UNITED, Jihea Oh currently spends her days on the road and her nights helping thousands to worship God. She’s played with some of Europe’s biggest pop stars, including Ellie Goulding, at some of the most famous venues in the world. But there is a unique twist to Jihea’s story: she says her life today would look very different if it weren’t for those who sponsored her father as a boy in Korea.
10 Mar, 2017
Bobbie Houston, Senior Pastor of Hillsong Church, described the moment she learnt of Jihea’s background. “On a recent worship tour in the United States we were highlighting our partnership with Compassion and our collective ability to intervene into the lives of children (and their families) through sponsorship. Part way through the tour someone told me that Jihea’s father was himself a sponsored child many years ago in Korea.
Knowing this was moving for all of us, because we suddenly realised this beautiful young woman would not be part of our lives, had her father not been given a help out of poverty. On that particular tour, every time I asked people to turn and watch the story of a Compassion child on the screen, I was mindful of Jihea, standing quietly in the shadows of the stage, praying for the children about to be sponsored and embraced.”
We recently had the chance to get to know Jihea. Here’s what she’s passionate about and how the legacy of sponsorship has impacted her family’s life.
Tell us about yourself and what 2017 holds for you.
My name is Jihea, I’m British-Korean and I’m part of Hillsong UNITED. I play the bass guitar. In 2017 we are recording the new album and there will probably be tours around the world. I’m planning to go to Bali, Sydney, Israel, maybe some other Middle Eastern countries and maybe America.
I’ve been playing classical piano since I was six and serving children in church at Sunday School so I think those things got me into music naturally. As a bass player, there’s a guy called Pino Palladino and then Abraham Laboriel and Fred Hammond — legendary bass players. They are amazing bass players but at the same time they know how to play within the music too — they are kind of my heroes.
How do you see playing music as fitting into God’s purpose for your life and the lives of the people you serve?
I think music itself and playing bass actually helps me to focus on God and worship Him. That’s the purpose for everyone — to worship Him.
I never imagined doing this. When I picked up the bass I fell in love with playing it. I’m not a verbally expressive person so when I picked up the bass, I knew I wanted to express myself through bass guitar. Like learning another language, the only way to improve was to get to know the instrument more so I thought ‘I want to learn more so I can express more’. A few years later [and] I’m here doing what I do now.
Can you tell us about the first time you met with Jesus?
I’ve been growing up as a Christian because I grew up in a Christian family. But I met my Jesus when I was 12 at a youth summer camp in South Korea. It was overwhelming, I didn’t know exactly what was happening. I felt the presence of God and I felt His love. I started to focus on Him more than myself. I’d been hearing lots of stories of revival and revivals in Korea were happening in the 1990s. My only prayer was, “God when revivals happen, I don’t want to just hear about it, I want to be a part of it. I don’t mind how, but I want to be a part of it.” Since then I’ve really been a Christian.
Can you describe how you have seen the impact of child sponsorship?
I’m sponsoring two children at the moment [16-year-old Grace from Uganda and eight-year-old Efekede from Ethiopia]. I haven’t yet seen the effects of my sponsorship with my very own eyes as I haven’t got to meet them yet.
I know that because my dad was a sponsored child, because of the kindness of people who did that for him, his life was changed. Because of their kindness, I never experienced poverty or any lack, I always had what I needed to have. That happened in less than one generation. I am the result of that sponsorship.
If your dad hadn’t been sponsored what might life have been like for you?
I might not be here. My dad might not have met my mum and gotten married. I’ve never thought about it like that. He grew up in an orphanage and the orphanage was sponsored, if that hadn’t have happened and if the orphanage was under economic pressures, my dad’s life wouldn’t have been as good. He [lived] in the orphanage since he was five years old.
He’s the youngest of nine children. My grandad died when he was five and my grandma couldn’t raise all the children alone. So they sent the two youngest to an orphanage: my dad and my auntie. They went from having nine kids to seven.
What are your hopes for the children you sponsor?
I hope these children know they are loved and that God can help them do whatever God has put in their heard and hands to do. They can change their countries. It would be the same advice I have for younger girls in this generation.
What do you think the younger girls in our generation, all across the world, need to know?
I would say that girls need to know that they are loved regardless of where they are at. I had a bit of an identity crisis when I was a teenager but God never left me, I knew He loved me. God can do whatever God has put in their hearts or their hands.
When I started to play bass it wasn’t that common for females to play it as an instrument. But I never wanted to stop there because of that reason. So I would want to tell any girl that whatever God has put in their heart — you can do it, you can make it happen.
What strikes you, or moves you about Compassion’s work?
I like Compassion because it’s an individual work with people. At the same time, when all the individuals get together they can impact their families, towns, cities and countries.
I’m from Korea and I know that my country has been changed from a sponsored country to a sponsoring country.
What would you say to someone considering child sponsorship?
I would say that you may not see the impact of your sponsorship straight away. But with that small donation, you can change a family and a nation. I am a result of that and I can say that. Whatever you do, it may seem very small but it is not. You can be a part of a bigger picture.
Learn more about sponsoring a child.
Interview by Ella Dickinson, introduction by Zoe Noakes, photos supplied.