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Chaplain ‘giving back’ near Korea’s DMZ

UIJEONGBU, South Korea (BP)–Chaplain (CPT) Brian Oh believes in giving back. Born in South Korea, Oh spent his childhood and young adult life in Chunju, a small city southwest of Seoul.

When Oh’s mother was 13, American missionaries moved to her town and founded a Baptist church, which she began attending and where she prayed to receive Christ.

Later, Oh’s uncle planted a church that eventually grew to 12,000 members, and Oh’s mother became involved in that ministry.

As a result, Oh grew up surrounded by Christian influences. At age 15, Oh prayed to receive Christ. It was a decision, he said, that changed the course of his life.

Oh attended the Korea Baptist Theological University and Seminary in Taejon, Korea. After graduating in 1993, he decided to continue his education in the U.S., studying at the Talbot School of Theology in Southern California and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s campus in Brea, Calif.

In 1997, Oh founded a church outside Los Angeles but in the aftermath of 9/11 he realized he wanted to give something back to the country that had helped him achieve his dreams. As a result, he joined the U.S. Army Reserves as a chaplain and was soon called to active duty.

“Witnessing to young people is my main calling from the Lord,” Oh said. “As a chaplain’s assistant in the Korean Air Force in 1990, I realized that the armed forces chaplaincy program is a great place to expand the Kingdom of God.”

Oh was deployed for a short stint in Afghanistan before a pelvic abscess required him to return to the U.S. for a series of surgeries.

After his recovery, Oh was assigned to Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu, South Korea, a few miles from the four-kilometer Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea, the most heavily fortified border in the world.

Thus, one of the key challenges facing his soldiers is the threat of fighting the enemies to the north. Camp Red cloud is home to the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, described as the most powerful and forward-deployed division of the U.S. Army. The primary mission of the 2nd ID is to deter war on the Korean peninsula. As a result, soldiers of the 2nd ID must always be “Ready to Fight Tonight.”

Oh often participates in training exercises with his troops as they work to maintain a state of readiness. “My ministry is not an exercise or a training event,” he noted. “My ministry to these soldiers is real.” The training helps him get to know the soldiers and understand the unique challenges of what Oh’s commanding officer described as “the toughest battalion to command.”

Although the city of Uijeongbu, where Camp Red Cloud is located, is a modern city, soldiers with the 2nd ID are discouraged from bringing their families because of the constant vigilance required by the mission.

As a result, Oh noted that another significant challenge facing his troops is simple loneliness, which sometimes can lead to negative behaviors.

“It is tempting for young soldiers to go off-post and become involved in self-destructive behaviors,” Oh said, “and there are many who prey on young soldiers because it is lucrative to do so. Soldiers can ruin their lives and their families in a moment of indiscretion.”

Oh, in counseling young soldiers in trouble, said he invites them “simply to call on God’s name. I remind them of the words of Psalm 50:15, ‘Call on Me in a day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honor Me.’ I don’t know how God will work, but I know that the Holy Spirit will use this moment in their lives.”

Oh also seeks to involve soldiers in wholesome activities. Bible studies are available for the soldiers of the 2nd ID seven nights a week. Oh also has developed a Good Neighbor Program that gives soldiers from Camp Red Cloud an opportunity to volunteer at a nearby orphanage.

“I see my Korean-American heritage as a great opportunity to build bridges into the local community to extend friendship and to allow Koreans and Americans to grow together,” Oh said.

“It took me 15 years to come back to Korea,” he reflected. “I left here with one bag of clothing. When my family and I returned, it took us two weeks to pack up [our belongings].

“Whenever I am exhausted or stressed, I think of the missionaries who came before me and the many Korean pastors who experience the same things.

“I have been blessed,” Oh said, “and I want to give back.”
Ann Lovell is a media worker based in Seoul, South Korea, with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

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  • Ann Lovell