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Korean Council discusses bridging the generations

TACOMA, Wash. (BP) — Ministry in second-generation/English-language settings became a key topic of discussion during the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches in America’s annual meeting in Tacoma, Wash.

The council’s outgoing president, Sang Min “John” Kim, pastor of Koreans at Fayetteville (Ga.) First Baptist Church, convened a panel discussion on Korean- and English-language churches for the council’s gathering at Tacoma First Baptist Church, the largest congregation in the Northwest Baptist Convention, where more than 2,000 people attend Sunday worship.

“The issue is, should English ministry go separate,” Ray Park told Baptist Press after the discussion. Park is the coordinator of Ko-Next, a year-old informal group for Korean and next generation leaders being organized for the Korean Council. Park also is pastor of the English-language Journey of Faith Church in Irving, Texas.

The problem, which has grown from the 1990s in Korean churches, Park explained, is that both Korean- and English-language churches need help from each other but, because of language, cultural and generational issues, haven’t been able to easily work together.

Ethnic churches worship in the national language and retain national customs, with adult immigrants clinging to and gaining strength from those reminders of “home,” Park said, while the children born to them, even those who immigrate with them, quickly become Americanized as they play with American children and go to school in an American context.

The solution early on for those restless and resistant in a Korean-language service was to provide additional services in English, within an American context, for older children and teens, Park continued. But over time, the youth felt little connection with the ethnic church.

As a result, ethnic churches are not raising up the “second generation” to be the next leaders of the church, Park said, and ethnic churches remain locked in a first-generation struggle for survival in a land that is foreign to them.

Ted Lam, president of the newly formed Asian-American Southern Baptist fellowship named A2CP2, an acronym for Asian American Church Planting/Cooperative Program, noted that pastors are pivotal in connecting the generations.

“It depends on the leader, the pastor, how much they want to integrate,” said Lam, a native of China who now pastors Tulsa (Okla.) International Baptist Church.

Lam has been in the United States 55 years and considers himself an American, but it took him 20 years to get to that way of thinking, he said. Until he did, he clung to what he now refers to as “the old ways.”

For men immigrating to pastor a church, it’s only natural they would lead it to be “100 percent in program of their homeland,” Lam said.

“Chinese are much easy to integrate into American society,” Lam continued. “In Korean church it’s harder because they have much stronger historic mind. The Vietnamese are facing more political issues. Their country changed. They have old flag, new flag.”

Family is extremely important to Asians, so the fact that their children prefer to worship in a different language and different church service than their parents can be seen as a rejection of the culture, Lam said.

“Our children [are] all English language,” John Kim, now a grandfather, told Baptist Press after the Tuesday afternoon session of the June 20-23 Korean Council meeting. “We don’t want to suffer about God’s Kingdom, so, no separation.”

One of the panelists was an English ministry pastor in Seattle, Paul Kim, whose church is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Park described the Presbyterian Church (USA) as “five to 10 years ahead of us in dealing with this. They’ve moved past venting to discussing, ‘What are the ways we can work together for Kingdom work of God?'”

John Kim, the council’s outgoing president, said, “It [hasn’t been] easy for Korean pastors to help English ministry because of language. This forum is another step in bringing together. We [Korean-language] pastors want to know what they [EM pastors] want. We want to encourage them, to mentor them.”

English-language churches need mentoring but, because of language, cultural and generational issues, it doesn’t happen often, Park said.

Korean-language churches want to grow past the struggling-for-existence stage that leaves so many pastors seeing the pastorate as a life of hardship, Park said.

Panel members discussed the fact that relatively few second-generation Koreans enroll in one of the six Southern Baptist seminaries. Asian-American parents want their children to be “successful,” including financially, Park told Baptist Press. Also, the children and teenagers of immigrants are drawn to the “glow” of The American Dream.

When asked why he went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, Park responded: “Undeniable calling.”

John Kim said he wanted to bring the discussion of Korean- and English-language churches to the annual meeting because talk of the separation between the two styles of Korean churches was increasing and it was time to move toward better inclusion.

“This is about the 1.5 and second generation,” Kim said, referring to those who arrived in the U.S. as children and those born in the U.S. to immigrants. “We have to understand between the generations.

“In this, our 35th meeting, we are working with all generations,” Kim said. “Our ministry is to all ethnics…. They [English-language Koreans] need to hear we are trying to do this. We need them for church planting.”