LOS ANGELES (BP)–A record number of Korean Southern Baptists are anticipated June 16-19 at the 27th annual meeting of the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches in America.
The gathering of Koreans from North, Central and South America is slated for the first time in several years on the West Coast, gateway to Pacific Rim nations from which come the nearly 11 million Asians now living in the United States, according to the Census Bureau.
California alone is home to about 260,000 Koreans, the largest concentration of the nearly 1.5 million Koreans and Korean-Americans in the country.
The host church for the Korean Council’s annual meeting is Berendo Street Baptist Church, considered by many the “mother church” of most Korean Southern Baptist churches in the Americas because of the Los Angeles church’s missionary efforts under the longtime leadership of pastor Don Kim and his wife Esther. Today, Sung Kun Park leads the congregation as its ministry expands to other ethnic groups who have moved into “Koreatown” in Los Angeles.
Berendo Street in 1957 was the second Korean Southern Baptist church -– the first was in Washington D.C. Today, about 830 Korean churches affiliated with the SBC are scattered across the nation, with more in Canada and in Central and South America. More than 100 Koreans have trained as pastors and been sent out from Berendo Street to start churches across the world.
“It will be great joy for many to be at Berendo Street,” said David Ro, president of what is known informally as the Korean Council. “We will fellowship together and worship together and encourage each other.”
While several Korean churches have more than 1,500 people in Sunday morning worship -– Berendo Street has about 2,000 -– most are small churches of fewer than 50 in worship, Ro explained. Oftentimes the pastor is a first-generation immigrant with significant financial hurdles he needs to overcome to be able to attend the Korean Council.
“It is worth the effort, however,” said Ro, pastor of River Dell Korean Baptist Church in River Edge, N.J., and a translator of Explorers’ Sunday School curriculum from English to Korean for LifeWay Christian Resources for more than 20 years. “For many of us, this is the only time each year to talk with others who also face the hardships and joys of pastoring people with their feet in two cultures.
“We hope and seek more effective evangelism and missions,” Ro added, in explaining the Korean Council leaders’ purpose for the annual gathering. “We want to connect Koreans strongly with the Southern Baptist Convention … because we are all God’s children and God’s agents in the world.”
Until the last few years, the Korean Council met in the same city and at the same time of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, so Koreans could attend both the SBC and Korean Council sessions, but logistics problems have intervened for the third year in a row.
The SBC in recent years has been meeting at towns with smaller convention centers. The Korean Council annual meeting has been growing in recent years as the number of churches has increased -– from 261 in 1981 to about 830 today, or up from maybe 100 people attending the annual meeting in 1981 to more than 600 last year. Korean Council annual meetings thus need to be in cities with a significant Korean population because Koreans of all ages prefer at least their dinner meal to be Korean food, Ro explained. To keep costs down, area Koreans provide the meals. In cities that don’t have a sizable Korean population, there aren’t enough people to cook the amount of food necessary to provide for the needs of 600 or more people. That would be the case in Indianapolis as it was in San Antonio last year and in Greensboro, N.C., the year before.
At the Korean Council’s annual meeting, reports will be presented on the status of the thrust to have 1,000 Koreans in America serving by the year 2010 as missionaries through the SBC’s International Mission Board -– including seven added during the April 7-9 IMB appointment service in Sunnyvale, Texas -– plus more serving directly through the Korean Council and Korean Southern Baptist churches.
In addition to its foreign missions thrust, reports on domestic missions, Sunday School, WMU, Brotherhood and education for Korean pastors will be presented during the council’s meeting.
The focus this year is on smaller churches, Ro said. Jong Po Kim, pastor of Ahrum Down –- Beautiful -– Church in Seoul, South Korea, is to be the keynote speaker.
“We heard that Rev. Kim had begun his pastorate of a smaller church, and the church grew into a larger church,” Ro said. “He is an able minister. That is the reason we have chosen him our main speaker. One of our concerns is the effective ministry of smaller churches.”
The president and executive director of the Korean Baptist Convention and the president of Korea Baptist Seminary have been invited to the Korean Council’s annual meeting, but their responses had not been received by press time.
Breakout sessions this year are to include computer training for pastors, pastors’ health, special ministries for military families, drug abuse prevention and ministry and Baptist polity.
A mass choir from several Southern California Korean churches will lead in worship.
As is the case each year, teenagers as well as preschoolers, elementary and middle-schoolers will have programs designed to meet their age-level needs at the Korean Council meeting, Ro said.
“We are excited not about any one part of the annual meeting, but about all of it,” Ro said. “I have spent almost 10 months as president. I have been busy to visit the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board and other places. I am looking forward to this meeting, to show how we accomplish more when we cooperate together.”
In addition to President Ro, Bok H. Kew, pastor of Korean Memorial Baptist Church in Killeen, Texas, is the Korean Council’s vice president; Byung Jik Kim, pastor of Dover (Del.) Korean Baptist Church is recording secretary; and Chongoh Aum, pastor of Germantown Korean Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., is executive director.
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.