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Korean ‘mother church’ still extending local & global reach

LOS ANGELES (BP)–Contrary to popular opinion, Berendo Street Baptist Church was not the first Southern Baptist church started specifically to reach Korean immigrants.

Rather, it’s considered the “mother church” of all Southern Baptist Korean congregations because of the leading role it has taken in the 48 years since it was founded in Los Angeles by Don and Esther Kim.

“It’s not the first; it was the first to have done so well,” said Dan Moon, who served as a liaison between the SBC and Korean immigrants for 33 years. “People look at Berendo Street as a model church. They systematically train and send out people who become leaders wherever they go.”

Sung Kun Park is senior pastor at Berendo Street. The vocational staff also includes 10 associate pastors and 10 intern pastors. About 2,000 people gather for worship at one of four Korean and three English services and four Sunday Schools each weekend.

At the same time that it battles parking issues in the primarily residential area in which it is located, Berendo Street also sponsors on-site mission churches for Korean Chinese and Hispanics and an off-site Japanese mission church.

“Our pastors talked about what is the purpose of church; the reason is ultimately missions,” said Christopher Yim, associate pastor for administration. “There are a lot of Korean Chinese in town so we are trying to evangelize them. The Japanese pastor’s wife is Korean, so they asked us to start a church. We ordained the pastor and, so far, it’s growing, both of these for a couple of years now. We started just this fall a mission church for Hispanics; we are trying to evangelize them.”

Located in what is still known as Koreatown, the area west of Interstate 5 and north of Interstate 10 has become increasingly multicultural. As Koreans have acquired the means, many have moved to suburbs. Berendo Street Baptist, however, has no plans to relocate despite the fact that it has maxed out its property, which is the equivalent of 17 city lots — 77,000 square feet — on two sides of a residential street.

Its last major building thrust, in 1990, provided for an enlarged worship center/gymnasium and additional educational space. Future plans call for razing the buildings across the street and erecting a parking garage.

“Rather than move, we will build up branch churches in the future — Orange County, [San Fernando] Valley — one church in diverse locations,” Yim said. “Pastor Park is a man of faith and a man of ability and a man of vision. We trust him and support him and God guides him in the right direction.”

About 180 people, mostly children, participate in Korean Language School, which the church started for second-generation Koreans — those with parents who were born in the United States. Berendo Street also has a preschool for about 160 youngsters and an SBC-endorsed college and seminary with about 35 students. Men of the church, meanwhile, lead a Brotherhood Food Ministry outreach to the community.

Overseas missions involves about 150 members a year in short-term projects. Berendo Street also provides complete support for at least 15 people who serve in East Asia, Korea, Kashmir, Mexico, Latin America and South America. Earlier this year the church commissioned five students to serve as International Mission Board journeymen in northeast Asia.

In May 2003 it sponsored a missions celebration led by IMB personnel that was attended by more than 1,000 people, nearly half of whom committed themselves to overseas missions.

“Missions and discipleship training are main challenges for the church,” Yim said. Recent programs included “40 Days of Purpose,” which included 40 days of early morning prayer that involved about 500 people. As at most Korean churches, early morning prayer is a mainstay, but to emphasize the importance of the 40 days of prayer, Pastor Park preached each morning.

“Now we have more people committing to the Lord and more devoted service,” Yim said. “We have produced maybe more than 100 ministers all over the world [since Berendo Street started] and many more are needed.”

Berendo Street started as a church for first-generation Koreans — newly arrived immigrants. (Those who immigrated as youngsters are called the 1.5 generation.) A key challenge for the church now is the spiritual needs of second-generation Koreans, Yim said.

“For the second generation, I think that Christianity is their faith heritage,” Yim said. “Most of the people have followed their parent’s tradition and what they have experienced with their parents. The problem is that the second generation and the first generation are at variance because of culture and language gaps. How to bridge these gaps is the key for the future.”

All Korean churches are facing this challenge, but because all Korean-specific churches in the SBC are less than 50 years old, there is no model to follow, Yim explained. Some churches, like Berendo Street, offer services in English as well as Korean. Some branch off into two congregations.

“It’s a lot of things to consider,” Yim said. “We have hope that under the leadership of Pastor Park we can develop tremendously in the future.”