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Korean was destined to be a missionary

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fifth of eight stories highlighting North American Mission Board missionaries as part of the 2009 Week of Prayer, March 1-8, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, with a goal of $65 million to help support Southern Baptists’ 5,600 North American missionaries.

FULLERTON, Calif. (BP)–Just as Hannah lovingly presented her baby son, the prophet Samuel, to God, the Korean mother of Song Sik Kim dedicated him to serve the Lord when he was an infant.

Fifty-three years later, Kim’s mother, Bok Soon Kim, has gone on to be with her Lord while Kim continues to serve God.

“When I was in high school, my mother finally told me she had dedicated me to the Lord,” said Kim, now a church planting missionary ministering to Koreans throughout California. Kim said he constantly was burdened by his mother’s act of faith until 1980 when, at age 25, he answered God’s call to preach. “I was 100 percent sure that God called me.”

Today, California has a total population of nearly 37 million people, about a million of whom are of Korean descent. By Kim’s estimate, perhaps only 20 percent are believers.

Jointly supported by the North American Mission Board and the California Southern Baptist Convention, Kim and his wife Fanny — also a native of South Korea — have worked the last dozen years as church planting missionaries in the Golden State.

The Kims are among the 5,600 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions and two of the missionaries featured in this year’s Week of Prayer, March 1-8, with the theme, “Live with Urgency: Sowing Together for Harvest.” The 2009 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $65 million.

A native of Pusan, South Korea, Kim first came to the United States in 1973. He is a graduate of California Baptist College and holds M. Div. and D. Min. degrees from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary, respectively. Song and Fanny, who was born in Seoul and named for prolific hymn writer Fanny Crosby, have two grown daughters, Julie and Janet.

Living in Fullerton — about 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles — but with an office in Fresno, Kim is away from home seven to 10 nights each month preaching, teaching, recruiting and training Korean pastors and seminary students as volunteer church planters.

Kim is responsible for overall Korean church planting in California; currently, there are only 200 Korean Southern Baptist churches to reach and disciple the state’s Korean-American populace, prompting Kim to say, “We need more churches, more church leaders and more pastors.”

What does Kim — who by himself can’t possibly plant and nurture all the Korean churches needed in California — look for when he goes to Golden Gate Seminary or local churches searching for and recruiting young Korean church planters?

“If they are to be successful church planters, they have to have a clear calling from God,” Kim said, noting that the young Korean church planters typically work on a volunteer basis and lack experience. “Calling is number one because if they have a clear calling from God, I believe God will provide everything for them. They also must have a clear vision — their own personal vision, not someone else’s — to start with. They also have to understand the Korean culture.”

With its 2,500 members, the largest of the 200 Korean churches in California is New Vision Church in Milpitas, about 50 miles southeast of San Francisco. New Vision is one of the few Korean churches in California that owns its own building.

“It’s hard to find worship places,” Kim said, explaining that Korean Baptists are competing for space with other ethnic-group churches such as Hispanics. “We have to partner with Anglo, Hispanic or other churches and borrow their building for our services. Real estate is so expensive in California. If we have to rent an office building or warehouse, it may cost $2,000-3,000 each month just for rent.”

To reach Californians of Korean descent, Kim said a two-prong strategy is needed: one for ministering to first-generation Koreans and another for reaching younger second-generation Koreans.

“Probably, 80 percent of the Korean population here is first-generation. They were immigrants from Korea and their mother tongue is Korean. Their English is limited, so that’s why we need English as a Second Language classes for most of them.” Worship services for first-generation Koreans usually are in the Korean language, Kim said.

“Second-generation Koreans speak good English because they grew up in the U.S., but culturally they know only 25 percent of what their parents know about Korean culture. They want an English-speaking church in a cultural Korean setting, which is hard. We’re losing a lot of second-generation Koreans,” Kim said.

Another challenge in working with the Koreans, Kim said, is that they inherently are very shy.

“They just attend a service or meeting and watch. Americans, on the other hand, are very active. So when Koreans and Americans get together, there’s a wide cultural difference.”

Fanny Kim, who sees her job as supporting her husband in his ministry, said she doesn’t mind being in the background.

“I didn’t realize it when my husband was called as a minister 28 years ago, but I was also called myself,” Fanny said. “I have a confidence that I was called by God and feel my role is important. There are a lot of Korean women and pastor’s wives who need support and a mentor.”

Fanny added, “We’ve been in the ministry, especially in the Korean community in California, for over 20 years. And the more I get to know the Korean community, the more I feel we need more churches and a lot more involved Korean women and children, not just the men. Koreans have a tendency to just stay within the Korean community instead of trying to reach out to other people.”

What does the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering mean to the Kims and their ministry?

“Without the Annie Armstrong offering, I can’t do the work,” Song Kim said. “The money that comes from Annie and the Cooperative Program is helping the Korean church planters and my ministry. As a team, we’re working together to expand the Kingdom of God.”
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board. For more information on this year’s Week of Prayer missionaries and the ministries of the North American Mission Board, visit www.anniearmstrong.com.

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  • Mickey Noah