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MIA 65 years, Korea veteran draws pastor’s gratitude

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (BP) — The return of a Korean War veteran’s remains to his hometown of Cambridge, Mass., 65 years after his death in 1951 provided opportunity for local Korean Christians to pay tribute and for pastor Paul Kim to offer a public Gospel witness.

U.S. Army Cpl. Ronald Sparks, then 20, was wounded in action and captured by Chinese troops the year after he arrived in Korea to help defend it against a communist advance. Shortly thereafter, his family received notice he was missing in action and presumed dead, his nephew Bob Sparks recounted in The Vineyard Gazette of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., in July.

More than 50 years later, in 2005, Ronald Sparks’ brother — and father of Bob Sparks — still had not located the remains. In his last words before dying of cancer, he told his son, “No matter what you have to do or how long it takes, please bring my brother Ron home.”

After a decade of working with the Army, Bob Sparks did just that. He received a call in June informing him Cpl. Sparks’ body had been identified among the unknown solders buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.

Paul Kim, chaplain at a Cambridge American Legion post, became involved with the Sparks family when he received an email from the city’s director of veterans’ services in early August. Remains of a Korean War veteran killed in action had been identified, the email stated, and were scheduled to be returned home. The city wanted Kim to speak at a ceremony honoring the fallen vet.

Kim, pastor emeritus of Cambridge’s Antioch Baptist Church, accepted and arranged for other local Korean pastors to be present at the ceremony. He also contacted the South Korean consulate in Boston and helped arrange an official expression of appreciation for Sparks.

At the Aug. 16 civic remembrance event, Kim shared a Gospel message.

“What I said there,” Kim told Baptist Press, “is that the Korean War is a forgotten war, but the city [of Cambridge] has not forgotten our homecoming hero, Ron Sparks. And the family has not forgotten, and the Korean community has not forgotten. And the Almighty God has not forgotten the missing children who need to come home” to Him.

Kim, Asian-American relations consultant for the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, added that God will throw “a homecoming celebration” for any sinner who repents and trusts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

In addition to speaking at the civic remembrance ceremony, Kim was with the Sparks family at the funeral home during visitation and attended Sparks’ full military funeral.

“I’d never seen that kind of funeral,” said Kim, who has attended numerous veterans’ funerals. “It was such a great honor” for Sparks.

Honoring a Korean War veteran came naturally for Kim because of his longstanding gratefulness for the troops who helped keep his native land free. In fact, shortly after arriving in the U.S. in 1967, Kim joined the Army out of appreciation for Korean War soldiers.

South Koreans “share a deep appreciation” for Korean War veterans, Kim said, “especially for those who gave their lives. … Without their sacrifice, we would not have freedom as we have it today because we would be under communist rule.”

Kim’s appreciation for Sparks in particular grew as he learned of ways their lives converged. For one, the Methodist congregation the Sparks family attended allowed the church Kim was pastoring to meet in its facility for nearly a decade. And Kim’s wife Rebekah was born in South Korea just six days before Sparks was captured.

Rebekah Kim told BP she considers herself “a major beneficiary” of the sacrifice made by soldiers like Sparks.

Echoing her husband’s sentiments, Rebekah Kim said the Army’s “no soldier left behind” motto reminds her of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 15 that God leaves no person behind but pursues all sinners with His saving love.