HOUSTON (BP)–When Sung Mok Park was diagnosed with liver cancer and given six months to live, he remembered a commitment he had made to God 25 years earlier in Korea — that if God could use him, he’d be a missionary in a foreign land.
“He realized God had given him body and life, but in 25 years he wasn’t doing good for the Lord,” Kyung Won Song said in translating Park’s words during an interview at the annual meeting of the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches in America, June 18-20 in Houston.
“He wanted to do the most pleasing mission for the Lord, and God’s Word told him that was evangelism,” Song, pastor of Korea Baptist Church in Binghamton, N.Y., said in translating for Park. “He decided in the time he had left, he wanted to evangelize people to repay his debt to God.”
Despite his illness, Park –- supported in prayer by his wife Young Ja -– went to nursing homes, parks, the airport and anywhere else people were after his daytime work as a handyman in order to talk about the Lord.
The six months passed. He didn’t die. Two years later, Park chanced upon the doctor who had made the cancer diagnosis, and the doctor expressed amazement that despite Park never returning as a patient, Park’s healthy skin color told the physician that his one-time patient had been healed.
The Parks were introduced at the Korean annual meeting by Man Poong Kim, pastor of Global Community Baptist Church in Silver Springs, Md.
“These are a wonderful couple,” Kim said. “They are partners with all the churches to spread the Gospel. For five years and 19 days, they [have been] traveling in their RV to more than 300 churches, to testify and to evangelize.”
The Parks’ story starts in Korea in the late 1970s. Less than 20 years after the Korean War, life was hard in Seoul. Park had started a succession of businesses, all of which failed, in part because of ever-changing government regulations related to war recovery efforts. No money, no pride, no honor -– bankruptcy had taken its toll. The couple contemplated a family suicide for them and their two young sons.
Out of nowhere, a thought came to Park’s mind. What about the Christian God?
Buddha had never done anything for them, despite their allegiance to him since childhood, and as far as they knew, he had never done anything for their ancestors either. Buddha had made it obvious he didn’t care about them, the disillusioned Park determined.
Almost on a whim, Park took his family to a Christian church the first Sunday in January 1980. They returned every week for eight months, wanting to learn if the Christian God cared about them; that August, they participated in a citywide revival.
There, their 11-year-old son made a profession of faith in Jesus and said he was going to be a pastor. Park also made a promise to God.
“He committed to God that he did not know Him well, but if God wanted to use him, he would be a missionary in a foreign country,” Song translated. “She committed to support him with prayer and almost immediately God started using her in intercessory prayer. She learned about God as she was praying.”
Life continued to be financially difficult but “spiritually joyful.” The Park family decided to move to the United States, where they heard they could achieve the American dream of a good life and home ownership. They did not know anyone to sponsor them, an immigration requirement, but Park was able to get a student visa.
The Park family arrived in the United States in 1982 with four traveling bags, one each for the four of them, and soon found life to be even worse than in Korea because they didn’t know anyone. They were reduced to nighttime food searches in garbage cans.
The stress (and maybe the food she ate) led to a life-threatening intestinal disorder for Young Ja Park. She found comfort in the Old Testament story of Job and repented “a lot” because she had lost her first love, Song translated. Her gradual healing after seven years of agony came in May 1991, just 20 days before her husband was diagnosed with liver cancer.
“Everything led to more prayer,” Song translated. “The more they pray, the more they get to know God better.”
Park worked as a handyman since his arrival in America -– never making more than $30 or $40 a day -– and in 1995 he was able to buy a home that had been nearly destroyed in California’s massive Northridge earthquake.
“Three years later they got a vision from God, that God would send them to all 50 states and Canada,” Song translated. “Their plan was sidelined because of a serious car accident, but that just gave them more time to pray.”
They sold their home in 2002, bought an RV and began speaking in one church after another as word of them spread among pastors.
The Parks now are on their third RV. This one is a 36-foot Jayco travel trailer pulled by a Honda that, in pulling its load, gets eight miles to a gallon of gasoline. A donor provides them with a gas card. Other donors and the churches they speak in provide the Parks with about $500 a month for living expenses.
So far they’ve traveled four times back and forth across the nation, speaking in more than 300 Korean churches in 35 states and three Canadian provinces. They might stay at one church for a weekend, a week or a month or two, depending on the needs and desire of the congregation.
“They do not have a rigid schedule of being here and here and here,” Song explained. “They try to stay open to the Holy Spirit’s leading.”
Their route for the next few months is across the nation’s midsection, on their way to Philadelphia and Binghamton, N.Y., among other East Coast churches in the fall.
Sung Mok and Young Ja Park both share their testimonies, and he preaches on evangelism. Together, they lead training sessions on evangelism and prayer. One-on-one conversations often are equally valuable, providing Holy Spirit-directed counsel that often leads to healed relationships -– with God, with a spouse, with other family members and others.
“Many churches are so caught up with programs they have no compassion for people,” Song translated Park’s words. “As churches realize the importance of evangelism, the people start changing.”
Between churches, the couple spends the night at freeway rest areas and store parking lots.
“It’s not always easy to travel,” Young Ja Park said, as translated by Song. “Tornado, gangster threat, high wind in desert,” her voice trailed off. “We pray a lot.”
Despite giving up their “American dream” -– the earthquake-damaged home Park painstakingly had rebuilt -– the couple have seen their sons realize that dream.
Their older son graduated from Harvard with a degree in political science. He now is in ministry to second-generation Korean-Americans and plans to go to China this fall for three to five years as an independent missionary.
Their younger son is an emergency room physician in Florida; he regularly takes medical mission trips to Mexico and Brazil.
“If a man can live for the Gospel and be willing to die for the Gospel, what could be more blessing than this?” Young Ja Parks said. “We have that vision, and therefore we are able to be content without material things, except our RV so that we can take off and travel as a pilgrim for the Lord.”
“The more I pay the debt of love I owe to God, the more I realize I owe,” Sung Mok Park said. “Matthew 28:18-20 [the Great Commission], that is the blessing of God. Emmanuel.”
Sung Mok and Young Ja Park can be contacted at 818-917-4974 or via e-mail at [email protected]