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The senior pastor for the Ames Korean United Methodist Church and his wife have embarked upon a ministry appointment for the Methodist Church that is almost certain to be life-changing.
Rev. Chan Gok Kim and Hee Song Kim left for Nigeria September 5, 2013 to be a guest lecturer in Systematic Theology and New Testament Theology at Banyam Theological Seminary (BTS). Rev. Kim’s connection to the Iowa Annual Conference will continue through an Extension Ministry appointment.
“I’m half excited, half nervous,” said Rev. Kim.
The Kim’s had been serving the Korean-American community and international students at the Ames church since 2007. They first visited Nigeria in 2011 with the Iowa Annual Conference’s Iowa Nigeria Partnership.
During that first trip they helped paint the primary school building in Bambur, Nigeria. The Kim’s also took part in the School of Ministry, speaking on servant leadership and youth counseling, and giving a presentation on the Korean Methodist Church.
Rev. Kim became friends with another young professor at the seminary during the 2011 visit, he said. Rev. Kim was invited him back to teach - the school needed a professor with a Master’s degree. It was the first of two such invitations.
The last day they were in Bambur, in 2011, Rev. Kim said the provost for the seminary also approached him and expressed a need that perhaps he could fill.
“He told me, “We need Master’s and Doctor’s degree-holders because we want to establish BTS with a BA and Master’s degrees in Theology,” said Rev. Kim.
It was not possible to give an answer right away, Rev. Kim said, and he and his wife returned home when the trip concluded.
Rev. Kim was certain the two similar requests occurring as they did were not a coincidence.
“I felt my heart move and I can hear the two professors asking as a calling from God,” he said.
Rev. Kim then expressed interest in returning to the Banyam Theological Seminary to teach in an Extension Ministry appointment with the Iowa Annual Conference.
“I want to share with them my pastoral experience and my theological knowledge,” he said. “I want to help them understand the Bible, help them understand the church.”
The appointment process initiated was through Rev. Kim’s District Superintendent in the North Central District, Dr. Denis Tevis, who then brought the inquiry to the Iowa Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry for consideration and approval by Bishop Trimble.
Rev. Bill Poland, Assistant to the Bishop for Administration, was serving on the Board of Ordained Ministry and as a District Superintendent at that time and participated in the review of Rev. Kim’s request.
Rev. Poland indicated that the Kims’ request to serve in Nigeria met with support throughout the appointment process.
“We try to match the gifts and graces with the needs of the congregation,” he said of appointment consideration for anyone in ordained ministry.
Rev. Poland cited the Kim’s desire to depart from a ministry assignment they’d held in Iowa for seven years to work in Nigeria as an example of the Wesleyan tradition.
“We are part of a “sent ministry,” said Rev. Poland.
While Rev. Kim is no stranger to serving others in ministry or to traveling and working in another country, and even though he has been to Nigeria before, a lengthy time commitment in a third-world country is a very real thing including physical aspects with which he, like anyone, must contend.
“There is weather, food and traveling,” he said.
Beverly Nolte has worked on the Iowa Nigeria Partnership since 1989 and currently serves as its consultant. Nolte accompanies participants each year on the annual trip to Nigeria, including the Kims’ first visit to the country in 2011.
She confirms that a longer stay there than the two to three weeks for the annual partnership visit is a big leap.
“It is,” she said. “For a longer period, you need to get comfortable.”
She is confident that the Kim’s will do well.
Rev. Kim’s call to serve in this particular type of ministry can be traced from early in his faith journey.
He grew up in rural South Korea, the youngest of three children of a Korean Methodist pastor and his wife.
“I remember my mother and father showing their special love toward their church members,” said Rev. Kim. “They served very hard as servants of the Lord by visiting patients, counseling broken families and healing wounded hearts the best way they could.”
Rev. Kim shared details of his history in a letter to his Ames church members written to explain his leaving them to serve in Nigeria.
In the letter he gives a poignant explanation of a picture from his upbringing. The photo also illustrates how his calling was first instilled, and at the same time, how, ultimately, the people of Nigeria are benefitting today by seeds sown back at that time in Korea by the Methodist Church.
“There is a picture in my family picture album from when I was a child of my family taken with a white goat,” Rev. Kim said.
“I did not know why my family got their picture taken with a goat,” he said. “But in late 1990 while I was researching the history of the social work of Korean Methodist Church, I found the answer.”
In 1967 the United Methodist Church in the U.S. sent 125 goats to the Korean Methodist Church for poor Korean Methodist Church pastors in Korea. His father, as a pastor, received one of 125 goats.
“I grew up with that goat milk,” said Rev. Kim. “Now I want to give back to needy people, especially pastors and their families.”
Rev. Kim’s desire to serve continued from there.
Later, when he was a second-year seminary student he had the opportunity to volunteer at a night school as a teacher in Seoul, Korea. He said the students of school couldn’t attend high school for a variety of reasons, but primarily because they were poor.
“I taught Bible and Sociology to them,” Rev. Kim recalled. “In December 1983, at the last class before the graduation ceremony, we gathered together in a circle and we talked about each other and about, “My Future.”
“Finally, one of my students asked me, “Mr. Kim, what do you want to do in the future?” said Rev. Kim. “I answered, “I want to help needy people like you wherever I go, whatever I do; I promise all of you.”
Rev. Kim felt that moment for him was one of commitment to God.
To keep his promise, after a graduation from the seminary he moved in 1992 from Seoul to Inchon and began ministry with Urban Industrial Mission serving laborers and their families. He then became a senior pastor at Il-Kun (worker/labor in Korean) Methodist church in Inchon, Korea.
These assignments further developed his ministry with people in need.
“My church members consisted of mostly blue collar working-class people,” said Rev. Kim. “There were widows, broken families, deserted children, abused women and the aged in my congregation.
“I thought they were all outcasts and strangers in our society, even in our churches,” he said. “I worked very hard and my heart was filled with compassion for them.”
It was also during this time that he met his wife Hee Song. She was in school studying for her Master’s degree, and he wound up leading Bible study at her church.
The two were married in 1992.
Hee Song Kim will serve in the seminary daycare and women’s program in Nigeria. This means she will minister to people on a number of levels. Her duties will have her working with female seminary students, with wives of the male seminary students, and with children of seminary students in the school’s daycare.
Nolte said Hee Song Kim will be very helpful in all areas, and that she will be a positive influence on everyone with whom she works.
The name Hee Song means “joy” in Korean, said Nolte.
“A lot of people call her Joy,” Nolte said. “She’s just a joyous, positive person.”
Nolte said as well that Hee Song Kim’s natural aptitude with languages will enable her to settle in well and be very effective in her work. English is spoken at the seminary, but Hausa, the ethnic language in the north of Nigeria is also prevalent there. Hee Song Kim picked right up on Hausa during their 2011 trip, said Nolte.
“She’ll definitely be an asset,” said Nolte. “She’s got a lot of talent.”
Nolte reaffirmed her forecast that Hee Song Kim would have a positive effect on people Nigeria, especially on the women.
“They’ll just love her,” said Nolte.
Rev. Kim’s personal story is not without bumps.
Sometimes it is one who is serving others faithfully that receives one of life’s tougher tests.
In May of 2000 Rev. Kim had surgery to remove a cancerous lump from his stomach.
He said he wept hard for two days upon hearing the diagnosis.
“I cried,” Rev. Kim said.
“What is going on?” he said. “Wasn’t I working on the remodeling of the church and planning to start new ministries in the church?
“Was this the reward of working for poor and marginalized people for ten years?” said Rev. Kim. “I wasn’t even 40! Why was I being punished when all I ever tried to do was lead a good life?”
And just as there are times when good and faithful people are tested, there are times when God uses one’s spouse to be his presence on difficult journeys. Hee Song Kim was God’s instrument of healing for her husband.
“She told me, “God can save your life,” said Rev. Kim.
This inspired trust for him and from that time he became more at peace with his health diagnosis.
The surgery was successful and Rev. Kim was healed.
“Now I am a cancer survivor,” he said.
The Kim’s came to U.S. in 2001, where Rev. Kim served the Korean-American people at National Korean United Methodist Church in Rockville, Maryland as an associate pastor for more than six years. This was their last ministry assignment prior to coming to the Ames Korean UMC in 2007.
“Now I am healthy and I want to share my life with others during the rest of my life,” Rev. Kim said. “And I want to heal others as a wounded healer.”
Bishop Trimble was certain upon receiving Rev. Kim’s request for consideration for Extension Ministry that Rev. Kim was making his request out of strong calling to go back to Nigeria.
“This is an appointment and an assignment that is not without risk,” Bishop Trimble said. “But has the potential as well for significant reward.”
Bishop Trimble feels convinced too that Rev. Kim will be a blessing to the students and everyone at Banyam Theological Seminary.
“And likewise, he will receive a blessing,” said Bishop Trimble.
Rev. Kim hopes his experience in ministry will cross over well in Nigeria, and that he can bring a new viewpoint to his students at Banyam Theological Seminary.
If he is successful, God willing, and all goes well, he said he would be open to staying beyond the one academic year for which he has been assigned. Time will tell.
“Always pray for me,” Rev. Kim said. “And pray for the people at the seminary.”