FULLERTON, Calif. — Just as Hannah lovingly presented her baby son, the prophet Samuel, to God, Bok Soon Kim, the Korean mother of Song Sik Kim, dedicated young Song to serve the Lord when he was but an infant.
Fifty-three years later, Bok Soon has gone on to be with her Lord, but Song’s still serving 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 – based in Fullerton. Once he learned of his mom’s giant act of faith, Kim says he was burdened constantly until 1980 — when at 25 years old — he finally answered God’s call to preach. “I was 100 percent sure that God called me.”
Today, California has a total population of almost 37 million people, and about a million of these are of Korean descent. But of this million, Kim estimates that some 800,000 are non-believers.
Jointly supported by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the California Southern Baptist Convention, Song Kim and wife Fanny – also a native of South Korea – have worked the last dozen years as church planting missionaries in The Golden State.
Song and Fanny Kim are only two of more than 5,500 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® for North American Missions. The couple is among the NAMB missionaries featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 1-8, 2009. This year’s theme is “Live with Urgency: Sowing Together for Harvest.” The 2009 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $65 million, 100 percent of which benefits missionaries like the Kims.
A native of Pusan, South Korea, Song 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 and Fuller Theological Seminaries, respectively. Song and Fanny — born in Seoul and named for prolific hymn-writer Fanny Crosby — have two daughters, Julie, 26, and Janet, 23.
Living in Fullerton — about 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles — but with an office in Fresno, Kim is away from home 7-10 nights each month — preaching, teaching, recruiting and training Korean pastors and seminary students as volunteer church planters.
“When I’m traveling up and down the state of California, I usually leave on Friday or Saturday and return home on Monday or Tuesday,” says Kim. He is responsible for overall Korean church planting in California and currently, there are only 200 Korean Southern Baptist churches in California to reach and disciple the state’s 1 million Koreans.
What does Kim — who by himself can’t possibly plant and disciple all the Korean churches needed in California — look for when he goes to Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary or area 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,” he said. “Calling is No. 1 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.”
Kim said the challenge for these young Korean church planters is that they lack experience, and that church planting will be voluntary, second to their full-time role as local pastors or seminary students. The volunteer church planters do not receive salaries.
“We need more churches, more church leaders and more pastors,” he says.
With its 2,500 members, the largest of the 200 Korean churches in California is New Vision Church in Milpitas, Calif., about 50 miles southeast of San Francisco. But New Vision is one of the few Korean churches in California that owns its own building, according to Kim.
“It’s hard to find worship places,” he 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.”
Kim says that reaching California’s Koreans requires a two-prong strategy — one for ministering to first-generation Koreans and another strategy 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-Second Language classes for most of them.” Kim said worship services for first-generation Koreans are usually 100 percent in the Korean language.
“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,” said Kim.
Another challenge while working with the Koreans, according to Kim, is that Koreans are inherently a very shy people.
“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.”
Song’s 53-year-old wife, Fanny, says her job is to support Song in his ministry. She says she doesn’t mind being in the background.
“We’ve been in the ministry, especially in the Korean community in California, for over 20 years,” Fanny said. “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.
“I didn’t realize it when my husband was called as a minister 28 years ago, but I was also called myself. 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. I didn’t understand that was my role until we became NAMB missionaries,” said Fanny.
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,” said Song Kim. “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.”
For more information on this year’s Week of Prayer missionaries and the ministries of the North American Mission Board, visit www.anniearmstrong.com.