The Holy Spirit worked saving faith in a Korean family who claimed, “We are not Christians.”
Mark A. Eckert
Youngil (Alan) Kang and his wife Sukjeong (Ann) Kim were a typical South Korean couple. They were consumed by their professions—so much so that they had limited family time, which is quite common in Korea. Alan was a government official, working for the Ministry of Science and ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). For over 15 years, he has created and implemented policies that foster the development of science and technology and also technology commercialization in Korea. Ann was a plant quarantine officer dealing with diseases caused by insects in imported plants.
Ann had grown tired of her job. She worked and lived in an apartment during the week and only got to see her husband and sons on weekends.
A journey to Michigan State University
About three years ago, they—together with their two sons Gyumin (Tony) and Gyoungmin (Fred)—began quite a journey. Ann quit her job so she could have more time with her family. Then Alan learned that he would be sent to Michigan State University (MSU) in Lansing, Michigan, for two years. In the first year he’d study in the Visiting International Professional Program. Then he’d put what he learned into practice at Spartan Innovations, which provides the educational and financial support necessary to turn MSU research technologies into successful businesses.
This journey to the United States brought many new challenges, including learning English. Fortunately, Alan has a good, dedicated, and organized wife who knew that her family members needed to make the most of their time in the United States. Her priority was to make sure that her family spoke and understood English better after their two-year stint in America. While still in Korea, she searched the Internet for ways to improve the family’s English. She learned about the Friendship House, a place in East Lansing where she and her family could take English classes.
When they arrived in Michigan, the Kang family went to the International Welcome Party at the Friendship House. HaeHee Park, a member of the WELS Campus Ministry in Lansing, met Alan and Ann and invited them to come to the campus ministry. She told them it would be great for them to learn some English and to learn about God. It also would be good for them just to hang around with some Americans, to have fun, and to learn “American.”
First steps in worship
A couple weeks later they came to our Saturday evening worship service. We have Saturday evening services because that works best for our campus ministry. Some of our volunteers attend their own congregations on Sunday, but they also love to worship and fellowship with the WELS students. After our worship service we have a great time together and eat some of the best international—and sometimes even American—food.
That Saturday in September, Ann was planning how often her sons could meet with Doug Tabor, who teaches many of our English classes. Students usually end up meeting with Doug every day except for Sunday and Monday. Doug says he doesn’t really teach them English. He just spends a lot of time talking and doing things (playing Cribbage, basketball, camping) with them so they get more comfortable with English. After two years Doug says their English is definitely better and their ping pong skills have really gotten great!
A few weeks later, the Kangs came again for worship. After that they faithfully attended our worship services, Doug’s English classes, and whatever else we offered them. If they missed, it was usually because they were traveling or experiencing other pieces of American culture.
Soon Alan asked me to record our services so he and his wife could listen to the services again during the week to understand the English better and to understand the sermon message better. So we began posting our recordings online for the Kangs and for other internationals who have returned to their home countries and want to listen to our services.
Learning more about Jesus
Just before Christmas, HaeHee Park convinced Alan and Ann that they should come to my Bible Information Class (BIC). I had talked to them about coming, but it always works better when one Korean invites another. We started a marathon class.
Prior to coming to our campus ministry, the Kangs had no real religious background. Ann had gone to a church for about three years while in elementary school. Tony and Fred had gone with friends to church for a couple years. But they didn’t really know about Jesus. I remember Ann often saying to me, “We are not Christian.”
As the weeks and months rolled by, the Kangs faithfully kept coming to our services and the BIC sessions. I noted how attentive they were in worship. I know that sometimes they were just struggling a bit to understand the English and the message, but I also know that the Holy Spirit was working. Fred and Tony were always the key targets for my youth devotions.
I’m not sure when Ann last said, “I’m not a Christian.” She said it so often. But in the last year when she spoke those words, I would say to her that if she wasn’t a Christian, I didn’t know what a Christian was. I’d ask her and Alan if Jesus was the Savior who lived and died for the sins of the world, and they would say, “Yes, he did.” I repeatedly told them that I believed they really were believers.
I often talked to them about Baptism and encouraged them to be baptized. Finally, at one of our classes, they said they wanted to be baptized. I spent some time talking about Baptism with the entire family, and then they all were baptized. What a journey we had traveled together!
Since then we’ve completed our information classes. I told them that it would be great if we confirmed them as well, but what was more important is that they knew more about Jesus their Savior. When we asked them what they would miss most about Michigan when they returned to Korea this year, they said they’d miss our campus ministry and their Christian friends because here they learned about Jesus.
After the Kangs return to Korea, we’ll stay in contact with them through KakaoTalk (a text/phone app). We’ll also e-mail them our sermons and bulletins. They said they’d continue to go online to find our service recordings. Maybe we’ll get the chance to visit them in Korea. Maybe they’ll come back to the United States for a visit. Whatever happens, we can rejoice because the Holy Spirit worked on the hearts of the Kangs and made them who said, “We are not Christians,” into believing children of God and heirs of heaven.
Mark Eckert is pastor at Calvary, Eaton Rapids, Michigan, and campus pastor in Lansing, Michigan.
WELS Campus Ministry is celebrating its 100th anniversary this school year. A ministry of WELS Home Missions, WELS Campus Ministry provides resources, support, and encouragement to approximately 30 ministries on college campuses (ones like the campus ministry in East Lansing) and many congregations near college campuses in the United States and Canada. Learn more at wels.net/campus-ministry.
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Author: Mark A. Eckert
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019
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