A Korean connection
The story began about a decade ago in South Korea. Mr. and Mrs. Song were doing well. The Korean economic boom had allowed Mr. Song to obtain a good job in computer technology. His wife was doing well as a middle school history teacher. They had a daughter in middle school and a son in primary grades.
The Songs wanted the best for their children. As they spoke to other Korean parents, they determined what the best was. In a 2008 survey by South Korea’s National Statistical Office, 48.3 percent of South Korean parents said they wanted to send their children abroad for high school to develop global perspectives, avoid the rigid domestic school system, and learn English. More than 12 percent wanted it for their children as early as elementary school.
The Songs were normal parents. They were apprehensive about sending their children halfway around the world to live in a culture they did not completely understand, but everyone else in their social group was doing it. As they researched the possibilities, they were delighted to hear of a Korean pastor, Pastor Young Ha Kim, who had personal acquaintance with a safe high school in the United States.
When the Song family approached him, Pastor Kim explained that the American high school was Lutheran, and that it wanted the whole family instructed in Lutheran doctrine before the child went to the United States. That high school was a WELS preparatory school, Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS) in Saginaw.
MLS has hosted international students from 25 different countries since 1985, but the arrangement with Pastor Kim and his congregation was special. Whenever a Korean student contacted MLS, the administration referred that family to the pastor in Korea, who would begin Lutheran catechism instruction with them. It was an arrangement that God would bless.
The whole family began to attend worship and catechism instruction. They were baptized, and the adults were confirmed. The daughter applied to MLS. She was willing to consider being a Lutheran teacher. She spent extra hours after school and during vacations studying English. Her Korean name is Na Bin, but like most Korean students, she chose an English name as well. It was Lisa.
Meanwhile, in the United States, MLS found a host family for Lisa. Even though it has a dormitory, MLS is careful to place each international student with a host family for weekends and vacations. It is important for international students to have family care while they are in the States and to see what life in a Lutheran family is like in America.
The host family, the MLS faculty, and Lisa’s classmates all encouraged Lisa to consider being a Lutheran teacher, and when it came time to graduate from MLS, Lisa applied and was accepted to attend Martin Luther College (MLC) in New Ulm, Minnesota, the WELS college of ministry.
When it was time for Lisa’s brother to go to the United States, the Song family decided to send him for eighth grade already so that he could go through his adjustment period to English before his grades counted for college. The brother’s Korean name is Sang Ho, and he chose the English name David. He went through a regular Lutheran catechism course and was confirmed before he came to the United States for eighth grade.
The Songs wanted David to attend MLS and looked for an elementary school near Saginaw that could accept international students, but none of the Lutheran elementary schools in that area of Michigan had applied to receive that status from the federal government. Instead, the Song family heard about St. John’s School in Burlington, Wisconsin, which had been certified by the federal government to enroll international students.
There was an MLS connection to St. John’s. Mrs. Leanne Prange was a kindergarten teacher there, and her husband, Paul Prange, knew the Song family from the time Paul had been the president of MLS. The Pranges volunteered to host David in their home, since St. John’s does not have a dormitory.
The Pranges felt good about the decision. They knew that the Song family would want a safe place for their son to stay, and they did not worry about having an eighth grade boy in the home, since their own son, Joel, had just graduated from the eighth grade and was enrolling at MLS.
David arrived in the U.S. in August. His voice was just beginning to change, and his command of English was limited. He was a normal eighth grade boy, and he thrived at St. John’s. He applied and was accepted to MLS. At present he is a junior there. He wants to visit the Korean WELS congregation in Las Vegas, Nevada, to see what it would be like to serve as a called worker in the United States. Lisa is a senior at MLC, in the fourth year of a five-year program. She is willing to present herself to the WELS Assignment Committee for service anywhere in the world.
The Pranges feel blessed by the opportunity to host David and other international students. “We learn a little bit about each culture,” says Leanne, “but finally they are just normal children, and we enjoy getting to know them personally. It is interesting to see how the Lord will use them in the future.”
As WELS ministries become aware of international students graduating from MLC and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, they can take another look at reaching out to immigrant groups in their communities, or working with the families of our fellowship in the students’ countries of origin. At present there is only one congregation of our fellowship in all of Korea, and only a handful of places in the United States where congregations are reaching out to the Korean immigrants in their community. The Lord is providing us with thoroughly trained Korean Lutheran students who love Jesus, know the Scriptures, and are able to work in both cultures. It is exciting to think about how God may bless these fruits of the gospel.
Paul Prange, administrator for WELS Ministerial Education, is a member of St. John, Burlington, Wisconsin.
Watch the February WELS Connection to meet an MLC graduate from South Korea who now teaches at Huron Valley Lutheran High School in Westland, Mich.
More about international students at WELS schools
Number of Korean students sent to WELS schools by Pastor Kim over the last 10 years: 250
Number of WELS high schools with international students: 19 out of 25
Number of international students currently attending WELS high schools: 283
Number of countries represented at WELS high schools: at least 28
Number of international students who have graduated from MLC: 34 since 2002
Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.
Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.
Author: Paul T. Prange
Volume 103, Number 2
Issue: February 2016
Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us