A Personal History of Korean American Ministry (part 1)

Though Korean American immigrant history is over 100 years old now (celebrating its centenniel in 2003), it was not until the early 1970s that Koreans came to America in large numbers. The Immigration Act of 1965 opened the way for a large number of Asians to come into America. Of course, those who could take advantage of this law immediately were those of high education and ambition. My father was selected to receive a scholarship from a seminary in Massachusetts and was able to come to the States in 1966. However, he was not able to bring his whole family – my mother and four young children. I was 2 years old when my father left to go to America. Our family was able to join my father after he had finished seminary and established the First Korean Church of New Jersey. We came in 1971. My first church experience in the US was at the First Korean Church of New Jersey. I got to observe the immigrant church in New Jersey from the very beginning. I remember a lot of positive memories. The church seemed like one big, mostly happy, family in the early years. There was little church strife, at least that I knew of, and a lot of eating together and sharing life struggles. Of course, there was no English Ministry in those early years. Everyone spoke Korean, or were expected to speak Korean, unless you happened to be a white visitor.

As I grew older, my desire to assimilate into the American culture grew as well as my frustration with the Korean culture and the Korean church. Church became a BIG problem to me: Boring-Irrevelant-Gloomy. Well, at least this was my perception. Actually there were many positive things I learned as I sat, often sleeping, through the Korean Services that the teenagers were required to be in. One thing was the singing of hymns. I can recall the robust signing of the congregation. This was an expression of true faith and hope in Christ. You could hear it in their voices and see it on their faces. This is one of the reasons why I love hymns today – I learned it sitting through many Korean services. Also, the prayers. Yes, some of them were really long thus it allowed me take a good nap without anyone noticing; however, the prayer life of the Korean church is one of the great strengths. Since I learned to pray in Korean, even when I grew older and spoke better English, it took me a long time to feel comfortable praying in English. Somehow, at the time, praying in Korean seemed more holy to me. Of course this is a wrong view, but it has something to do with the honorific speech in Korean. It seemed more reverent. When I started to pray in English, it seemed too casual and disrespectful. Of course this was a wrong view as well. It wasn't until I started to develop a real faith that I was able to speak what was in my heart in English and not just token words of respect to God.

My father, who pastored the First Korean Church of NJ for 31 years, saw the ups and downs of immigrant life. The church went through a few difficult splits. Of course I had little or no understanding of the cause of these splits or the hurt that they inflicted on my father. I just blamed and used it as an excuse to justify my growing worldliness and ungodly behavior in my teen years.

(I'm rambling a bit, so I'll stop here and get back to this later. Thanks for reading. Please comment, I would love to know who is reading this.)

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4 Responses to A Personal History of Korean American Ministry (part 1)

  1. Josh says:

    I am reading it. 🙂

  2. Josh says:

    It is interesting to read your story as I am just trying to learn more about the Christian history of Korea / Korean Americans

  3. Billy Park says:

    Josh, Thanks for reading and commenting. Sometimes I feel like I am writing only for myself. I hope this website is of some help to you and your ministry.

  4. djchuang says:

    Thank you for writing out a little bit of your rememberance of this history. This kind of a history needs to be recorded and distributed, so all of us have a compelling sense that we are in this thing together, and that we have much more in common than the minor regional or minor ethnic differences amongst us as Asian Americans and as followers of Christ.

    If you (and maybe some others?) had more time and energy to write all of this out into a 100 pages or so, we could easily get this published as a book using a print-on-demand service (I’ve just gone through the process, so I know how that part of it all works.)

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