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  • Korean-language worship a dual blessing

  • A moment of saying “yes” turned into a newfound blessing for First United Methodist Church in Pittsburg, when it began a Korean-language worship service.

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  • A moment of saying “yes” turned into a newfound blessing for First United Methodist Church in Pittsburg, when it began a Korean-language worship service.
    Sang-Heui Lee, an assistant professor at Pittsburg State University, started working in Pittsburg in 2010, and quickly realized that the area offered no options for the many students and area professionals from South Korea to worship in their first language.
    He said a group of Korean students met together for study and prayer on Friday evenings, but no pastor was available to lead them.
    In lieu of a Korean-language worship service, Lee and his family began attending worship services at First UMC.
    He said he approached Pastor Jim Akins with a request after attending for a few weeks.
    “We have so many Korean students, and we started a service at my house,” Lee said. He then asked Akins whether the worship service could move to First UMC.
    “He didn’t even hesitate for a second. ‘OK, let’s do it,’” Lee said of Akins.
    A Korean pastor from Springfield began to lead worship for the Pittsburg congregation, and the two congregations held celebratory services jointly by the end of that year, with the Christmas Eve worship taking place in both languages.
    However, commuting and telecommuting quickly became difficult on all involved and First UMC began searching for a Korean student pastor through Saint Paul School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
    Lee said two candidates applied, and Pastor Joohyang Kim was selected. He began working through First UMC in 2011.
    “We were really fortunate to find someone who is young enough to relate to the students, has a passion for ministry and is highly educated,” Akins said.
    “That’s why God sent me here - to find a good pastor for the students,” Lee said.
    Kim graduated from Hyupsung University in South Korea and came to the United States to study at SPST.
    Kim said he is very passionate about introducing people to Jesus and Christianity, as well as encouraging spiritual practices to help them grow in their faith.
    “My greatest joy is when I teach, and when I lead the college group,” Kim said. “Most of them were not Christians in South Korea.”
    “Many of them follow the way of Jesus Christ now,” he said. “I saw many students’ conversions in this ministry.”
    Lee said he finds joy in seeing new students learn about Christianity in this congregation.
    Every year new students are coming. This is their first chance to see God and see church,” Lee said. “We have seen many good fruits. Some students even give the gospel to their families.”
    The study and worship is accompanied by the practice of prayer.
    Page 2 of 3 - “For Koreans, prayer is very important to their spiritual growing,” Kim said. He said the congregation practices prayer with the members’ voices all blending together, rather than silently. Prayer practices in the Korean culture also tend to be accompanied by music, whether it be from a guitar, piano or other source.
    “It’s longing for God’s help and shouting for God’s help,” Lee said of the format, which includes the group praying together in loud voices.
    The congregation also collects an offering that goes directly to its ministries, including offering scholarships for Korean students studying at Pitt State.
    Lee said he still is most amazed by Akins’ immediate reaction to work with the ministry, which continues to grow.
    “It’s been an absolute joy to see this develop,” Akins said.
    Akins noted that it has been a relationship that has brought new energy to the Sunday morning congregation as well.
    “I think the spirit of First Church began to change when the Korean service started here,” Akins said.
    He said last summer the Kansas East Conference of the United Methodist Church officially recognized the Korean congregation as an embedded, mission church start within First UMC.
    “On one hand, they’re part of us, but on the other hand, we haven’t absorbed them,” Akins said. “From the perspective of the senior pastor who is here, one of the things that impressed me most is the willingness of the people of First Church to welcome this new thing and be supportive.”
    “In a variety of ways, we’ve been able to work together in worship and in fellowship,” Akins added.
    The ministry continues to grow, and Kim now conducts a Sunday afternoon worship service, which he said averages about 30 in attendance, a 6 p.m. Friday evening meal and worship for college students at the United Methodist Campus Ministry building just north of campus and a 9 p.m. prayer meeting at the First UMC chapel.
    He also is looking at expanding his ministry to the Pitt State campus and to Joplin.
    “We hope for more outreach to the Joplin area,” Kim said, adding that two families from Joplin and a Missouri Southern State University student both attend.
    “If they have some more Korean students, I’m going to go there Thursdays and lead Bible study at the MSSU campus.”
    He said he also is looking at beginning a small group meeting during lunches on Thursdays at the PSU coffee shop.
    Akins also has additional dreams for where this can lead for both congregations.
    “I’d like to see this community of faith enter into some kind of sister church relationship with a congregation in Korea,” he said. “I could see this as a stepping stone for being involved more internationally.”
    Page 3 of 3 - “I would love to see it as a place where people from a variety of languages and nationalities could come together and share the faith and resources,” Akins continued. “That’s what it is all about - bringing everyone together.”

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