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Korean Pastors Conference Held in San Diego

May 25, 2022
Photo: Lindsay Wieland Capel

In mid-May approximately 160 people gathered in San Diego, Calif., to talk about Korean ministry in the Christian Reformed Church in North America and how it can best be supported as we move into the future.

This first-of-its-kind pastors conference in the CRC was planned by Korean ministry leaders in cooperation with Resonate Global Mission and was supported by the denominational offices of the CRCNA.

“As I listened to Korean pastors, one thing they desired at this time after the long pandemic season was to meet and fellowship with other colleagues in ministry,” explained Moses Chung, director of Mission Innovation for Resonate Global Mission. “Resonate collaborated with the CRC Korean churches' leadership and the denominational offices to convene a gathering to do just that. The conference's primary purpose was to provide a safe and relational space, a real retreat for Korean immigrant church pastors and spouses where they can find rest for their body and soul in Christ and be refreshed to face highly challenging ministry situations.”

Since most of the participants at the four-day event were Korean CRC pastors and their spouses, the event was held primarily in the Korean language, and English translation was available for the 20 or so English-speaking denominational staff who also attended.

“The denominational representatives were invited into the space of the Korean churches,” explained Joyce Suh, global area director for Resonate Global Mission. “While ethnic minorities often have to sit in on agendas, systems, structures, and cultures of the dominant CRC group, that situation was flipped. This event provided a welcoming and hospitable space in which we were neither patronized by overaccommodation nor made to feel uncomfortable by lack of accommodation.”

The agenda for the event included singing, dwelling in Scripture, celebrating retiring Korean CRC pastors, and taking time for fellowship as Korean ministry leaders.

“I was very grateful and glad for the hospitality I felt,” said Rev. Kwang Bae Lee, pastor of The Story Church in Flushing, N.Y. “I used to struggle in my ministry, and I felt alone in my region, which is far from that of other Korean CRC pastors. Through this event, I have met good friends, and I can share my prayer requests and discuss my concerns with them anytime. I believe this will be a great strength for me in the future.”

Hyun Ju Kim is married to Pastor Eun Beom Kim of Love Global Vision church in Clifton, N.J. She was one of 50 pastor spouses who attended the event.

“I used to have some anger about being a pastor’s wife,” she said. “Sharing stories with other pastors' wives and listening to their ministries has been good for me. We understand each other, even by just looking in one another’s eyes. I am glad that we could have this loving time together.”

One of the highlights for participants was hearing from Taehoo Lee, CRC pastor at North Philly Community Church (Philadelphia, Pa.). He shared some of the challenges and joys of being a good neighbor to low-income families and other vulnerable populations in northern Philadelphia.

Another highlight was speaker Christiana Rice, who lives in San Diego and is a leader in the Parish Church Movement. She shared about her ministry and took participants on a tour of ministry sites in San Diego.

“I felt that words from Christiana Rice’s talk were relevant,” said Suh. “She talked about the need to ‘release the agenda’ and used a midwife metaphor to explain it. God is birthing something through his Spirit in a place. We see it, and one of the things we need to do as midwives is ‘release the agenda.’”

In the CRCNA, Suh said, the agenda is so often dominated by white, Dutch, Anglo culture and values. At the Korean Pastors Conference, denominational representatives experienced something different.

“I think there was a release of the agenda in order for an authentic relationship to be entered,” she explained. “We experienced a taste of what could be a broader denominational experience. What might God birth in the CRC if the majority group were to genuinely and in faith release the agenda?”

The event also included presentations from CRCNA ministry leaders and opportunities for participants to learn from each other. Representatives from 14 CRC ministries were present, and each spoke briefly about the resources and support they provide to local congregations.

Jaeseong Moon, a pastor at Global Mission Church in Los Angeles, Calif., said that he and his wife were surprised by the denominational support available to them.

“I am so proud of my CRCNA denomination and their faithful dedication toward pastors as well as churches,” he said.

That feeling went both ways.

“This event has renewed my appreciation for differences and how beautiful they can be,” said Lis Van Harten, director of Congregational Ministries. “As comfortable as many of us are with the way that we do things, we need to recognize that others do things differently. It is important to be open to learning from others and doing things in another way.”

“We have always been aware that when we create resources or we are consulting with churches, it is not just the white/anglo churches that exist, but there are also Korean and other ethnic-background churches,” added Zach Olson of Pastor Church Resources. “But I think being with the pastors this week has really helped me see that it is not just something good that we can do to translate material; it is something that is necessary.”

Ken Kim, director of World Renew-Canada, said he really enjoyed meeting the pastors and spouses in attendance at the conference.

“I have been impressed by their spirit of unity, their energy level, and their commitment to the ministries within the Christian Reformed Church,” he said. Kim added that getting these ministry leaders together with staff from CRCNA ministries was mutually beneficial, allowing both groups to learn from each other and be enriched.

The Korean Pastors Conference concluded with a mini-concert and a time of prayer and communion together.

“The communion led by Munchul Kim may have been the most beautiful communion experience I’ve ever had,” said Suh. “His words were so powerful. It seemed to me that the Holy Spirit shows up when we worship with one heart and mind together. It actually crossed my mind that the conference could be the spark for revival in the CRC. I’m curious to see where God might be taking us.”

Colin Watson, executive director of the CRCNA, said that he hopes this will not be the only such event of its kind.

“The Christian Reformed Church is such a diverse denomination, and I hope we will continue to embrace that diversity by fostering gatherings such as this one. Not only was it beneficial for Korean pastors to meet each other and feel supported by one another, but the entire denomination has benefited from hearing about their experiences and learning how we can move forward in ministry together. A lot of the struggles and challenges that Korean churches are facing are similar to what the broader CRC has been facing. By listening to each other, we are better equipped to face these challenges together.”

“I think the conference went way beyond everyone's expectations,” added Chung. “I attribute the overwhelming success to the devoted prayers of many people and the powerful working and presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst during the whole time we were together. Just a few days after the event, I am already hearing stories of renewal and encouragement from many participants."