Questions for Reflection:
- How do you think Rev. Kim’s early life experiences shaped his approach to ministry?
- Looking back on your own life, how do you think your earlier life experiences have shaped your outlook, choices and course that your life has taken?
- How do you think Rev. Kim’s life and ministry experiences have shaped the flow of our church?
Growing Up in Korea
I was born in Seoul, Korea. My grandmother was a devout Christian, but my parents – my mother came from a Christian background, but my father was a little bit against Christianity. At that time, Christianity was a Western influence. He was not very happy with the way the Western world influenced Korea. So he didn’t go to church, but before he passed away, he accepted Christ.
From grade 11, I studied hard. During that time, my grandmother passed away and it was the church who did the funeral. At that time I told myself I’m going to go to church from now on. Also I was very proud that I was going to church with the Bible, but up until then I was a troubled kid. It was only then when my grandmother passed away, it kind of awakened me. I started going to church and finally I went into university. I loved going to church, but I also liked rock climbing. Every Sunday, instead of going to church, sometimes I would go to the mountains and rock climb. I was living like that. During that time I remembered, I have to choose a religion. I thought religion was something that you have to choose. So I looked into Buddhism and other religions. And then I learned about Christianity, and thought for me it was the best. I chose Christianity, but without really knowing what faith was, how to know God. I didn’t know anything. I just chose a religion that was good for me.
When my father passed away it was very difficult for the whole family. When my father passed away, there was no financial means, so we decided to immigrate. That’s how we came to Canada.
Faith was just religion to me. It’s kind of a life philosophy rather than really encountering or having a relationship with God. It was just something that I pursued.
Early Years in Canada
In 1977, I came. I remember the time that I arrived at Pearson airport it snowed, quite a bit. I’d never seen that kind of snow back in Korea. The snow was beautiful, but here the snow was so scary. We were going through culture shock, and we didn’t know what to do. We couldn’t speak English. That’s how life began in Canada.
High school was so boring. I was going to stay a little longer to learn English, but it was so boring. I couldn’t stand it. I said, “No, I’m going to go to university. I can’t stay here anymore.” So, I applied to U o f T one and a half years after I came to Canada. I was taking math, biology, chemistry, and physics. I mean, science was the only option that I had because my English wasn’t good enough. The problem with biology is that they had a lot of labs, but they gave instructions in the lecture room, and I didn’t understand what they were saying. So I didn’t know where to go, which room or which building. They always gave us instructions, but I didn’t know what to do.
Then second year rolled around. I was studying statistics, it was easy since it was just math again. One day I sat in a classroom. I said to myself “What am I doing here? Am I going to be punching in data all my life?” At that time, everything was so meaningless. I couldn’t stand thinking about the future doing this kind of stuff.
Then I went to the university’s Christian fellowship the second half of my first year. As soon as I got there, I realized that that group was struggling quite a bit. They said, “From today, you’re the President.” So I was going to church every week and I was very devout. There was not a single Sunday that I missed. So I was very devout. Church, library, home – those three were my routine.
The Decision to Go Into Ministry
I kind of saw God working, and I prayed a lot at that time. That’s the first time I saw the hands of God moving through the history of Koreans. I also started to entertain the idea of being a minister. As I thought about it more I said to myself, “No way. You? You can’t be a minister! You aren’t fit to be a minister.” So I shooed the idea away and said “There’s no way I can.” I put that idea aside, but that idea kept nudging at me.
At that time I decided it was too scary of a decision because nobody around me was going into ministry. Nobody in my family was ever in ministry, and I didn’t know what it meant to go into ministry. I told my mother, my mother was a very, very nice woman. She never goes against whatever I say. When I told her about it she asked me, “Are you sure?” I said “Yeah, I think this is what I want”. She gave me her blessing.
I wanted to make sure that my calling was genuine and not just a spur of the moment kind of emotional decision. I waited two years to test my calling.
What changed your perspective on faith?
That’s a very important question. In Korea, I had lots of friends. Whenever I had a problem, I had so many friends. I would go to my friends, and we talked out our issues. So all my problems were solved with friends. That all changed when I came to Canada, I had no friends. I was all by myself. During that time where I was so lonely, I could have alone time with God. Where I could spend real quality time with God. Since I didn’t have friends, I would turn to God when I had problems. That really helped me build my faith and have a real intimate relationship with God. So it was a gradual kind of awakening for me and Christianity.
Starting a Life of Ministry
Knox college, I went into at that time when I first began ministry, that was when I was not very interested in studying theology. I was much more interested in ministry, so I was a 전도사 (pastor) and even when I was in university, I worked like a 전도사 (pastor). I went to Messiah Church. There were about a hundred high school students. We had no pastor. I was the person who was in charge of a hundred kids as a university student.
So I took care of them. I taught them and I really thoroughly enjoyed it, but once I went to Knox college, second year, I had to be certified under the Presbytarian Church in Canada. The Messiah Church that I was part of, it was an independent denomination. So I had to move to Toronto Korean Presbyterian Church for the first time as a professional being paid for my work, not much to begin with, I got around 300 bucks a month. You know, at least I was hired to work.
So I worked, and I was so busy. Every weekend I was invited to different churches to speak. At that time, my only goal was to convert them to Christianity. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? Do you confess your sins?” Every retreat at the end of it, I always called out people to receive Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour.
It was like that too when I first received Christ. It was just at the retreat. It wasn’t an emotional moment. I was in the church service, and then my minister was sick at that time. So his sermon was not really passionate. It was very lowkey. At that time, when I sat in the worship, I saw the cross and all of a sudden I realized that Christ did not just die for all, Christ died for YOU. That message came very strongly. I don’t know how, and I started crying. And from then on, whenever I heard the word Jesus, I cried. Whenever I saw the cross, I cried. I was in the choir at that time, when the university students were singing in choir, I cried. I cried all the time. The ahjummas would ask, “What kind of sin did you commit that every Sunday you cry?” It’s not that I committed any serious sin, but I just think hearing about Jesus, it really just meant something more than just Christ and faith to me.
Even at Knox college too, when I did internship, at that moment, I was struggling with very private ties to faith, very individualistic faith, very emotional faith. I was kind of questioning whether that was authentic. I started to think about faith that serves others? How about social justice? All these questions came. So during that internship, there was another turning point for me, it was a kind of maturing faith stage. Until then it was very emotional, passionate. From that point on, it was more reflective and I was very interested in hermeneutical study, hermeneutics, meaning interpretation, interpreting the scripture and interpreting life and how scripture and life can be connected. I was very interested in that process.
After my internship, I did my final year at Knox college. I took most courses from TST. TST is Toronto School of Theology. There are about seven seminaries, not only Presbyterian, but the United Church, Catholic and it reaches all the way to the Anglican. So I took different courses and studied different denominations. My last year at TST Knox college was like heaven. I thoroughly immersed myself into that.
After that I wanted to, instead of going back to ministry at church, I wanted to do full-time studying, but my church did not let me. They said “We have waited for you to finish your school, and now you have to get involved in the ministry full-time!” So that’s why I went back to ministry at Toronto Korean Presbyterian Church. I was already in their first ordination and the ministry for five years. I fully enjoyed it all. I realized that theology is not done in the classroom. Theology is done in life. It’s done through the church in a real life situation. That’s what I learned through my early years of ministry.
How was your experience at TKPC?
TKPC was a challenge. When I was at Messiah, they were all Christians there and received Christ with no problem, very nice people. I mean, when I told them to go to sleep at retreats, they went to sleep, and the next morning they all got up to learn about Christ. So there was really no issue whatsoever. When I came to TKPC, they never received Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. They went to church, but they were doing parties and all kinds of- oh my goodness.. You know? I went to a retreat for TKPC and then I told them to sleep and they looked at me like I was crazy. They stayed up all night. I asked myself, and I asked God, “Why did you send me here? I don’t like these people. I don’t want to be here.” It was so easy at Messiah. But, as time went on I had such a good time with those kids. They’re still with me, all of them. They really went through the journey with me, that is what’s so special, they went through all my changes with me and they have come a long way through it all. It’s the people I do ministry for, I love people. I really enjoy people.
When I was at TKPC, there was really no such thing as a secondary generation ministry, English ministry. Our church was one of the first ones. Even in the United States, there were not many secondary generation ministry churches because at that time Canada stopped immigration. So no immigrants came in. They had to really focus on second-generation ministry because no new immigrants came in. But in the United States, about 30,000 people every year came and they went to major cities like LA, Chicago, and New York. They didn’t have room for building a secondary ministry, or an English speaking ministry. They were very focused on first-generation immigrant churches, but TKPC at the time already had a strong secondary ministry. I was invited by Princeton theological seminary to present my ministry because there was none in Canada. There was not really a strong second generation ministry. TKPC was one of the first churches with second generation ministries.
What made you choose a life of ministry?
First of all, my passion for ministry, maybe I didn’t even know that I had passion for ministry. So that’s the one thing. And second thing is their interest in second generation ministry. And then the third thing is that theology always has to happen within the church context. St. Paul’s theology – It was not done in seminary, it was done in his actual ministry for the church. That’s probably why I chose to take this route.
Table of Contents
- Community of the Word: 25 Years of St. Timothy Presbyterian Church
- Life and Ministry of Rev. In Kee Kim
- Early Years and Ministry
- Formation and Early Years of Living Stone (1992-1996)
- Amalgamation and North York Living Stone (1996-2000)
- Becoming St. Timothy (2001)
- Growing Roots and Growth (2001-2010)
- Maturation into Spiritual Community (2010-2020)
- Pandemic and What Comes Next (2020-Beyond)
- Hermeneutics and Approach to Scripture
- How the Community Shaped Them: Stories from Members
- Reflections from Rev. Jane Yoon
- The Message of St. Timothy
- Life and Ministry of Rev. In Kee Kim