CLEVELAND — Truett-McConnell students, administration, and faculty filled the University gymnasium to capacity Jan. 17 for the first chapel of the spring semester to hear one of the world’s most heralded evangelists, Billy Kim.
Kim, of South Korea, is recognized worldwide for his preaching and visionary leadership. He was Billy Graham’s interpreter when Graham preached to more than one million people in a single service at the 1973 Korean Crusade. He became the pastor of a small church in Suwon, Korea and grew the church to a membership of more than 15,000.
Kim was elected to serve a five-year term as president of the Baptist World Alliance (2000-2005). He started the Far East Broadcasting Company in South Korea in 1972, where he has also served as president and in 1992 received the highest civilian award for radio broadcasting and media ministries from the nation’s president. The citation recognized his efforts for improving South Korea’s relationship with China and Russia.
The Korean evangelist was a teenager when the Korean conflict erupted in 1950. The war so disrupted the lives of the Korean people that schools were closed. However, Kim connected with some American GIs. A Virginian soldier named Carl Powers took a special interest in Billy and started teaching him English. Ultimately, it influenced Kim to come to the United States to pursue his education.
Educated in America
In the providence of God, Kim came to America and enrolled in the high school attached to Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC. During his years at Bob Jones he not only got an education, but he made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and was called to preach the Gospel. He also met the young woman, Trudy, who became his wife.
Kim recalled his conversion experience to the students at TMU, stating, “The greatest verse in the Bible is John 3:16. It was from that verse that I knelt down and trusted Christ. I was homesick (being so far away from my home and family), but after trusting Christ that homesickness left me.
“I was not doing well in school in the beginning, but after I was saved I made the dean’s list.”
In Kim’s lifetime he has seen Korea’s Christian population grow in a remarkable way – from less that one percent of the population being Christian to more than 30 percent identifying with a Christian church.
A warning to America
However, in addressing his audience at Truett-McConnell, Kim expressed concern over the spiritual decline in the western world. He quoted former British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, who stated, “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.” He intimated that the same thing could very well happen in America.
“God has blessed America more than any nation on earth,” Kim declared, “but there is a violent crime committed every 22 seconds in this country. There are 100 times more burglaries in Christian American than in pagan Japan. America must wake up before it is too late. The Bible says, ‘Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.’”
The importance of prevailing prayer
Kim talked about the importance of prayer in the life of an individual and the life of a nation. He proclaimed, “Prayer is the key to a successful life. II Chronicles 7:14 tells us that prayer, repentance, humility, and seeking God’s face will result in God blessing an entire nation. Prevailing prayer brings perpetual power.”
Drawing an illustration from the Korean War, Kim told about the fighting at Heartbreak Ridge. The battle of Heartbreak Ridge was a month-long engagement just north of the 38th parallel where many soldiers died. An American journalist called the mountain range “Heartbreak Ridge” because so many U.S. troops were killed or wounded there and the casualties caused much heartbreak among the American soldiers and their families back home.
Kim explained, “One soldier was wounded about 50 yards from a foxhole or trench where some of the soldiers had found a measure of safety during one particular battle. It was not safe for anyone to go and get the wounded soldier, but one soldier kept looking at his watch and finally at 9:00 he crawled the 50 yards to the wounded soldier and brought him back to safety.
“When he had successfully rescued the wounded soldier someone asked him, ‘Why did you wait until 9:00 to attempt the rescue?’
“The brave soldier replied, ‘My mother promised to pray for me at that hour every day. I knew I would be safe if I waited until 9:00 to rescue him.”
Singing while the church burns
Kim closed his message by telling about the 35 years Korea was under the rule of Japan. In the first decade of the 20th century Japan invaded, conquered, and occupied Korea. The oppression was ruthless and merciless. The Japanese singled out the Christian church for concentrated oppression. They boarded up evangelical churches and ejected most foreign missionaries. Kim said, “We lost our identity. We lost our flag. We lost our freedom.”
Churches were not allowed to meet and heralds of God’s Word were jailed. However, one pastor convinced, through persistent persuasion, a government official to unlock his church for one worship service.
Korean Christians starving for an opportunity for unhindered worship made their plans and gathered to the church, but it didn’t take long for the word to travel to those who vehemently opposed their intention to worship.
Once the church building was filled with Korean Christians the Japanese locked the doors from the outside. Undeterred by the activities of the Japanese on the outside, inside the Koreans were singing because as Kim emphasized, “Korean Christians love to sing.”
While they sang the Japanese poured kerosene on the building and set it on fire. One report explained, “Song after song rang through the open windows into the bright Sunday morning. For a handful of peasants listening nearby, the last two songs the congregation sang seemed suspended in time.
“It was during a stanza of Nearer My God to Thee that the Japanese police chief waiting outside gave the orders. The people toward the back of the church could hear them when they barricaded the doors, but no one realized that they had doused the church with kerosene until they smelled the smoke.
“The dried wooden skin of the church quickly ignited. Fumes filled the structure as tongues of flame began to lick the baseboard on the interior walls. There was an immediate rush for the windows. But momentary hope recoiled in horror as the men climbing out the windows came crashing back in – their bodied ripped by a hail of bullets.
“The good pastor knew it was the end. With a calm that comes from confidence, he led his congregation in a hymn whose words served as a fitting farewell to earth and a loving salutation to heaven. The first few words were all the prompting the terrified worshipers needed. With smoke burning their eyes, they instantly joined as one to sing their hope and leave their legacy.
“Their song became a serenade to the horrified and helpless witnesses outside. Their words also tugged at the hearts of the cruel men who oversaw this flaming execution of the innocent.”
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
and did my Sovereign die
Would he devote that sacred head
for such a worm as I?’
“Just before the roof collapsed they sang the last verse, their words an eternal testimony to their faith.”
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
the debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give myself away
‘Tis all that I can do!
At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away —
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day.
“The strains of music and wails of children were lost in a roar of flames. The elements that once formed bone and flesh mixed with the smoke and dissipated into the air. The bodies that once housed life fused with the charred rubble of a building that once housed a church. But the souls who left singing finished their chorus in the throne room of God.”
Kim stated, “That tragedy created great tension between the Christians of Korean and Japan for many years. It wasn’t until 1972 that any hope came. A group of Japanese Christian pastors traveling through Korea came upon the site of the church that had been burned and when they heard the details of the tragedy they went back to Japan and raised ten million yen, resulting in the construction of a beautiful white church building on the site of the tragedy.”
Kim’s message was one of grace and forgiveness and constituted a challenge for the students to trust Christ and be available to serve him “wherever He leads.”
TMU reaching out to the Korean population
Truett-McConnell President Emir Caner has indicated that he wants to reach out to the Korean population north of Atlanta by providing special educational opportunities for them. The area in Gwinnett County around Pleasant Hill Road, Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road, and Duluth Highway has become known as “K-Town” or “Seoul of the South” because of the abundance of Korean businesses and churches located along those corridors.
Many of those young Korean students would profit greatly from the spirit that prevails at TMU and the quality of education they would received from the courses and professors provided. Billy Kim’s presence at Truett-McConnell was a confirmation of that reality.