Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2015 9:33 am | Updated: 9:35 am, Thu Feb 19, 2015.
By Dale Gentry – Publisher Standard Banner serving Jefferson County Tennesse
If you don’t believe one person can make a difference in this world, listen to the story of Dr. Billy Kim.
The former houseboy to American soldiers during the Korean War pastored what was probably the first megachurch in the world, founded the Far East Broadcasting Company, and served as interpreter for Billy Graham during a Korean Crusade that resulted in 38,000 decisions. His life and Christian ministry have impacted thousands of lives since the late 1950’s, and continue to do so today.
All because of Sgt. Carl Powers, who befriended him during the war, brought him to America and paid for nine years of education so he could return to his own country.
Dr. Kim brought the Gwangju Children’s Choir to Jefferson County over the weekend, where it performed at First Baptist Church in Dandridge on Sunday morning, and Emmanuel Baptist Church in Jefferson City Sunday night.
Dr. Kim followed the choir with the story of his friendship with Carl Powers, who grew up near Bristol, Virginia, and enlisted in the Army after high school. He was serving with U.S. occupation forces in Tokyo under the command of General Douglas McArthur when the Korean War broke out.
In the early days of the war, Billy Kim’s school was destroyed by North Korean Communist bombs, leading him to seek a job as a house boy for American troops. It was 1950, and he went to work for 16 soldiers, keeping their tent clean, doing their laundry, washing their mess kits and occasionally cooking. One of those soldiers was Sgt. Powers, who Dr. Kim said was different from the others because he didn’t smoke or drink.
The two became friends, and Powers asked the house boy if he wanted to go to America. “The dream of every Korean teenager was to see America,” Dr. Kim said, adding that his impression of the U.S. was based on what he saw in a Sears Roebuck catalog.
One day Powers produced an application to Bob Jones University and asked Kim to sign it. The soldier filled out the rest, and sent it off. Three months later, word came that Kim had been accepted to the school in Greenville, South Carolina.
With the possibility now becoming reality, Sgt. Powers took Kim to see his mother, to get her permission. Through an interpreter, he asked her if he could take her son to America, give him an education, and send him back. She expressed concern that she might die, and never see him again, to which Powers replied, “Ma’am, I believe you will live 15 more years.”
“When he said that, my mom said, ‘Go ahead, take him,’” Dr. Kim said, with a laugh.
Paperwork was completed, and Powers paid his boat fare from Pusan, Korea to San Francisco, giving him $100 to get him across the country to Powers’ home in Virginia. Kim took $30 he had saved on his own. He arrived in 1951, just before Christmas.
A Lieutenant Heim met him and arranged for a place to stay for a few weeks, as communications went back and forth with the university. Finally word was received to send the 17-year-old Kim to the school. He flew to Cincinnati, was picked up by Powers’ brother, and driven to the sergeant’s home in Virginia. Meanwhile, Powers came home on a troop ship, and arrived in time to take him to school.
He had no school records, so school officials started him in the ninth grade. “Everything was in English, and I didn’t understand,” Dr. Kim said. “I got homesick, and I wished I had never left home.”
One afternoon, however, a college student came to his dorm, shared John 3:16 with him, and asked if he would like to receive Jesus Christ as his saviour. “I asked him one question: ‘If I take Jesus as my saviour, would he take my homesickness away?’” Kim said. To which the student replied, Jesus would not only take his homesickness away, he would give him peace, joy, happiness and purpose in life. He knelt down and prayed in Korean, asking Jesus into his heart.
During a school break some time later, he went to stay at Powers’ house, and shared with him that something wonderful had happened – he had accepted Christ. Powers said he had never taken that step, so he prayed with Kim to make Jesus his saviour.
As he progressed with his education, things went smoother for Kim. He wanted to study political science, but one day as he walked across campus, he said God impressed upon his heart that there were enough politicians in Korea. “They don’t need you, but I need you to take this gospel to your family.”
Kim changed his focus, finished high school and went to the university preparing for the ministry. After completing graduate school, he went back to Korea in 1959. He was able to witness to his three older brothers and sister, who all accepted Christ. Other nieces and nephews became Christians too, some even coming to Carson-Newman to do further study, he said.
“All this was possible in God’s economy,” he said, “… one American soldier went beyond the call of duty of his own country.”
In 1978, Dr. Kim’s oldest son Joseph graduated from Korean High School, and felt called to the ministry. He told his son he needed to go study in the U.S. But before bringing him to America, the family planned a trip to the Holy Land.
Powers, who had since gone to King College on the GI Bill, and received his masters degree at UT, was now teaching seventh grade. Kim wrote and invited him to join his family in Israel for the Christmas holiday. He wrote back, and said “if you’ll promise me you’ll baptize me in the Jordan River, I will come.” Kim agreed. The day before Christmas, Powers flew to Tel Aviv. The family rented a car and went to Jordan River for the baptismal service.
“When I finished, and he came up from the water, tears began to trickle down my cheek,” Dr. Kim said. “We cannot plan as a human being, but with God all things are possible,” he continued. “One man went beyond the call of duty, be friend to house boy. That house boy was able to translate for Billy Graham in 1973, when there were 1.1 million people – less than 5 percent who could understand English. At that meeting, Billy Graham said if you want to trust Jesus, stand up, and 38,000 decision cards came in at that one meeting.”
A megachurch began in Korea in 1973 under Dr. Kim’s leadership, following the Billy Graham Crusade.
Powers died in 2013, and Dr. Kim and his son Joseph came to Virginia to perform the service. At the grave site, a flag covered the casket. When soldiers completed folding it, they presented it to Dr. Kim, because Powers had no other close relatives. He took the flag back to Korea, and made a place of honor for it.
“I treasure that flag because it symbolizes two countries, two friends,” Dr. Kim said, adding that Sgt. Powers composed a poem about their experience together, writing, “We met in war, we parted in peace.”
At the conclusion of Sunday night’s program at Emmanuel, Pastor Sonny Strange expressed to Dr. Kim the blessing the children, and his message, had been to the congregation.
“What a joy to know what a difference anyone can make when you make that difference in the Lord,” he said. “May we all be inspired, just by the story but by the living of the Spirit within us, to do the same.”