By: Christa Meland
Every Friday night, a dedicated group of Korean students from the University of Minnesota boards a van and heads to Korean Evangelical United Methodist Church in Hopkins.
There, they meet up with other Korean young adults, enjoy Korean food and fellowship, worship in their native language, and grow in their spirituality through a small group Bible study. For many of the 25 to 30 members of the church’s young adult group, it’s a highlight of their week.
“For me, it’s like a family,” says Jeong Min Ym. “My parents and siblings are in Korea, but I never felt like this is not my home. This is the center of my life.”
Ym is the oldest and most senior member of the young adult group, having joined it—and the church—in 2002, when she was an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota. She’s now 31 and works as a pharmacist at a St. Paul CVS.
Ym, like many of the young adult members of Korean Evangelical UMC, began attending the church mostly because it offered an opportunity to connect with people who understood her culture and the feelings of isolation that can accompany the transition to a new country.
She has stayed for the past 11 years because the church has nurtured her and supported her in developing a relationship with Christ—a relationship that’s now the guiding force in her life.
“I didn’t know Jesus Christ when I was in Korea,” she says. “You can’t go back.”
Korean Evangelical UMC is one of 24 new faith communities within the Minnesota Conference. Unlike some that target specific geographic audiences (like residents of a certain city or region) and others that target specific lifestyle-based audiences (like people recovering from an addiction), it’s one that’s geared toward a specific demographic audience: Koreans. The Minnesota Conference is now in the midst of a feasibility study to assess its readiness for a conference-wide capital campaign that would enable it to seed additional new faith communities across the state—ones that help more people like Ym to find and experience Christ.
New faith communities are defined as those that are less than seven years old. Korean Evangelical UMC began in Hopkins after moving from Brooklyn Center in 2009, and about 100 now worship there each week—including 15 to 20 at an English-language Sunday service that takes place simultaneously with one offered in Korean.
The young adult group is just one of the ministries that’s making a difference. Every Sunday, after worship and a mid-day meal, the church offers a Korean language class. This has been of particular interest to Korean children and their American adoptive parents because it’s a way for both parties to stay connected with the children’s native culture.
Additionally, the church has a “Good News Children’s Academy” for two hours every Thursday morning. For $1, which goes to help children in Africa, parents can drop their kids off at the church while running errands. The children enjoy fellowship while taking part in an educational program that teaches them about the Korean language, traditions, and music.
The programs have attracted many non-church members from the community, and Pastor Jae Woo Park says they have provided an opportunity for the church to reach new people and introduce them to its beliefs and offerings.
Park recalls one non-Christian mother of three, who called him to ask if the church had a Korean language class that her kids could attend. He told her it did and invited the family to come to both lunch and the class on the following Sunday. She liked it so much that she brought her kids to the Good News Children’s Academy four days later. The mother also promised to return to the church the following Sunday.
“It is joy and pleasure to find the lost ship in the Bible,” Park says.
For the Korean members of the congregation, being able to worship in their native language is a blessing. “I don’t have to interpret,” says Ym, adding that American pastors often use metaphors that are so specific to U.S. culture that they’re hard to understand.
Many of the young adult members learned about Korean Evangelical UMC from Ym, who says she and her friends evangelize on the U of M campus. One of the people who Ym introduced to the church is Heelim Lee, a U of M senior studying materials science and engineering.
Lee started attending the young adult gatherings when she was a freshman because they gave her a chance to connect with other Korean students. But the Bible studies and the thought-provoking conversations that accompanied them turned her into a believer, she says. She’s now the president of the young adult group.
By introducing other young adults to her faith and her church, Ym hopes to do for others what Korean Evangelical UMC did for her. “We really don’t know how we can be used in God’s kingdom,” she says. Even before she moved to Minnesota in 2002 and began attending worship services, she experienced the congregation’s radical hospitality.
After moving to the United States from Korea, she spent a year with a host family in Boston but wanted to make connections with other Korean immigrants before moving to the Twin Cities. When she e-mailed the church, not only did members invite her to join them for worship, but they offered to pick her up at the airport and help her find housing.
She says deep down and whether or not they are consciously aware of it, many young adults are searching for something bigger than themselves—especially as they navigate a complicated time when jobs, social groups, and other aspects of their lives are changing. Without God, “whenever there’s a bunch of difficulties, a hard situation, you’re so shaken. You don’t have anything to hold onto.”
The way of Christ, she says is “about truth, it’s about love, it’s about life.” It’s what she’s found at Korean Evangelical UMC.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church