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Pfc. Christopher Gifford, Company A, 307th Signal Battalion, chats with teens from the Seong ju jil First Church in Seongju.
Pfc. Christopher Gifford, Company A, 307th Signal Battalion, chats with teens from the Seong ju jil First Church in Seongju. (Courtesy of U.S. Army)
Pfc. Christopher Gifford, Company A, 307th Signal Battalion, chats with teens from the Seong ju jil First Church in Seongju.
Pfc. Christopher Gifford, Company A, 307th Signal Battalion, chats with teens from the Seong ju jil First Church in Seongju. (Courtesy of U.S. Army)
Kim Ki-sik, assistant pastor at the Seong ju jil First Church in Seongju, exhorts participants as they enjoy some friendly competition following the joint worship service.
Kim Ki-sik, assistant pastor at the Seong ju jil First Church in Seongju, exhorts participants as they enjoy some friendly competition following the joint worship service. (Courtesy of U.S. Army)

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — With his church only 12 miles from a big U.S. military base, Kim Ki-sik thought it would be good to have American soldiers attending services.

So Kim, 43, assistant pastor at the Seong-ju Jae-il Presbyterian Church, put in calls to the Army’s Camp Carroll in Waegwan, a big repair and supply base in lower South Korea.

But when the phone route got him nowhere, he showed up at the installation’s main gate and asked for a chaplain.

He soon was in contact with Cpl. Ok Yoo-seung, a chaplain’s assistant, and wound up with more than even he’d hoped: a bilingual Korean-American worship service earlier this month, attended by some 25 Americans — soldiers and Army civilians, some with their families, and two U.S. Army chaplains who conducted the service at Kim’s invitation.

The day began with an American-style barbecue including hot dogs, hamburgers and beans.

Then came a one-hour service in which Capt. Ralph Bieganek, the 23rd Chemical Battalion chaplain, preached.

His sermon, “Serving as a child of God,” was from a text in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 9, verses 33-41, which reads in part: “Sitting down, Jesus called the 12 and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’”

Maj. James Choi, the 307th Signal Battalion chaplain, led the service and also translated Bieganek’s preaching for the 150 or so South Koreans who attended.

Afterward, South Koreans joined Americans in games and other friendly competition.

“This was really cool,” said Pfc. Christopher Gifford of Company A, 307th Signal Battalion. “This church is really open. This is an absolutely great way to meet other people and learn the language.”

“I had a really good time,” said Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Morehouse, a platoon sergeant with 1st Platoon, 267th Chemical Company, 23rd Chemical Battalion. “This was a tremendous opportunity to meet people without the risk of the language barrier getting in the way.”

Kim’s perseverance brought about the day’s events, said Bieganek.

“If it wasn’t for his persistence,” said Bieganek, “this service never would have taken place. I’m amazed at how he managed to make contact with us, even though his English is about as good as my [Korean]. I’m glad we had this opportunity to worship together and have some fun. I’m looking forward to doing it again soon.”

Doing it again suits Kim just fine. “It was a good chance to understand and appreciate each other,” Kim said. “It was a great opportunity for the children to meet new friends and get to know each other so they can more easily understand one another when they grow up.”

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