Korean may seem unlikely to hear often in Tiffin, a small town about 10 minutes west of Iowa City. Visit the farming community on a Sunday afternoon, though, and Korean hymns, a sermon and social chatter fill Grace United Methodist Church, which lends space to the area’s newest Korean congregation — In Christ Community Church.
In Christ Community Church is one of three Korean congregations in the immediate area. There’s also two Iowa City — All-Nations Baptist Church on Mormon Trek Boulevard and Iowa City Korean United Methodist Church on Rohret Road.
These three congregations serve the area’s Korean residents, many of which are students and visiting scholars and their families. All three also have outreach into the non-Korean community, either locally or through overseas missions.
Jae-On Kim, an emeritus professor of sociology at University of Iowa and member of the Iowa City Korean United Methodist Church, said Korean churches fill a spiritual need for the Korean-speaking community. Kim, who came to University of Iowa in 1971, said he had visited mainstream American churches, but that the hymns, sermons and prayers failed to provide the spiritual communion that worship in Korean made possible.
“Being able to worship in your mother tongue is essential,” Kim said. “When you spend most of your time with English speaking people and you don’t have proper English, it’s very stressful.”
Besides spiritual nourishment, Kim said the churches provide social support such as by helping recently-arrived Korean students and families buy a car, open a bank account or enroll their children in school. A meal on Sundays after services at the Iowa City Korean United Methodist Church, which has about 50 active members, literally feeds a desire for Korean food and provides a chance for students to unwind. All-Nations Baptist Church, the largest of the three Korean churches, also provides a meal on Sundays.
Pastor Hyung Wook Lee, who began In Christ Community Church in August 2014 after performing college ministry for nine years at All Nations Baptist Church, said all three churches collectively form the body of Christ, and that, like the limbs of a human body, each local Korean congregation serves a different function.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
He and his around 50 congregants currently focus on mission work in Cambodia and Bangladesh. Lee said they have helped build a school in Ratannakiri, a village in northeastern Cambodia, and would like to add a hospital. A team of church members is raising funds to visit Cambodia for a week in June to offer support to the Korean missionary in Ratannakiri. Lee said he would also go to Bangladesh in November or December to find another missionary whom his congregation can support.
In Christ Community Church member Hojin Song said some may question the decision to pursue overseas missions when there are Koreans nearby who could benefit from church outreach.
Song, who is in her sixth year of a doctoral program at University of Iowa, said ministering to Koreans is part of a church’s mission, but that overseas missions presented a genuine need as well.
“If we don’t do it, who is going to?” she said. “If we have the resources and manpower and the exact vision that God is giving us to lead us through overseas missions, then why not?”