Strangers No More
One Korean Family's Life In Israel
by Marty Shoub

It was a surprise party. We were waiting for Joseph and Esther Kim and their daughter Gloria. The Kims are a Korean family who have been a part of our Tents of Mercy and Akko congregations for some seven years. They are headed back to the U.S. in order for Joseph to renew his green card (Esther and Gloria have U.S. citizenship) and we were gathered to send them off.

In the pregnant silence we waited as the door slowly opened and then of course, the pent up shouts of "surprise!" We all gladly expected the hugs and good natured confessions as the Kims walked in to greet us. But exuberance had to pause. Joseph Kim stood outside the entry way sobbing quietly, trying to compose himself. He was overwhelmed by the love awaiting him in the reception area. Such is the nature of this gentle man who has won the hearts of many Israelis both inside and outside the Messianic community. As the evening progressed, people continued to come forward to give tribute to this special family. The refrain from beginning to end was, "We love you. You are part of us. Please come back."

Joseph's journey to Israel started strangely enough on the DMZ line between North and South Korea. It was 1991 and Joseph was fulfilling his obligatory military service. He received a letter from a friend studying Hebrew in Jerusalem. Joseph was intrigued; his only frame of reference for Israel was stories he had read in the Bible. Here was an account of a vibrant land alive with possibility; Israel was more than the events of antiquity. Joseph's heart was moved by the plight of modern Israel and he began to pray.

Like many Koreans, following army service Joseph moved to the States in order to continue his education. In the States his new found passion for Israel continued unabated. Soon after he arrived Joseph met Esther and their courtship bloomed into marriage. Even so Joseph kept Israel close to his heart. Esther recalled, "He was always talking about Israel; I didn't understand it but I admired his passion."
Joseph and Esther

Esther eventually caught Joseph's vision and they decided to come to Israel for a three year university program. However, by this time they had a three year old daughter who posed considerable challenges. Gloria was born with serious cardio-respiratory defects and underwent two major surgeries before her first birthday. Her physical problems contributed to learning difficulties as well. How would this young girl manage in a foreign culture? Would God take care of her special needs? Esther's heart was troubled. She wanted to support her husband's passion but how could she take her daughter so far from home? Esther struggled through her feelings until she received an answer from God: "I know how your heart hurts for Gloria. My heart also hurts for my children; they too have been burdened with disabilities but I will heal My people and I will heal Gloria."

Both Esther and Joseph studied at the University of Haifa. Learning the language and culture were a big challenge but they discovered that Israel had excellent health care facilities to attend to Gloria's special needs. After three years of study Joseph and Esther went back to the States. They had gained so much but their time to leave had come.

Esther receiving a parting boquet
as Gloria looks on
The Kims received a new opportunity to return to Israel when the Korean Christian Broadcasting Service approached Joseph to be their Middle-East correspondent. They had heard of Joseph's experience in Israel and considered him an ideal candidate for the job. They wanted a correspondent who could inform their audience of one and a half million Koreans (living in the U.S.) of both the politics and spiritual realities in Israel. The Kims gladly took advantage of this opportunity to return to the land they loved.

Joseph covered political events in the nation and then sent back twice weekly audio reports that aired on KCBC radio. After five years on the job Joseph has emerged as a veteran in the press corps and a number of large news agencies have asked him to provide orientation and advice to new journalists in the field. Many politicians and Israeli leaders have been surprised to be asked a question from this Korean correspondent in Hebrew!

The Kim family settled in Akko to take advantage of the city's excellent school for special needs children. Gloria's experience in the Akko special needs school dramatically broadened the Kim family's understanding of God's purposes for Israel. Like many Christian people, the Kims have a deep love for Israel and long to serve her people. What they had not anticipated was seeing how Israel's people came to love them. Joseph explained, "Gloria is the only foreign student in her school but that has not mattered at all. Gloria's teachers and the school staff have been so loving. We came here because we love Israel but we have also received so much love back from Israelis." Joseph sees this special relationship between his daughter and her teachers as the key to their integration into Israeli life. Joseph explained, "I see many foreign journalists here who never integrate into Israeli society. They are only here on business. Because of Gloria's situation we have been welcomed into Israeli society."

Joseph encourages people from all around the world to come and taste just how sweet the "Sabra" fruit is. The trick is to stay long enough to get past the thorns. Joseph believes the often "prickly" dimension of Israeli character is a by-product of the wounds Israelis have suffered at the hands of the nations over the millennia. Esther added, "I think our stay in Israel is like the story of Ruth and Naomi. Both these women were wounded and grieving and this brought them together in love. This love bore fruit as Ruth became the mother of a new family in Israel. So we too have wounds and we too have given our love to Israel and received Israel's love back to us. This has also born fruit in relationships between us and our Israeli neighbors."

Joseph and Esther will be settling on the East Coast with family in New Jersey. Joseph will continue working for KCBC as a radio journalist - this time covering the United Nations beat. But their heart will still be here and Lord willing; they hope to return in some eighteen months time to take up their life in Akko and for Joseph to resume his post at the Middle-East desk. They also have a vision to see a rehabilitation center established in Akko for children with disabilities. "Gloria House" would be a therapy/education center for children with disabilities in Israel's north. Joseph and Esther have already drawn up plans and are working with Israelis to see the center established. Joseph hopes to fund raise for this needed facility while he is in the States.

It is a long way from the North/South Korean border to Akko; Israel and the miles are just a small part of that immense journey. But this Korean family has found a new home in perhaps the unlikeliest of places, all through the agency of one little girl's apparent weakness. The Kim's hearts belong to Israel and their friends and neighbors in Israel wait longingly for them to return. They are strangers no more.


By Martin Shoub

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13:32 06Aug08 Sharon -
I would never have heard this wonderful testimony of God's providence had I not received your newsletter. Many thanks and Shalom.

09:20 08Aug08 Robin Lees -
What a tremendous article on this very humble couple!! I enjoyed it extremely well, especially since I have gotten to know Joseph through worship. I have been coming for 3 yrs now, and we have gotten to know Guy Cohen and have come alongside his ministry. Joseph, helps to lead their worship so when I'm there I look forward to worshiping with this great warrior of the faith. I enjoyed getting to read about His own personal Journey and with Esther and Gloria.

Also in this issue of the newsletter:

Daniel Juster: Israel and Senator Barack Obama
Eitan Shishkoff: Who is He?
Asher Intrater: The Holy Spirit, The Gospel and Jewish Tradition
Asher & Amiel Intrater: Terrorist Attack in Jerusalem