A History of the Korean Immigrant Baptist Church Movement in the United States: The Growth of Ethnic Minority Churches Related to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Is Exploding

By Chang, Chul Tim | Baptist History and Heritage, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

A History of the Korean Immigrant Baptist Church Movement in the United States: The Growth of Ethnic Minority Churches Related to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Is Exploding


Chang, Chul Tim, Baptist History and Heritage


In 1999, more than one-half of SBC church starts were among non-Anglo churches. (1) Oscar Romo stated in 1993 that the SBC was "the most cosmopolitan" denomination in the United States. (2) This paper looks at the history and development of the Korean immigrant church movement, affiliated with the SBC, in the United States.

Background

In 1902, less than fifty Koreans lived in Hawaii and the mainland. That year, Ahn Chango (3) and his wife, soon after their arrival in San Francisco, began the earliest Korean immigrant church in the United States. (4) On January 17, 1903, after the arrival of 101 Korean immigrants to work on the Hawaiian sugar and pineapple plantations, the next Korean immigrant church was founded. During the early years of the twentieth century, the church became unusually important for Korean immigrants. The church quickly became their main social and spiritual center, a place where the Korean language, food, and culture were shared.

Many of the Korean ethnic churches started during the first fifty years of the twentieth century were affiliated with the Methodist and Presbyterian denominations. They were also part of the Korean Christian Church movement, founded and led by Syngman Rhee, the first president of Korea. By 1950, at least fifteen Korean ethnic churches with about 10,000 Korean participants had been organized in the United States. (5)

In 2001, the Korean Church Directory in America listed 3,375 Korean immigrant churches. California was the only state with over 1,000 churches (1,108). The nine states with over 100 Korean immigrant churches were New York (356), Illinois (221), New Jersey (171), Virginia (157), Texas (153), Maryland (141), Pennsylvania (113), Washington (111), and Georgia (110). Three states had 50 to 99 churches: Hawaii (77), Florida (61), and South Carolina (54). The remaining thirty-seven states had less than fifty churches.

A recent study of Korean immigrant church membership in the United States by Kim Kwang-Chung and Kim Shin found that 70 percent of the Koreans in America are affiliated with Korean ethnic churches. (6) In these churches, the majority of the members are women, although men hold the positions of leadership. (7)

The First Korean Baptist Church in the United States

On May 6, 1956, Kim Chang-Soon founded the first Korean Baptist church in Washington, D. C. The church took the name "First Korean Baptist Church in the USA." (8) Kang Wong-Yong, a student at Presbyterian Union Theological Seminary in New York, became its first pastor. (9) In March 1958, Ahn Byung-Kook, a Baptist minister from South Korea, became its second pastor.

After one year, a division between Ahn and Kim Chang-Soon occurred, and Alan left and formed a separate church. Eighteen months later, the two groups reunited under Ahn's leadership and changed the church's first name to "The Washington Korean Baptist Church." (10) By 1970, the church had about forty members; (11) in 1974, it experienced another split which gave birth to what is now the Global Mission Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. (12)

Daniel Lee served as the second pastor of the Global Mission Church. He provided a new vision for the church, and under his leadership, the church experienced dynamic growth. (13) By 1993, the church had 3,051 members. (14)

The Second Korean Baptist Church in the United States

On March 10, 1957, Kim Dong-Myung ("Don") and Ahn Ee-Sook ("Esther"), home missionaries appointed by the North American Mission Board while students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, organized the second Korean Baptist church in the United States, the Berendo Street Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California. (15) The vision and structure of this church's ministry were much different from other Korean immigrant churches. The church developed a broad-based ministry that was not limited to Sunday. Instead, meetings were held throughout the week. …

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