Grace Ji-Sun Kim – Mother’s Day: I Can Only Imagine

As part of my Guest Blogging Series, this week I am glad to welcome back  Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim as she muses on Mother’s Day. Grace received her M.Div. from Knox College and her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. She is an Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology and the Director of the Master of Arts in Theological Studies program at Moravian Theological Seminary and the is the author of two books, The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology and The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology. Grace was recently ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and also blogs for 99 Brattle.

I can only imagine . . . how terrifying and difficult it was for my mom to bring her two little girls on a plane, via Alaska, Hawaii finally to arrive at the Toronto Pearson Airport only to find that my dad wasn’t there to greet or pick us up. As usual, he was late.  It was January 17, 1975 when we immigrated from Korea to Canada. My dad had already left on his own a month earlier.

Growing up, my mother did not have the privilege of a higher education as her family was poor and she had seven siblings. She grew up during the aftermath of the Korean War and life was extremely difficult. In Korea, if there was any extra money left in the family, the boys were educated before the girls.

So I can only imagine the anxiety and trepidation she must have felt as she left Korea, got on a plane the first time in her life, without knowing a word of English and not knowing what future awaited her in a new foreign land.

I still remember the day that we left Korea. My grandmother (chin-hal-muh-nee) told me that the flight would be very long and there were no restrooms on the plane. So she made me sit in the bathroom for a very long time so that I would not have to go again till I landed in Canada. I remember my uncle (keun-ah-buh-gi) giving my sister and me a very pretty necklace (which I still have) with personal information written on the back of the pendant just in case we got lost. I remember being in the airport with my mother and sister, and uncles, aunts and cousins who came out to say their goodbyes. My sister and I carried these very big red bags that my aunts called “immigration bags” as we flew across the Pacific to an unknown territory. Every one of our family members was weeping–especially my grandmother. They thought they would never see us again.

Since I was only five, I didn’t realize the impact that day would have on the rest of my life. My mother was only twenty-nine and did not know what was waiting for her as she left Korea. She left her entire family so she could join my dad since it was his idea to leave Korea against all the wishes of his family. She left behind everything she had known; her family, her house, her community, her friends, her culture, and her history in order to start afresh in a new and foreign land. I can only imagine the fear in her heart as she obeyed my father. As many first generation immigrants can remember, it was not an easy life. It was not a “land of milk and honey” as everyone had told them it would be. Rather, it was a harsh and sometimes a heart-wrenching life.

We landed in Toronto in January during one of the harshest winters in Canada. We were so cold and miserable that I can remember just wanting to stay indoors all day long. I started kindergarten and remember being mocked by others who did not know “what” I was. Many Canadians kept asking me if I were Chinese, or Japanese. When I told them I was Korean, they said, “What is Korean?” You can’t be Korean. You are Chinese or Japanese (and other terms were used to describe me…). With the lack of English, I was a constant target of racism.

I can only imagine the frequent regret my mother must have felt when she experienced extreme isolation, loneliness, and a sense of hopelessness as she tried to adjust to a foreign land which did not welcome her or her family. In the midst of all her suffering as a result of prejudice, racism, and sexism, she endured it all in her silence. She never openly shared her pain even though it was visible on her face and her body. Like many Korean immigrant women, she suffered in silence and alone.
In the midst of all these difficulties and obstacle, my mom did her best to raise my sister and me. She provided for us in the midst of racism, subordination, sexism and prejudice. She was a good, kind, compassionate, giving, thoughtful and caring mother. She passed away on January 12, 2010 after fighting a battle with lung cancer.

Now, I can only imagine her sorrow since she did not share with me her own personal stories or dreams not yet realized, her fear, solemnity, and trepidation. I can now only imagine the pain, the suffering, and the distress she must have endured during her whole immigrant life.

But, I do not have to imagine her hard work ethic, diligence, determination and perseverance in order to survive faithfully in a foreign land. I do not have to imagine her deep love for God, her strong commitment to the church, her constant prayer, and her love for her community and family. On this Mother’s Day, I do not have to imagine that her Spirit-Chi* lives on, as I know it does within me and my own three children.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers and moms-to-be! What a blessing and privilege it is to be a mother.

*Spirit-Chi is the spirit that exists in all of us which gives us energy, warmth and life. For more discussion on Spirit-Chi please see my book, The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

Grace Ji-Sun Kim – God, Women, and the Church

What began as  a personal blogging hiatus, there has been such a positive response to the  to the Guest Blogging Crew, I am making this a regular feature on my blog. It is my intention to expose new/different voices to a larger audience so if you are interested in submitting an idea, please feel fill out this form. This week I am glad to share a post from Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim about Korean American women in the church. Grace received her M.Div. from Knox College and her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. She is an Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology and the Director of the Master of Arts in Theological Studies program at Moravian Theological Seminary and the is the author of two books, The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology and The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology. Grace was recently ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA).


This land which surpasses beauty, elegance, harmony, and splendor is an attractive vacation destination for many people around the world. Hawaii, a place of warm beaches, palm trees, breathtaking cliffs, and majestic mountains is not a likely spot for a church meeting. But Hawaii is where twenty-one of us gathered for a “Korean Pastor Theologian Consultation PC (USA)” from April 9-13, 2012.

The consultation gathered people engaged in different types of ministries, of different generations, and from different walks of life. We met to discuss, visit, listen to each other’s stories and deepen our own understanding of Koreans and other Asians who traveled to Hawaii to work in the plantations. Through Rev. Mary Paik’s and Dwight Morita’s efforts and hospitality, we were able to visit several Asian (or Asian pastored) churches in Hawaii and hear the stories of the struggles, difficulties and joys of building up and maintaining Hawaiian churches. Listening to their stories, many of us realized how their deep history and rich stories have implications for the Korean immigrant churches on the mainland. The consultation also provided time to share our own personal theological reflections and our struggles of being a member of/ or pastoring in a Korean North American church today.
Some discussions brought out the multi-layered dilemmas, complexities and struggles the Korean immigrant churches are presently experiencing. Issues such as language barriers, intergenerational expectations, gender dynamics, and various forms of ministry engagement came to the forefront.

Among the many topics discussed, it was sexism in all congregations as well as internalized sexism even in each of us, that really caught my attention. Nine participants were women and all of us, except one, are engaged in ministry outside the Korean American church. There are various reasons for women not to engaged in ministry within the Korean American Church but the option to work in the Korean American church should be more readily accessible and available. My personal worry is that there are many female Korean students who enter seminary with hopes of serving the Korean American church but never get the opportunity to do so. There appears to be a lack of interest and desire in the Korean American churches to call women pastors. There is also a lack of retention in keeping women as their pastors.

Sexism is present in our churches as well as in our society. However, it may be even more prominent in our Korean American churches due to Korea’s cultural history, religious background and societal values. As a result, churches will give every excuse not to call a woman as their pastor.  Rev. Unzu Lee states that “churches have to stop blaming culture” for how the Korean American Churches treat their women.  Churches continue to blame Korean cultural, historical and religious heritages as excuses and reasons for how women are treated in the church.  However, Korean American churches need to stop blaming culture and more correctly name this systematic subordination and subjugation of women as sexism.

Korean American churches tend to be conservative.  Their perception of God is that God is masculine and some congregants will publically treat their pastor as “god.” In this manner, we have not come that far from Mary Daly’s reality that “if God is male, than male is God.” If Korean American churches continue to uphold this paradigm and fail to recognize its own sexism, there will be no room for women’s leadership within the church.

Korean American churches cannot continue to blame their history, their Confucian roots and their cultural practices for the way they perceive and treat women. Korean American churches need to reimagine the way we speak, preach and teach about who God is. Korean American churches need to embrace the feminine imagery and language about God which is biblically sound and already incorporated into some dominant mainline churches. We need to reimagine the role of the pastor which can allow room for women’s leadership which is so desperately needed within the Korean American church. If we fail to reinvent our perceptions of women and women’s leadership in the church, we will not only have failed our generation but the next generation of Korean Americans.

This fight against sexism within our Korean American churches is an urgent matter. It does not take just one person, but the entire church to work against sexism. It does not just take the first generation of Korean immigrants, but the second and third generations to work against this as well. It does not just take the leaders but the entire body of Christ to fight against sexism. This fight against eliminating sexism will move toward healing, embracing, and welcoming Korean American women who are doubly marginalized in our society. It is a difficult battle to fight, but an urgent one which requires the entire body of Christ to work toward the “reign of God” which receives all people as equal regardless of class, age, ethnicity, or gender.

Re-posted from