As some of you know, over the last 36 years, I have been to Seoul Korea fifty-five times, and am often asked; What caused you to have an interest in Korea? So I thought I would give a brief account of how that happened.
I believe it was in late 1979 that Doug Coe, my good friend, and associate called with a request. He told me that he had promised to speak at the Korean Presidential Prayer Breakfast, but for medical reasons, was unable to travel. He asked if I would go in his place, but I told him that I had no interest in Asia. At that time, I was the Middle East point person for the Congressional Committee that sponsors our National Prayer Breakfast. I had built strong relationships with leaders in many of those countries. However, for those who know him, Doug is very persuasive, and eventually, I agreed to go. However, I told him it would only be one time, and then I would return to my focus on Middle East relationships.
That first visit was for ten days in February of 1980. Doug had given me the names of several of their senior leaders, and I was welcomed with open arms and treated royally. (Embarrassingly so) It was probably because Doug had sent a letter of introduction, signed by two Senators and two Congressmen. I had a wonderful time meeting a few business executives; however, on that first visit, the majority of my contacts were elected officials. Of course, I also met many new people that had no connection with our U.S. Presidential Prayer Breakfast. One of them was Congressman Kim, Chai Ho who represented the southeast coast of Korea and was the former Mayor of Yeosu. I was told that he was known as; “Mr. Clean” of Korean politics. He spoke broken English, but we seemed to get along just fine. It must have been God ordained because without planning it, we spent a lot of time together. We became rather good friends, and he had a very helpful attitude. He introduced me to President Chun, Doo-Hwan, and Prime Minister Yoo, Chang-Soon and now looking back, the six Presidents that followed him as well. However, at that time, I was still sure in my mind that this was a onetime experience.
Congressman Kim and others had taken me to Seoul’s finest restaurants, so on my last evening in Seoul; he asked if he could take me to dinner again. My guess is that he was planning one more of those very expensive restaurants. I agreed if he would take me to his favorite restaurant that he frequented when he was not entertaining a guest. I said one where they know you because you eat there often. It took a little persuasion, but he finally agreed. It turned out that his favorite was a small Korean restaurant that only had about six tables but excellent Korean home cooking. At first, he was apologetic about the ambiance, but when I assured him that I really liked it, he loosened up. Then I took off my tie and encouraged him to do so as well. After he did, we had a very special evening with lots of conversation about our families and personal lives.
At the end of our dinner, I asked him if he knew of a high place where we could have a cup of coffee and see the lights of the city. He quickly said yes, “that would be the Bugak Sky House on Bugak Mountain.” He called his driver, and it took us about an hour to get to the top of the mountain. I was surprised to see a very nice three story round restaurant that was the favorite place for young people to take a date. We went to the top floor and had some ice cream and a cup of coffee. Afterward, we went out on the circular deck that is wide and surrounds the entire restaurant. By walking around the building, you can see the entire city. I don’t know the population at that time, but today the metro area of Seoul is twenty-six million people and is one of the largest cities in the world. From our vantage point, I think we could see the lights of the entire area.
I had learned Congressman Kim was Presbyterian so as we were looking at the city; I asked him if he had ever prayed with his eyes open. He said no, so I told him that it was my habit to find a high place and pray for every country I visit. I reminded him that Jesus looked on Jerusalem from the high vantage point of the Mount of Olives, and wept over its spiritual condition. I told him we could talk to God out loud with our eyes open and people will just think we are talking to each other. “He said ok, you pray.”
I began to pray for the area and saw a bridge in the distance. I remembered that a few days before, I had been under that bridge where four hundred homeless people lived. Below us and to my right was the area where their “White House” is located. They call theirs the “Blue House” because it’s a very large residence and has a distinctive blue tile roof. The Korean name is “Cheong Wa Dae.” So I prayed for the President of Korea who I had visited a few days earlier. After a few minutes of prayer for the nation, I stopped and waited for him to pray, but he quickly disappeared back inside the restaurant. I thought I might have embarrassed or offended him, but shortly he came back with a photographer who had a Polaroid camera. He instructed him to take our picture standing at the rail. After we had received two copies of the picture, (I still have my copy) we started down to the limousine. When we got into the back seat, he told his driver to stay parked and turned to me and was very sober. He said, Glenn, when we are in public you should call me Congressman Kim, but when we have private time, please call me, Chai Ho. I had done some research on Asian culture, so I knew that even though he was a few years older than I was; he had just invited me to have an elder brother relationship with him. He was really old school, and on a subsequent visit, I learned that Sook-Ja his wife doesn’t even call him by his first name. She may have endearing names for him, but only his father and elder brother address him by his first name. So it confirmed to me that he had given me a special gift that was very rare.
The next day he took me to the airport, and we spent another two hours in the lounge and continued to cement our relationship. On the flight home, I had a thought pattern develop, that seemed very real at the time. Later I told my wife; “I think while I was praying for Korea on Bugak mountain, God opened my shirt and slipped Korea into my heart. It’s actually a surprise to me, but I now have a real love for the people of Korea. I’m quite sure that I will be going back again.” I didn’t realize it would be again and again and again.
Over the ensuing years, he became my closest friend in Korea and opened an enormous number of doors for me. One example would be Kang, Sung-Mo who was President an CEO of Rinnai Corporation, the Korean equivalent of the General Electric Corporation. We became great friends, and Mr. Kang volunteered to provide me with a hotel, car, and driver on every trip to Korea. When I politely declined, he told me that I would be robbing him of the joy of enabling my ministry to the leaders of his country. So I accepted, and he continued to do that for thirty plus years. He wanted nothing in return but a dinner with me on each visit. It was a joy to accommodate his request because he was such a wonderful friend.
I thank God for Kim, Chai Ho who is such a great ministry partner and faithful friend. I helped him get his children into a private high school in Berkeley, and now his four children call me Uncle Glenn. We have traveled to China, Japan, Hong Kong and the United States together and several retreats as well. I was able to return his many favors to me by arranging for him to have a picture taken with President Bush. He said that was the highlight of his life.
We are both getting older, and Chai Ho’s health is failing so only the Lord knows what He has in store for us. We do know however, we will spend eternity together with Jesus.
So that is a bit of the story of why Korea is like a second home to me.