Miamisburg pastor walks new life path at 52

Korean-American immigrant cites warm welcome from congregation

Heading into his first Christmas as the new leader of a Miamisburg church, the Rev. Sungkyoon (Joseph) Park is filled with gratitude for being received “warmly and gracefully” by his congregants at Parkview United Methodist Church.

Park, 52, was a South Korean journalist for 21 years, but said he decided to live the second half of his life in a different way because he was thankful to God for giving he and his wife Jinhee a baby.

“My wife and I could not have a baby due to my medical condition,” he said. “At the same time, because I was so sorry to God for having been selfish and workaholic to pursue the purpose of my life in my way ... but I had come to yearn for living in His way.”

Park was born and raised in South Korea and became a reporter for JoongAng Ilbo (Korean Central Daily) in December 1994. He came to the United States in January 2001 to set up a Washington, D.C., bureau for his company to report on diplomatic matters between South Korea and the United States, as well as the Korean-American community.

Park continued to work in the D.C. bureau (Korea Daily Washington) after receiving a calling “to take care of the least” around 2010, eventually resigning his editor-in-chief position in November 2015 to become director of New Jersey-based nonprofit organization Give Chances. He worked there for about two years to take care of Hispanic children, running two free after-school programs for Hispanic children and one Christian children’s choir.

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The calling to be a pastor arrived in 2018, but to figure out if it was right, Park and his wife fasted and prayed, and friends, pastors and church members prayed for them. Receiving assurance of his calling, he and his family moved to the Dayton area.

To be a pastor, Park studied in a Master of Divinity course in a seminary. “I happened to know my seminary, United Theological Seminary, when I received the calling,” he said. “I took the local pastor’s school in the United Methodist Church last July because I really wanted to serve Jesus’ sheep.”

In August, immediately after he earned the license to become a local pastor, he was assigned to Parkview United Methodist Church. He said he was “surprised and happy” to find out he would serve Parkview, a church founded 164 years ago by German immigrants.

“As a Korean American, I am an immigrant,” Park said. “I am the very first colored pastor to serve our congregants, who are white.”

He said he’s happy that church members have welcomed him and his family “warmly and gracefully.’

“Loving one another and worshipping one God beyond the wall of ethnicity, culture and language is the best part for me here at Parkview,” he said.

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Park’s decision to go into the ministry was at least partially influenced by family history.

“Korea was a Buddhist and Confucian country for more than 1,000 years,” he said. “About 140 years ago, American missionaries came to Korea. My great-grandmothers happened to meet such missionaries, American Methodist missionaries (and became the first Christians in the family’s history). It is totally the grace and mercy of our Lord for our family. I’m happy to serve the American church, especially the Methodist church.”

Park said his 18-year-old son, Daniel, recently dedicated himself to helping others in a different way. In January, when he was a senior at Centerville High School, he applied to and was accepted by The United States Military Academy, also known as West Point.

“(Daniel) has a Korean name, Hajoon, which means ‘God’s Gift,’” Park said. “I have always taught my son that, as Korean-American Christians, we have had a huge debt to American soldiers and American churches and that we have to pay back.

“Daniel chose to be a soldier to pay back the graceful debt of his own, and I chose to be a pastor to pay back the merciful debt of my own.”

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