She knew little more than the title of her next life chapter: Uganda. Its sentences had yet to be formulated, its paragraphs were waiting to be compiled. She was particularly unaware that this new so-called chapter would turn out to be more of a series – a life commitment.
In 1985, pursuing the unfamiliar, Chung Yoon Kim, referred to by most as Sister Kim, packed her life and moved from South Korea to Uganda. With the support of World Concern, she began to make lasting imprints on villages across the country, and they accepted her as one of them.
In a span of 30 years, Sister Kim established a fully functioning health center in the very rural village of Goli, opened a nursing training school, founded a prison ministry, and built a mountaintop retreat center.
This is Part II, in what could easily be an endless part blog series, on the life and legend of Sister Kim.
Before you continue reading, make sure to check out Part I.
“In 1967 I was talking with a nursing school friend about how we could one day go to Africa. We were just dreaming and talking casually, and then we forgot about it.”
It’s nearing nightfall and Sister Kim and I are perched on dining room table chairs on her front porch, basked in the late afternoon sun. A breeze makes its way through the rustling branches of the trees she planted in order to keep the area cooler. Mosquitoes begin to saturate the evening air, buzzing to tease ears and tickle vulnerable ankles.
After graduating nursing school in South Korea, Sister Kim moved to the U.S. to continue with her studies. She was, and still is, the only one of her seven siblings to live outside of Korea. Sis Kim spent the subsequent years working in between the U.S. and South Korea.
During the late 1970′s, Sis Kim found herself working relentlessly in inner-city Philadelphia.
“I was very busy back in America,” she tells me. “I was very committed in a Korean community and had a full time job in the hospital. I assisted others with a lot of translations. I was working 24 hours a day, I had no sleeping hours.”
In an effort to save money, serve others, and above all, please God, Sister Kim poured her entire being into her every minute of every day.
Sis Kim & Goli Health Center Staff.
As is apparent in Sister Kim as a now 73-year-old woman, her perpetual energy and committed work ethic are deeply integrated parts of her character.
Despite her sacrificial Philadelphia lifestyle, Sister Kim continued to feel like she wasn’t pleasing God.
“When I was working I gained a lot of money and offered it all to the Lord, but it wasn’t pleasing Him.”
Perhaps it wasn’t that He wasn’t happy with her work, but rather He had something else in mind.
Curious how such seemingly selfless work could possibly displease the Lord, I prod Sister Kim for a further explanation.
“I knew He wasn’t pleased because I couldn’t pray,” Sister Kim replies. “So one day I went to a vacated room in the city and decided to pray until I heard an answer. I closed all of the doors and windows and just prayed.”
Sister Kim prayed for three days straight.
“At sunset on the third day, I was suddenly reminded of the conversations I once had with my nursing school friends- you said you wanted to go to Africa. I knew this was my answer, so I left the room and went back home.”
In what can only be described as complete faith, Sister Kim spent the next few years pursuing moving to a foreign country to do a professedly foreign work.
“As soon as I arrived in Uganda and stepped onto the ground, a peace overcame me,” Sister Kim recalls, tears welling in her remembering eyes. “Any worries about Africa I had once had were all gone. In me was only peace – and this peace has not left.”
Curled up on my chair, I physically feel as if I’m swimming in the details of Sister Kim’s narrative. As I listen, I envision phrases and quotes swirling above her head. One of her comments is bold and italicized – it stands out from the rest:
“I thought I was humble but, unknowingly, there was pride within me.”
[Heeeelloooooo...reality check. Her words like a scalpel to my core - I was left to dissect my character, my life, and my intentions. I’m sure Sis Kim had no idea that in sharing her story, her raw words spoken over cups of lukewarm tea were sharpening and molding me.]
Sister Kim’s first eight years in Uganda were spent working at a health center and establishing a nursing school in a village called Kuluva. Originally a school of 70, Kuluva is now equipping over 250 nursing students.
During her time in Kuluva Sister Kim dealt with a gamut of challenges. A war in Uganda was being waged and patients with missing limbs were entering the health center on the daily.
“We were running out of resources and had to recycle whatever materials we could find,” she describes.
While simultaneously tending to wounds and organizing prayer groups, Sister Kim was suffering from monthly spouts of malaria.
“It was not a big deal,” she casually shares. “I always knew when the malaria was coming because I would begin to feel heavy and achy.”
There reached a point when Kuluva nursing school became sustainable. Sister Kim appointed a local principal and declared it time to head back to Korea and the U.S.
“I told God, ‘Isn’t that enough?’” she says. “But he did not answer me. Then the Anglican diocese called me back to Uganda – I felt frustrated. What should I go back for? So I spent another three days in secluded prayer.”
Again, on the third day, God answered her cries.
“A verse came to me that I still have on my wall to this day,” Sister Kim energetically shares. “So I moved back to Uganda.”
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self…to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4: 22-24
Dusk has turned to nightfall and the mosquitoes have migrated around artificial lights. Sister Kim and I sit comfortably in silence, processing stories unforeseen and stories yet to come.
For more on Sister Kim, read Part III here.