JinSoo Kim comes to the phone slightly out of breath, rinses his hands of the hundreds of pounds of ferns he was processing, and begins the story of how he, an entrepreneur born in Korea and ordained an elder in New Jersey, came to be on the Reservation in Canada.
In 2010 JinSoo led a summer mission trip with youth from Sebit Light of the World Presbyterian Church in Bridgewater, NJ to a struggling community of First Nations People in Ontario, Canada. “At first I didn’t expect much of anything, I was just the leader of the youth. But when I got here I found so many similarities between the people here and my own past. The main struggles of the native population are alcoholism, suicide, and dropping out of school at a rate of more than 50%. My oldest brother died of alcoholism, my second brother died of suicide after military service, and my sister dropped out of high school. I began to think that somehow it is not an accident that I am here.”
Returning to New Jersey on the 2-day bus ride, the group slept over at a local church. The next morning a stranger came to JinSoo and said “God has a message for you. There is something you are struggling to decide, and God says ‘Do it.’” JinSoo remembers, “At that time I was struggling to decide what to do with this sense of call I felt on the Reservation. I never met that man again. But I thought of Esther, that perhaps the reason why I have become successful is for this time and for this people. From that time all my thinking, all my heart is for this people.”
Following a model of Christian mission known as “Business As Mission,” JinSoo and his team from Sebit Church set up Gitx Mushroom in 2011 with the goal of helping the Canadian First Nations people he had come to know revitalize their community. He chose an agricultural product with a global market: gourmet mushrooms and ferns. The first six months they tried an expensive Japanese mushroom, but with limited success. Then, they tried a fern that harvests in springtime when there is little other work available in the region. Processing and cooking the ferns back home, JinSoo discovered they were world-class quality. That year they produced 800 pounds of dried ferns with an excellent market response. So JinSoo bought 50 acres of property near the reservation, and invested in the equipment for drying the ferns. This year he is harvesting about 100 pounds an hour along with the workers he is training. It’s hard work, laboring and managing; finding workers and motivating them to stay the season. That’s why he is looking for young people from U.S. with a sense of mission to come work for him too. JinSoo is recruiting seminarians and recent graduates interested in working as youth missionaries. There are 2000 people in the region, with 200 youth in need of a relevant Christian witness. And that witness needs, from April to June, to be willing to work the fields. JinSoo will provide housing and living costs for the right candidates.
“Young people have lots of challenges,” says JinSoo, “not easily adjusting to big cities, encountering alcoholism and pregnancies early, before their education is complete. And the churches are not ready for young people. These people have been hurt by Christians who forced them to change their culture to white culture, and failed. In my view that makes this population a new field for a true Christian mission. I strongly want to partner business people with theological people in a new type of mission.”
BAM, or “Business As Mission” may be 10-15 years old as a model. “People are recognizing the importance of providing the fundamental needs in life.” JinSoo has the full support of the Sebit Light of the World Church, who, like their name, don’t hide in church. “Jesus says to be light for the world, not just inside the church. It is our name, our mission.” After hearing a call from God, Sebit Church became independent from Elizabeth Presbyterian Church in 2009, and the churches still enjoy many activities together.
“Summer mission trips are good for the sending church,” says JinSoo, “and temporarily good for the people here. But they are not a long term solution. Those who are visiting say ‘I am so blessed with what I have.’ There are many good meetings and talks, but when they leave that’s it for another year. I want something different. I want the village to drive the business as they gradually become independent.” This year, JinSoo is bringing three people from the village to New Jersey to meet with the mission team at Sebit Church for about 10 days.
JinSoo’s pastor, Drew alum Rev. Tae Hwan Son visited Drew this Spring to perform the sacraments at the service where Elder Kim preached. At one time JinSoo considered seminary, but then heard the call, “Why don’t you do business as service to God? I said okay. I am an entrepreneur, a born businessman. Everyone knows I am Christian. But sending a message every Sunday, that is not me. I need a partner.”
JinSoo Kim was born as the son of a poor farmer. He graduated from Inha University and earned the Masters in Computer Science from Stevens Institute of Technology in 3 semesters. Founder of Grace Charity Foundation, Elder Kim also serves on the Board of Directors at Princeton Theological Seminary. He currently sponsors a needs-based scholarship for Asian students at Drew.
If you are interested in partnering with Elder Kim, you can find him on Facebook, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Lydia York, TheoSpirit Co-Editor