Acts of gratitude
Soldier Elizabeth Sooja Kim of South Korea was raised as a Presbyterian. Her husband, John Joung-Seek Kim, was raised Catholic. When they arrived in the United States, they attended a Korean Catholic church and later a United Methodist church. In their retirement, they discovered The Salvation Army Korean Corps in Englewood, N.J. Soldier Elizabeth talks about her work with Korean women and the writing process that kept God’s Word in her heart.
In the Korean Methodist church, I sang a hymn called “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains.” In it was the line, “Salvation! O, Salvation! The Joyful sound proclaim, till each remotest nation has learned Messiah’s Name.” After belonging to so many churches, and singing about salvation, God led me to The Salvation Army.
Years before I ever became a Salvationist, I knew about the Army. I had so much respect for the work. As a child, I saw Salvationists ring the bell in South Korea, where I gave my first donation. Becoming a bell ringer in 2016 opened a new way of seeing God’s people. For instance, I met a woman in her 80s who could barely walk, but she forced herself to come up to drop a donation in the kettle. A man asked me to pray for him, while others brought me warm bread and coffee. I also saw a few people turn around and enter the store another way when they heard the bell. Seeing that was a little frustrating. At the same time, I realize that as I watch them, God is watching me. He knew my mind, thoughts, and feelings. Today, I do my best to be humble and show love, no matter what.
My work with Ewha Girls’ High School is important to me. Even as a soldier for The Salvation Army, I am still an active supporter of this private girls’ school in Seoul. I have been president twice of the school’s alumnae association in New York, and president of the alumnae association of North America. In 2016, we celebrated Ewha’s 130–year anniversary. Our current project is raising money to open a women’s high school in Cambodia. It requires three times as much funding as we originally planned, but if Ewha could do it years ago, we can do it in Cambodia today.
If you have a handful of loose pearls, they might look pretty, but you need to bind them together to make a beautiful necklace or bracelet. That is the lesson I try to teach women in Ewha, or anyone in the church. When you work together, you can become a beautiful vision.
On June 15, 2000, I began to handwrite the Bible in both Korean and English. Every day before breakfast or after doing the dishes, I wrote for 15 or 20 minutes. The words stayed on my mind all day. On February 25, 2016, I finished; it filled nine large notebooks. In elementary school, I had done something similar with my sister. Doing this helped us memorize verses and passages. When I look back on the notes, I can hear God was speaking to me.
1 Thessalonians 5:16 says “Be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you.” That is my word for life: thanks. Give thanks in all times. Even in your most difficult days, say, “Thank you God, thy will be done!”
Sometimes, a prayer in the moment is the most powerful prayer, rather than one prayed in a quiet, empty room, or on one’s knees. I have prayed to God to stop the rain on a day when my family had to move. One Sunday in a sweltering hot church during a July 4th weekend, I asked God to calm my nerves as my husband preached his first sermon. In 1986, we waited for a call from a theological seminary in New York, hoping we had been accepted to attend. The building had a few apartments that overlooked the Hudson River. It felt silly to ask, but I prayed to God that we might be fortunate enough to be selected to stay in one of those apartments. I wanted the view for my husband. Many months later when we were accepted into the seminary, I asked if we were going to have an apartment facing the river. They said yes. My husband would spend many hours studying in the library, but he was able to see the sun rise in the morning, and the stars shine at night.
Our time on earth is short. This life is a temporary stop on our way to our heavenly home. In our waiting to get there, we must live with gratitude, all our days.
Interview by Hugo Bravo