Korean Pastor Billy Kim Visits Here


Billy Kim, pastor emeritus of 15,000-member Suwon Central Baptist Church of Suwon, South Korea, stopped in Greeneville this week when he visited East Tennessee on business.

Kim and two others from his church met with Michael Jackson, president and CEO of EcoQuest International, a Greeneville-based manufacturer and marketer of air and water purification devices and other products.

Jackson said this morning, "I was extremely pleased to spend time with such a prominent Christian leader. EcoQuest has seven principles that are foundational to our company in all that we do. The seventh principle is to glorify God in all we do.

"As we move into places like Korea, it is good to have allies like Dr. Kim," Jackson said.

Kim, who served as Dr. Billy Graham's interpreter for a 1973 crusade in Korea, spoke Tuesday morning to a meeting of the Christian Medical & Dental Association in Bristol, then on Wednesday addressed a chapel service at Cumberland College in Kentucky.

"I came a little early to meet with Bobby Griffin," Kim said. Griffin arranged the lunch meeting with Jackson.

Griffin, a Bristol businessman who invented disposable automobile advertising floor mats and whose company still dominates that business, knew Jackson from speaking to the Greeneville Christian Leadership Roundtable, of which Jackson is chairman.

Griffin said the meeting concerned "the possibility of EcoQuest products going into Korea."

After the lunch meeting, Jackson said the talks were preliminary, but enjoyable.

Also present was Jung Han Kim, an elder in Dr. Kim's church and chairman of Dae Sung Engineering & Research Co., Ltd., which specializes in environmental technology.

Kim also met with a Bristol, Va., company, Kintronics Laboratories Inc., that makes huge radio antennas.

Kim is also chairman of Far East Broadcasting Co., Korea, which has a 250,000-watt station that reaches Russia, China, North Korea and Japan, as well as South Korea.

The station's antenna is old and in need of replacement, Kim said, and he is negotiating about that with the Bristol company.

Kim also noted that the speaker of the Republic of Korea's House of Representatives and 15 members of the Korean Congress are scheduled to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert on Friday. "I may tag along," he said.

In 1972, Griffin heard Kim speak at a convention of what is now the Christian Business Men's/Women's Association in Mobile, Ala.

Was A 'House Boy'

Kim told how a Carl Powers, a soldier from Dante, Va., about 50 miles from Bristol, had befriended him during the Korean War. Kim served as a "house boy" to Power's Army unit, washing clothes, shining boots, and generally making himself useful in exchange for food and money.

Powers brought Kim to America and arranged for him to go to school. Kim eventually attended Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., where he said he became a Christian. In turn, Kim said he returned to Virginia and led Powers to become a Christian.

Griffin related strongly to that story, he said, because he too had served in Korea, as had his brother, Ben Griffin, a Greeneville resident.

In an even stronger parallel, Griffin also had a Korean house boy who was with him in his truck when he was wounded, helped get him to medical attention, and then helped nurse him back to health.

Unlike Powell, however, Griffin said he had not helped or even communicated with his former house boy since leaving Korea in 1953.

By the 1970s, Griffin, an eighth-grade dropout, had become wealthy, and Kim encouraged him to return to Korea and find the house boy, "Butch."

Griffin said he had many painful memories of the war, and was conflicted about the idea of going back to South Korea.

He said that he backed out several times, but Kim kept writing and calling to encourage him, and finally, in 1974, Griffin went to Korea.

Emotional Reunion

The morning after he arrived, Griffin said Tuesday, Kim had breakfast with him.

Griffin said he recalls looking out the window of the Chosan Hotel and seeing a city that "looked like New York," not the bombed out town he remembered from 1953, and feeling that his effort was hopeless.

But he said he prayed for God's help, and with Kim, went to a newspaper in Seoul, armed with a tiny picture of "Butch" and the man's name.

The newspaper was very skeptical, but agreed to run an article.

The headline, Kim recalled, said, "Rich American Came To Find His Houseboy."

That day, not knowing that the article had appeared, Griffin walked the streets and made inquiries, but was unable to find anyone he recognized.

The next morning, at 7 a.m., Griffin's phone rang and the reporter he had talked to the day before said, "Mr. Griffin, we have your house boy."

They were in the lobby. Griffin, fearing an impostor, said he asked them to wait there so that he could spy from the mezzanine to see if he recognized the man.

Instead, they came to his room. Griffin recalled that one man in the back, "with his hands in his pockets," noticed him watching the group pass and said exclaimed, "Sgt. Griffin!"

Though 20 years had passed, Griffin said he recognized "Butch's" wide smile.

After a tearful reunion, Griffin rented a car and they drove toward where fighting had taken place during the Korean War in the 1950s.

When they came to a small creek, Butch pointed and said, "1953, washy-washy clothes." Further on, up a hill, Butch again said, "1953, Sgt. Griffin, boom," indicating the place Griffin had been shot.

Griffin then visited Butch's home, met his wife and small son, and his mother, who years before had asked Griffin to "take care of my little boy" when she agreed to let him be the unit's house boy.

Butch was a taxi driver with a drinking problem, but he was overwhelmed that Griffin had not forgotten him, and had come back to find him, Griffin said.

There in his tiny home, a room measuring perhaps 10 feet by 10 feet, Griffin recalled, "Butch" became a Christian.

Kim arranged for Butch to get a job driving a church bus, and Griffin arranged for Butch and his family to move into an apartment.

That was the first of many trips by Griffin to Korea, and of a relationship between Griffin and his wife, Freida, and Kim's church.

The Griffins have arranged for several Korean students to come to the United States to attend school and college over the past 30 years, and have also developed a successful import business, starting with eel skin products.

Kim's Leadership Role

Kim, who is president of the Baptist World Alliance, headquartered in Falls Church, Va., is in this country to chair a meeting of that group's executive committee, and attend a banquet on Saturday.

The Alliance includes 110 million members in 211 conventions worldwide. The Southern Baptist Convention was a founding member in 1905, but withdrew from the organization in December.

From published reports, the pullout came out of concerns that the Alliance was too approving of liberal theology, though the authors of an SBC report that reached that conclusion praised Kim personally for his efforts to include conservatives.

Kim said the Alliance's world congress meets only every five years, and its General Council meets only once a year.

"We can't dictate to anybody," he said, but the Alliance does provide a forum for Baptists around the world to "stand together, to help those brothers and sisters" on human rights and religious freedom issues in parts of the world where there are few

Baptists, especially in the Muslim world.

He said he has many wonderful friends in the SBC, and pleaded with its leaders last fall and winter, asking them not to pull out.

He noted that several state Baptist conventions, including Texas and Virginia, are discussing rejoining the Alliance at that level.

Christianity as a whole, and the Baptist denomination in particular, are growing rapidly in South Korea, he said.

South Korea now has the largest Presbyterian church in the world, he said, as well as the largest Methodist church, and the largest Assemblies of God church, "but you've got so many Baptists here, it's hard to beat," he said with a warm smile.

His own church is very similar in doctrine to a Southern Baptist church, Kim said, but "maybe a little more dedicated," he said.

By way of explanation, Kim said a 4:15 a.m. prayer service "every day" at his church attracts 2,000 people and "overflows" the church's main sanctuary.

"No room, no seats," he said.