by Sean Cote
SUN PRESS Intern
Osseo United Methodist Church’s newest pastor, the Reverend Dr. Woojae Im, 46, has traveled through squalor and prestige to make a new life in Minnesota and spread the word of God.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Im received his calling at the age of 12, feeling uncertain about his place in the world and about God. He prayed after school with a friend for six months, but his friend stopped after three months because he started to speak in tongues. Disheartened, Woojae prayed for another three months before speaking in tongues himself.
“It was a joyful experience,” he said, “a confirmation of my soul.” From then on, his sole dream was to become a pastor.
Im studied in a Korean seminary until graduation in 1995, where he said he “made a pledge to a God to say ‘yes’ to the church that needs me.” That church was Hwangbo United Methodist Church, located in a tiny village in rural South Korea. Just before driving the 400 miles to Hwangbo, his father, Wanho, had a stroke, but he couldn’t go to his father’s side due his ministerial obligations. He had to start his ministry in Hwangbo, so he drove the seven hours not knowing whether his father was alive. When he arrived, a local woman with the church invited him to dinner and asked him to bless her sick cow, as livestock are vitally important in rural areas. Fortunately, his father recovered from his stroke, but passed away in 1998.
In Hwangbo, Rev. Im asked his congregation, only about eight people, what they wanted to accomplish. “They wanted to receive the Holy Communion and the Benediction,” he said.
However, that could not be accomplished without Rev. Im being fully ordained, and he could not be ordained without staying in Hwangbo as pastor for three years. Hwangbo’s parsonage was built into the dirt, with mice infesting the building, and every pastor beforehand had at the most stayed about two years. Im stayed three and a half years, and rebuilt the tiny church during an entire summer.
The bishop changed Im’s appointment after his time in Hwangbo, moving him to Kangung, a much larger and more prestigious church. For South Korea’s centennial, the church chose to send one of the assistant pastors to the U.S. to study abroad. Rev. Im was not initially chosen for this position, but the pastor that was chosen resigned to form his own monastery, so Im replaced him. He said he wasn’t “prepared for the U.S.,” as he did not speak English.
Arriving in the United States, he attended ESL (English as a Second Language) courses in Washington, D.C., and studied for the TOEFL exams, scoring high and passing on his second try.
Rev. Im then acquired his Master’s and Doctorate in Theology and Divinity from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary near Chicago, Ill. For the past seven and a half years, he has been pastor of Milaca United Methodist Church, and before that served for two years at Minnesota Christ Korean United Methodist Church in Woodbury.
“It felt very strange when I first came…I had to climb the social ladder from the bottom because I was treated as a student,” he said.
Now, as the pastor of Osseo United Methodist, he says his experience and situation “cannot be better.”
Rev. Im intends to bring his ministry through the disciple-making process. “I have no interest in Sunday, seasonal, or inactive worship,” he said.
He said he wants to see passionate, relevant, and revitalizing worship in small group ministry, focusing on leadership. However, he has no immediate plans to alter the current ministry. “Making drastic changes are more harmful…there needs to be a transition,” he said.
He lives in Osseo with his wife, Kyeong-Mee, and their son, Sang Hyuk, 12, but he also intends to try to move his mother, Chunsook, to a town nearby.