Friday, January 30, 2015

The Life of Billy Kim, by Billy Kim

The life of Billy Kim, Korean pastor, evangelist, broadcaster, and Christian statesman is nothing short of inspirational.  The Life of Billy Kim, the autobiographical account of Billy Kim's life and ministry, falls a bit short of inspirational, unfortunately.  Maybe it's the style, the translation, or the editing, but the book simply doesn't do justice to the man.

I don't want to take away from the man himself, and, more importantly, what God has accomplished through him.  Kim grew up during the Korean War, offering his services to American servicemen, cleaning their living spaces, polishing their boots, and performing other tasks.  His friendly demeanor and hard work drew the attention of many soldiers, especially Carl Powers, who arranged for Billy to study in the U.S.  Thanks to Carl's generosity and his family's hospitality, Billy went to the U.S. as a teenager, and returned to Korea eight years later with a maturing faith in Christ, the heart of an evangelist, and a graduate degree in theology (not to mention a pretty American wife!).

He made his life's mission to evangelize his home country, starting with his own family.  He came alongside an elderly pastor in a tiny church in his hometown, and grew that church to a congregation of thousands.  He became head of a Christian broadcasting company, spreading the gospel across Asia, including broadcasting messages into China and North Korea.  He travelled the world as an evangelist and, eventually, as president of the Baptist World Alliance, never hesitating to share his faith, whether with Fidel Castro or the janitor at the site of a huge rally.  He touched many lives, and seemed just as happy sharing the gospel in a private, humble setting with one person, as with a stadium full of tens of thousands.

One interesting note about Bob Jones, where he studied in the U.S.  Bob Jones University has long been known for their view on interracial dating.  It wasn't until 2000 that they dropped the ban.  Apparently, however, that ban only included black/white relationships, because Billy Kim met his wife at Bob Jones; their courtship was encouraged and even facilitated by faculty members.  Billy's relationship with the school soured, however, when he served as Billy Graham's interpreter during a crusade in Korea.  Shortly after the well-publicized crusade (which, incidentally tremendously increased Billy Kim's visibility and ministry opportunities), Kim received a letter from the president of Bob Jones University condemning his involvement with Billy Graham and informing him that they no longer considered him an alumnus.  He wrote, "You are a disgrace to the school. . . . We are no longer proud of you."  This is simply astonishing to me.

In The Life of Billy Kim, Kim is always quick to give credit and glory to God.  At the same time, the book reads like hagiography (autohagiography?).  Strangely enough, he writes in the third person, "to show the story of my life not as how I experienced it, but through the eyes of God."  (This choice seems especially awkward when he quotes himself. . . .)  Kim's message throughout the book is that God can use even someone from humble, unlikely beginnings to accomplish great things.  He recognizes that without the help of people like Carl Powers and many others who touched his life he would not have been able to serve and live in the way he did, so he has always made a point of helping others in many ways, including assisting Koreans who wanted to study in the U.S.

Kim will long be remembered as a key figure in the growth of Christianity in post-WW2 Korea.  His influence and impact have reached around the world, far beyond the borders of his home village.  Despite its literary flaws and wooden style, The Life of Billy Kim is a useful and inspirational introduction to his life and work.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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