There were many moments when I should have noticed how special and different he was. Moments like when I thought, “Why is my grandpa’s friend’s name up there?” when I saw Billy Graham’s quote up on my high school classroom wall. Moments like, when I asked about a big rock on display in the living room, my aunt told me it’s a piece from the Berlin Wall. Moments like when he asked me what present I wanted from his trip to China when I was four. I thought he meant the Chinese restaurant, so I asked for a bowl of corn soup. Moments like every time he came back from a trip, he brought me toys that no other friends of mine had — a shiny, miniature sculpture of Taj Mahal, Russian wooden palace egg painted of a beautiful palace in Moscow, and many others. He also made sure to bring a box of Hawaiian Host, Jelly Beans, or Guylian Chocolates from the plane ride for my sisters and me to share.
When Dr. Ralph Winter passed away, I first started to realize that something was atypical about my grandpa. I was in high school at the time and told a friend of mine that my grandfather was grieving that he couldn’t make it to his dear friend’s funeral in the States. She exclaimed, “Your grandfather’s best friend was a white guy named Ralph?” That was the first time it struck me that my grandpa was not a typical Korean grandpa. However, all these extraordinary-ness about him were considered nothing out of the ordinary for him and my family.
I grew up watching him greet countless people from all over the world. Whenever I visited him in his office as a kid, he let me sit on his big chair in front of a giant wall of the world map. He spoke in Korean, English, and very occasionally in Japanese. He broke bread together with people of all colors. Once, he gathered around the table over a plate full of sushi with his students. As he prayed, I heard his students repeat “Amen!” throughout his prayer. I was only around ten and thought they must be hungry to shout Amen many times so they could finally start eating.
The Pauline House and my grandpa were home for me. In 2011, I moved to the United States to attend Wheaton College. I often emailed my grandpa back and forth until I graduated from grad school in 2017, the year he started feeling too weak to reply to me. Here are some excerpts from his replies:
“Dear my most beloved Yongjoo, I am so happy to get your first email to me and very relieved to hear that you are settling well in Wheaton. You must know this already, but being short has nothing to do with one’s character or abilities. Also, you are average in height in Korea. Most famous world leaders were all short. Always keep your head up and be bold. I am praying for you ceaselessly, every day.”
“Dear my beloved granddaughter Yongjoo… Back when I studied in the US in the 1950-60s, I saw German, Scandinavian, Dutch, other European immigrant believers hosting services in their native languages. Nowadays, they all worship in English at church, but it wasn’t like that just about 60 years ago. I imagine that Korean, Chinese, and other immigrants from Asia too will worship only in English at churches in the United States in about 50 years… You must remember that you are Korean, US Citizen, Global Citizen, and one of God’s peoples.”
My grandpa taught me that hospitality, friendship, and fellowship go beyond racial and cultural differences. He lived out his Korean identity with pride and dignity, all the while loving Costco’s cheese pizza and a bite of lamb chop with mint sauce. Because I watched how he carried himself everywhere he went, I never once felt incompetent to be an Asian minority during my decade or so of living in the USA. My perspective about the Church, the reunification of North and South Korea, and worldview are rooted in his mission calling and legacy.
I used to visit the Billy Graham Museum whenever I felt homesick to stare at the photo from the crusade in Korea. Whatever the reason was for my grandpa to sit at the ground and face the camera when the photo was taken, I was glad that I could find him in that photo and feel at home for a brief time. Right now, I miss him terribly and can’t imagine how much more I would miss him and feel homesick if I were to visit the museum again. But I rejoice in knowing that he is finally at home. He is with Christ, among all tribes and peoples.
I imagine that, one day, my grandfather’s quote will be on a wall of a highschool classroom in the USA and the white students will wonder who David J. Cho is.
Joanne Yongjoo Kim