▲ “Jeju is a bright island with fantastic barley fields. Artists like this type of cozy, windy land.” Photo by Elizabeth Holbrook. Photo by Elizabeth Holbrook
Sitting amongst his paintings, brush in hand, beret tilted slightly to the side, Reverend Kim Jeong Ki resembles more of a modern day Picasso than a clerical member of his Presbyterian church. And he’ll be the first to admit that he’s not your regular pastor. Drawing since the age of seven, Kim has heavily integrated art into his ministry. Offering painting classes while his wife offers violin lessons to the local children near his church in the rural area of Han Kyung Myun, near Hallim, Kim is passionate about sharing the enriching effects art has on life.
Having traveled all over the world as a minister of the Disciples Training Bible Institute located in the suburbs of Seoul, Kim has dedicated his life to helping satisfy both spiritual and physical hunger. His current project consists of opening a school and hospital in the Himalayas. “My goal is to use my exhibitions to help poor people. It’s my hobby and my passion,” he says.
When did you first feel called to the ministry?
I was 28 years old when I had my conversion. At that time, I was experiencing a terrible situation. My wife and I just lost our baby and I was very sad. I was asking God, “What is life?” and “Who are you?” An older gentleman who was my teacher introduced me to Jesus Christ and I discovered what is truth and final destination. Three years later I began [study at a] theology seminary.
Why did you start a church in Jeju?
I came to Jeju 20 years ago to rest for my health. While I was here I decided to start a church in the middle of the island. I realized at that time that I wanted to be a rural area pastor, but I needed more logical resources. So, in 1996 I went to the U.S. to study and research alternative classes in rural areas.
How long did you study in the States?
I studied for eight years in San Francisco and Seattle. I received my Masters at the San Francisco Theological Seminary and my Doctorates at Concordia’s Theological Seminary. I never moved to the States to fully integrate; I always planned on coming back to Jeju.
What kind of alternative classes do you offer at your church?
My wife and I provide art classes for the children. I teach painting classes once a week and she teaches violin lessons twice a week. I have 14 students and she has 11.
What is your purpose behind these classes?
I want these children to have a beautiful and abundant life. Hobbies are very important and if a man or woman doesn’t have a good hobby they start to turn to things like drinking alcohol. By painting or playing the violin in their own home, these children are receiving a good education for their life.
Why did you choose such a rural area for your church?
Knowing God and knowing this beautiful land is all you really need. It’s possible to live in this rural area and be successful. I tell my students’ parents that I will build up their children differently from the modern world or the big city. I tell them if they want knowledge or to study, it’s OK to leave, but just come back. It’s possible to stay here.
▲ Photo by Elizabeth Holbrook
Can you describe your congregation?
My church has grown from about 40 members to 140. Many good people come to church every Sunday: doctors, teachers and there are actually seven other artists in the church. I need these people for the rural area. They donate their money, time, and support for the boys and girls. How old were you when you first become involved in art?
I was seven years old. I liked drawing when I was young. I would always walk and sit in a field and draw everything.
How would you describe your art?
I would describe it as landscape impressionism. Nowadays I have transformed my style to represent the meaning of life and what is our real hope. Last year I received an award from the government for my painting: “Communication with the other world.”
Can you describe this painting?
I mixed stone with glue cement to make a stonewall, just like the ones you see in Jeju. The stonewall represents the lives of many people who are working and don’t want to see another world. Their life is very difficult. At the top of the wall there is a window with a beautiful light sky to represent communication. In order to communicate we need an open mind. Also, in the window you can see an antenna, which is a wonderful tool for communication, but it’s also a hidden message of a cross. Another title for the picture could be, “What is real hope?”
What is your ultimate goal behind your art?
My plan is to be an artist for paralyzed and poor people. Sometimes rich men buy my pictures, so I use that money to support two paralyzed girls in Seoul. One of them actually just entered university. My goal is to use my exhibitions to help poor people. It’s my hobby and my passion, like with the Himalaya project.
Can you tell me more about the Himalaya project?
I met a man from Sikkim, a small region in the Himalayas, when I was at the theology seminary in Seoul. He was an overseas student in Korea. Six years ago, this friend suddenly visited me in Jeju. I was so surprised! He invited me to go with him to his country. In 2006, I went with him to Sikkim. At that time, I saw the education system in the country, and it wasn’t good. I talked with my friend and told him I would persuade Koreans to help his country. I decided to make a school and hospital in the Himalayas. I purchased a big plot of land where we are currently growing seed, and this year I will go back for the ceremony of the construction of the grounds.
Why is Jeju a good place for an artist to live?
Jeju is a bright island with fantastic barley fields. Artists like this type of cozy, windy land. Every morning, I get up early and watch the sunrise. I go outside to paint or write in my diary during this quiet time. Sometimes I write a postcard to send to other people, with a message of hope like, “Love your neighbor and you will be happy.”
The time between 5 and 7 a.m. is wonderful. You can see the bright sky and the beautiful setting and be happy.
You don’t have to hurry; all you have to do is walk and think. It’s tranquilizing.
For more information (in Korean) go to the josu.onmam.com
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