The Dual Role Of This “Man On A Mission”
1st Lt. Sam Kim reflects on his experience as a Vineyard Pastor and U.S. Air Force Chaplain, and the military's unique culture for outreach.
Chaplain, 1st Lt U.S. Air Force; Young Adult and College Ministry Pastor, Vineyard of Harvest, Walnut, CA
Equipping churches to participate in God's global mission.
Long before becoming a military chaplain, I was a USAF communications airman from 2001-2005, serving 3.5 years in South Korea, ready along with my unit to take the fight to North Korea. It took more than a decade away from military service before I finally returned in May 2016 to the USAF Chaplain Candidate program; I had a long road to become a chaplain, starting with my spiritual lineage. I was raised in an Assemblies of God family. My paternal grandfather was a Presbyterian and early church planter after the Korean War. My maternal grandmother was a Methodist and, at one point, the president of her chapter of Methodist women in South Korea. I had spiritual encounters as early as age four, accepted Jesus at age six at a retreat, and started reading the Bible at age nine.
My spiritual maturation mirrored my mental and physical maturation. My dad, from as far back as my middle school years, would say that I was going to be a pastor, which I would shrug off. Then, in college, I felt the call to ministry grow until it became undeniable. God’s leading in my life was unmistakable when I realized that I had a prophetic gift to identify others in their ministry giftings – which also meant that I could call myself out. One of my college roommates I called out became a missionary to Singapore.
For years, I resisted my calling because I feared the responsibility of becoming “clergy.” But eventually I realized that I could no longer let my fears block my calling. The turning point was during a special six-month assignment to Tokyo from 2014-2015, working as the Department of Veterans Affairs benefits liaison. It was then that I realized how much I missed military service, and felt the desire to serve again – but this time as a chaplain. In December 2014, during my Christmas break, I visited South Korea to spend time with my family. My eldest aunt gave me a prophetic word from my maternal grandmother that I was meant to be a pastor. My grandmother had passed away without ever telling me. On top of all this, the senior Chaplain at Yokota Air Force Base affirmed my calling and encouraged me to become a Chaplain Candidate with the Air Force.
The affirmation and confirmation continued with the support of my local church in Hawaii. I would never have been able to become a chaplain without the help of local churches with Vineyard connections and roots. These include Pastor Jordan Seng’s Bluewater Mission in Hawaii, Pastor Fili’s house church; Pastor Glen Taylor, Pastor Dennis Liu and Pastor Kenneth Kwon of Vineyard of Harvest. After I completed my Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, it was Vineyard of Harvest that helped me fulfill my calling and my military chaplain preparation requirements by ordaining me in May 2018.
After my ordination and graduation from seminary, I headed down to the San Diego Veterans Affairs Health Care System, which also gave me an opportunity to interact with other Vineyard pastors and chaplains. I was mentored by another Vineyard military chaplain on active-duty, Jason DiPinto (Navy), and met other long-time chaplains, including Steve Satterfield (Army), both of whom have witnessed the growth in Vineyard chaplaincy under the umbrella of Vineyard Missions. Jason shares a related article detailing Vineyard ministry as a military chaplain.
US Military As A Cross-Cultural Mission Field
In my conversations with Vineyard leaders, people often don’t know what a chaplain is or does, but chaplains have been serving with the US military since George Washington’s Continental Army. The word “chaplain” comes from the mid-14th century, “minister of a chapel,” and has roots going back to Latin. Military chaplains help take on the part of defending the US constitution, particularly “…the free exercise thereof [religion]…”; military chaplains maintain our own personal faith tradition(s), while allowing service members and families the opportunity to practice and grow their faith as well. Chaplains have a unique ministry opportunity to reach a population largely made up of very young adults, from a variety of ethnic, socioeconomic, and political backgrounds.
The military is a unique culture for outreach. Military members and their families come from our local communities, yet so often experience unique traumas from deployments, conflicts, wars, and stress – both from serving and surviving military service. Additionally, military members and their families often suffer from their own painful challenges carried over from before serving in uniform. Service members and their families desperately need to see the power of the Gospel, and often benefit from chaplain services.
Did you know that less than 1% of the US population is currently serving full-time in the military? Add the Reserve components and it’s just about 1%. From a missions perspective, this may seem like a large number. Especially when each of those military members eventually leaves military service and takes their experiences with chaplains back to their communities and neighborhoods. But, when compared to past experiences in our nation’s history – particularly World War II or Vietnam – today’s Americans have very little experience with military service. Gallup reports that 32% of Americans attend church regularly – imagine if that were only 1%! And military chaplains have a special mission to support that small percentage of our nation’s citizens. This participation in our collective national service is especially important in a country with a strong tradition of civilian control of the military. Yet, those who volunteer are among the best our nation has to offer, and all Christian, military chaplains are blessed by God to be entrusted with a substantial part of their spiritual and emotional care.
I’m grateful to God for this winding road that led me back to Vineyard of Harvest, where I currently serve as the full-time Young Adult and College Ministry Pastor. And one weekend every month I’m on mission: ministering cross-culturally on a military base in southern California as a Vineyard USAF Chaplain. Sometimes I preach up to three times on a Sunday while visiting units, providing invocations, devotions, and words of encouragement. More often than not, these times with service members are joined by significant pastoral counseling sessions on everything from relationships and family, the life of faith, financial stress, work anxiety, anger management, and even suicide. My work as a USAF Chaplain allows me to encounter a community that is often stretched by its global mission. Sometimes I am the one who welcomes back our airmen from their deployments to the Middle East or the Pacific. I have the privilege to be with them and “sit in their boots” when they need someone to talk to. I am the one who celebrates their retirements, promotions, marriages, baby dedications, and conducts their funerals. I am a Vineyard US Air Force Chaplain.
For more information on the requirements and opportunities for military chaplaincy, see, “Making the Connection: Chaplaincy, Missions, and Vineyard Ministry.”
To understand my target ministry population even more, see The Council on Foreign Relations’ “Demographics of the U.S. Military,” published on April 24, 2018, which reported that 1.29 million or 0.5 percent of the U.S. population in 2016 was actively serving in the military.
To learn more about Vineyard Missions, click here.