“Kim Ho Jik—Korean Pioneer,” Friend, Apr. 1997, 44
It was Sunday, nearly forty years ago, and an important political matter suddenly needed attention. Syngman Rhee, president of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), sent his secretary to find his vice-minister of education, Kim Ho Jik.
The secretary found the vice-minister teaching Sunday School in his LDS branch. “You’ll have to wait until the class is over,” Dr. Kim told the secretary.
When Dr. Kim finally arrived at the presidential palace, President Rhee scolded him for taking so long. Dr. Kim explained to the president and the others gathered there that his calling as a Sunday School teacher was important, and he had needed to finish his lesson.
President Rhee patted him on the shoulder. “Chal haesso (You did well)!”
Kim Ho Jik was the first Korean to be baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was born April 16, 1905, to Confucian* parents in P’yöngyang Province. As a young boy, he yearned to find the true religion, and he began attending many different church services. He joined the Presbyterian Church in 1925 and was very active, but something still seemed to be missing from his life.
Ho Jik wanted to learn about many things, so in 1950 he went to Cornell University in New York State to study nutrition. There he met Oliver Wayman, a fellow student and a Church member. Ho Jik was impressed by Brother Wayman’s clean lifestyle—he didn’t smoke, drink, or do other bad things.
When Oliver gave him a copy of The Articles of Faith by James E. Talmage, Ho Jik read it within a week and eagerly asked for more information. Soon he had finished the Book of Mormon, too, and believed it to be the word of God. He started attending Church meetings with Oliver; he also continued to attend Presbyterian services.
On the day Oliver left the university, he stopped his Korean friend in a hallway. “I then bore my testimony of the gospel and told him that it was my opinion that the Lord had moved upon him to come to America … that he might receive the gospel and take it back to his people.” He also told Ho Jik that “if he refused to do the work the Lord had for him to do, another would be raised up in his place.”
Those words had a powerful effect upon Kim Ho Jik. He read the Book of Mormon again, and the Spirit again told him it was true. In July of 1951 he was baptized in the quiet waters of the Susquehanna River, near the place where Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had been baptized. As he came up out of the water, a voice said to him, “Feed My sheep. Feed My sheep.”
Brother Kim graduated from Cornell a short time later—getting the degree that entitled him to be called doctor—and returned home to South Korea, which was at war. Amid the violence and destruction, he felt the quiet peace of the Holy Ghost as he attended Church services with LDS servicemen from the United States.
Dr. Kim was given many important responsibilities by his country. He was a professor at various universities and president or dean of several colleges, and he later became vice-minister of education and president of the Seoul City Board of Education. He was also a well-known expert on the nutritional content of the soybean. In spite of his many duties, he faithfully obeyed the Lord’s command to feed His sheep.
In 1955, President Joseph Fielding Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Dr. Kim, and several servicemen traveled to one of the hills that overlooked Seoul, the South Korean capital. There, in a quiet, private place, President Smith dedicated the land for missionary work.
Soon Dr. Kim was president of the Korea District of the Church’s Northern Far East Mission. He helped the Church gain legal recognition in South Korea so that missionaries could serve there, and he even rented a house where they could stay. Members and investigators met there often to discuss the gospel with the elders.
Dr. Kim translated the Articles of Faith, the sacrament prayers, hymns, and other Church materials into Korean. He served as a branch president, and he donated much of his money to the missionary effort and the poor. His example led many to investigate the Church.
Dr. Kim passed away suddenly on August 31, 1959, at the age of 54, just eight years after his baptism. But he had tried hard to feed the Lord’s sheep, preparing the way for tens of thousands of Koreans to become members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.