The late Dr Kim, wife of Rev Dr Yonggi Cho, was a powerhouse as a preacher and President of Hansei University, yet an authentic and loving mother figure to many.
“Strong winds face us during our life’s voyage. But these times of suffering and hardship are a blessing to those who call upon the name of the Lord. This is because hardship is a device through which we experience the strength of the Lord. This is because difficulty is just another way that God proves himself to be more powerful than the world. This is because adversity produces faith and endurance, and because when the waters grow rough, Jesus comes to us and calms the waves and holds the boat securely.
“These are observations I have experienced throughout all major events in my life: my calling to become a servant of the Lord; my calling to become a teacher and professor; my calling to become the president of Hansei University, and my calling to become the wife of a pastor. All of these callings have included hardships mixed with blessings, waves mixed with divine sunlight. The boat shook, but I never fell off. I was anchored to God’s salvation and grace!
“Life was never promised to be an easy voyage; our life cannot be a smooth continuance of light breezes and warm sunlight. But God has made a promise that He is sure to keep, that we will never sink in the water. He will glorify Himself through our hardships. With faith in this promise, our waves will seem small and trivial. The Lord commands our waves, ‘Be still!’
“When you begin to sink, Jesus will grab on to you with His firm love. I pray that all of us will continue to look upon Him and trust in the Lord who is on the waves.”
This excerpt from Dr Kim Sunghae’s 2007 book The Lord Who Is On The Waves summarises well her life and faith. For many years a dear friend of City Harvest Church, Dr Kim, the wife of Dr Yonggi Cho of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea, passed away last week on 11 February 2021 at the age of 78.
Dr Kim was a true multi-hyphenate: she faithfully answered every call of God upon her life. She was wife to the pastor of the world’s largest church. She was mother to three sons. She was an accomplished pianist and a piano professor, and composer of many gospel songs. She was President of Hansei University. She was the author of a number of books, including the bestseller, Open Wide Your Mouth And I Will Fill It. An ordained minister, she travelled the world to preach and to strengthen many, from Tokyo to Ecuador.
Yet, it was Dr Kim’s heart and spirit—not her accomplishments—that endeared her so deeply to many. City Harvest Church had a special relationship with Dr Kim. She was truly a spiritual parent to the church.
THEY CALLED HER “OMANI”
To City Harvest Church’s founders Kong Hee and Sun Ho, Dr Kim was their spiritual “Omani” (어머니 or “mother” in Korean).
Pastor Kong wrote his tribute in a Facebook post on 11 Feb: “To Sun and I, she is simply Omani or Mom. Whenever I call her that, she would reciprocate with adeul, or son.
“Sun and I have had the privilege of being a part of Omani’s life and ministry for much of the last 20 years (although I had been acquainted to Dr Cho way back when I was a teenager in 1982). She was one of the kindest, most generous, compassionate, and spiritual human beings we have ever met. Many outside of Korea are not aware that her Christian name was Grace, which was totally befitting of her character.
“We loved hearing her stories about her many adventures with Dr Cho, and the struggles of building a fledgling church in the aftermath of the Korean War. The first time she met Dr Cho, she was only a teenager. She was so shy that she hid herself in the closet when her mother (Rev Jashil Choi) invited this handsome young preacher to the house. The future Mrs Cho soon gave piano lessons to support the new ‘tent church’ this young Pastor Cho had started. Those were very challenging years, but for this couple who had big visions and dreams for revival, those years were filled with heavenly joy. Together, they saw the church growing from nothing to more than 800,000 members. It was truly the grace of God at work.
“Omani was always very concerned about my personal well-being. She always insisted that I must rest more (observe the Sabbath weekly), that I should eat enough (and not fast too much!), and exercise daily (because my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit). Whenever Sun and I were in Seoul, she would cook traditional Korean meals for us, then she would share with us on the importance of healthy eating and living. The evening would never be complete without her playing hymns on the piano, with Dr Cho, Sun and I joining in with the singing.
“Omani constantly encouraged me to spend more time with Sun and Dayan, and never to allow ministry to replace my home life. She would say, ‘Take plenty of photos of the wonderful time you spend with Dayan. Time flies very quickly and soon, your little boy will grow up. Without photos to capture the good memories, we can easily forget the happy moments.’ I took what she said to heart. At the same time, she also urged me to brush up on my Mandarin and not neglect my responsibility to share the gospel to Chinese all around the world. She was so proud when I preached in Mandarin to 4,000 Chinese delegates at the Prayer Mountain one summer.
“We are going to miss all her advice.
“Omani’s life was not easy. She had her fair share of very difficult (and sometimes, humanly impossible) situations, but she was always very gracious in adversity. I had personally witnessed the times she wept when the challenges were great, or when she felt Dr Cho and her were being misunderstood. She would retreat to her room to pray, and the next day, she would show up again with a bright, sunny smile and declarations of ‘Hallelujah, praise the Lord!’
“Omani’s faith in the goodness and greatness of God was unshakable. She clearly lived for God, for her husband, for her children, and for the gospel. To us, she is the perfect example of a Proverbs-31 woman, who is the epitome of the Christian virtue of loyalty. She was often loyal to a fault.
“Our loss is heaven’s gain. The Bible says, ‘Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants’ (Ps 116:15). Dr Kim Sunghae, or Mrs Grace Cho, was a faithful servant of God and she is now in the bosom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
“We love you, Omani. Thank you for being who you are, and doing all you have done for us. We look forward to seeing you again, to hear you play on heaven’s piano as we sing hymns together before the very presence of the God whom you love so much. We will meet very soon, and what a day of rejoicing that would be!”
Sun’s simple, heartfelt remembrance of her was a video clip of Dr Kim playing a medley of hymns—“Amazing Grace” and “Hallelujah”—on the piano. “Omani, I miss you. Omani, there are no goodbyes for us. You will always be in my heart… I miss you….” she wrote.
SHE IMPARTED FAITH AND JOY
Since April 2008, Dr Kim had visited CHC and its School of Theology many times, each time bringing a timely word that never failed to fill the hearts of the congregation and students with faith and joy.
Her messages were simple—she was not a native English speaker, but with practice and by faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, she would deliver an impactful sermon every time. Church members remember her for her cute gestures, like forming a heart with her arms over her head, and she would make the whole congregation follow suit. Once, she played gospel hymns on a grand piano during a church service; many times, she led the people in singing “Hallelujah” and “Wonderful Love Of Jesus”, rousing songs of praise and worship that she composed.
For more than a decade until 2019, Dr Kim would visit the SOT students, deliver a powerful sermon and pray for them.
Remembering her, Pastor Bobby Chaw, the Principal of SOT, says, “Her passion was infectious. It was evident in the double-quick steps she took when she walked, the energy when she hit the keys on the piano, and even in the laughter she shared both in class and during meals. I always felt strengthened when spending time with Dr Kim. My favourite quote from her is, ‘Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it’ (Ps 81:10). She was always full of conviction when she quote it, and it helped me to believe that God responds to our prayers.”
DR KIM, BEHIND THE SCENES
Pastor Yong Te-Chong, CHC’s Hospitality Pastor, had many opportunities to engage with Dr Kim in the CHC guest room before and after church services. “She loved to share her food,” he recalls. “She would candidly but firmly insist that we must accept her offer to eat what she suggested. Not a single bit of food must be wasted!”
On her home ground in Seoul, Dr Kim treated CHC staff and members like her own. “My wife and I visited Korea in 2014 and we were hosted by Dr Kim’s staff member whom we had met earlier that year at SOT,” remembers Bryan Chua, a senior facilities officer in CHC’s Facilities Department. “He treated us to a meal, invited us to his home and showed us unforgettable hospitality. The next day, he invited us to a Bible college chapel session where Dr Kim was preaching. He passed us not one but two sets of Heat Tech (heat-preserving innerwear) each, under the instructions of Dr Kim, because she knew we Singaporeans couldn’t take the cold! After the service, he brought us forward and she spoke to us so warmly, giving us her time.”
Chiong Xiao Ting, who began interpreting for Dr Kim’s sermons into Mandarin in 2011, remembers one time when Dr Kim offered her a condiment made with snails, which she gamely tried. “She always brought her own sauces, which she made,” Xiao Ting remembers. “She was very homely.”
Xiao Ting had the opportunity to see Dr Kim at work more than most. In an Instagram post, she wrote, “Her diligence and conscientiousness touched my heart in a big way. She was not young, but she put in so much effort into every sermon, even after a long flight and long day, we would be running through her sermon in her hotel room till late night.”
“Dr Kim, thank you for the great life you lived, and thank you for obeying God and serving His Kingdom. We have all been impacted by your ministry and one day, we will meet you again. I cannot imagine how happy you are right now singing ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Wonderful Love Of Jesus’ in the actual presence of Jesus.”
FROM GUEST TO FRIEND
Audrey Ng was working in CHC’s Hospitality Department when Dr Kim first came to Singapore in 2008. Audrey was tasked with welcoming Dr Kim at the airport, and she brought a big bouquet of sunflowers to greet her for the first time, thinking they were bright and happy.
“Later, she said the bouquet was too big and would cover all our faces when we took photos, so since that time, I would bring her smaller, round bouquets,” Audrey remembers. This became the way she and Dr Kim would meet each time—at the airport with a bouquet of flowers—from the first time to the last in 2019.
As the years passed, Audrey came to learn that Dr Kim loved plants, and so, as CHC’s hospitality representative, she would arrange for potted plants such as orchids to be sent to Dr Kim on her birthday. “She enjoyed caring for the plants herself,” says Audrey.
As hers was the first face Dr Kim got to see each time she arrived in Singapore, a friendship developed. “Every year without fail, she would ask me ‘Did you buy new shoes this year?’ There is a story behind this question: to Dr Kim, a pair of new, good, comfortable shoes enables us to walk comfortably and spread the Good News to other people who have not heard it. I never forgot this story.”
It happened once that Dr Kim lost her favourite shoes on a trip to Indonesia. Audrey searched every branch store in Singapore to find that exact pair of shoes—and managed to procure the last pair in Dr Kim’s size. She says, “I wanted to do that for her because I knew it meant a lot to her.”
For Audrey, it has been a tremendous privilege to see the many sides of Dr Kim, from her diligence when it comes to work to her love for playing ping pong. Dr Kim would specially tailor clothing made from quality material for her staff members so that they would be comfortably clothed when they assist her. She also gifted Audrey some tailor-made blouses.
“I respect Dr Kim a lot: at her age she travelled so much for missions, and she had such deep love for people, for Dr Cho and her family. Her love for Pastor Kong and for our church was so great—she was always praying for us during our difficult times,” shares Audrey. “I’m really going to miss her laughter and the joy that she would bring.”
Over the years, City News has reported on Dr Kim’s various visits to CHC: