By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
BALTIMORE—Roger Kim went to Johns Hopkins University with only one goal: to become an eye surgeon.
As a sophomore, he was doing some research in a lab and discovered a surgical technique.
“My professor was just so impressed. I was doing something his ‘post-docs’ and his graduate students couldn’t do,” Kim explained, noting his professor told him he would have an incredible future ahead of him. He could go to any medical school he wanted but thought: “Is this what life is about?”
He forecasted the future. He would graduate from Johns Hopkins and then likely go to Harvard University to get his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees. Then, maybe he’d discover something and maybe even win a Nobel Prize. But he kept asking himself, “What then?”
He realized there was nothing at the end of the next thing. And he began to struggle a whole lot.
Kim did the “whole college party thing” the next year, but he realized there was nothing there either. “I tried success and that was kind of empty, and I tried worldly fun and that was empty. There’s got to be more to life than this!”
Across the country, his mother was attending church in Colorado Springs. Kim remembered how she had urged him to go to church. So he did.
He doesn’t remember what the sermon was about, but he does remember his heart was “strangely warmed.”
“I remember walking away weeping, thinking to myself, ‘I missed out. All my life, I’ve done everything in the world, and I realized there was one thing I missed: There’s a reality of God!’”
He immediately felt it was so important to tell other people God was real. Within a few months, he had about 15 people gathering in his college dorm. They all came because of Kim’s passionate story about God being real.
“They were looking at me, and I was looking at them, and I said, ‘All I know is God is real, and that’s it!’”
Over time, he struggled with whether he should continue in the medical field—and in fact, was urged by nine out of ten pastors to consider becoming a medical missionary—but he kept coming back to “What is it that I enjoy more than anything else from this point on?”
His answer: “Having people who don’t know God come to know God.”
“Just seeing the incredible transformation—just the face expression that changes when they know God for the first time—that’s something I enjoy more than anything else.”
Even though his parents were against it, he decided to go into ministry.
He’s now been in the ordained ministry for 20 years, 15 of which he’s been involved in planting a network of churches, called the Grace Life Network (www.gracelifenetwork.com).
His first church plant was in 1997. There were ten people—five college students and five working adults. They had $400 as their funding, which they spent on an overhead projector. Kim worked two jobs to keep the church plant going.
Every night the group prayed two hours, four hours, and sometimes all night because they “believed God would do it.”
And God did. They started with ten people, grew to 20, and then after five years, they finally had 70 people. But the world’s economic crisis affected church membership, causing Grace Life to lose half of its members, who scattered all over the country to find jobs.
The remaining core group was burned out and discouraged. They thought the church plant was over. But as they continued to pray, God pointed the remaining group to John 21, where Jesus instructs the disciples to cast their net back into the water. Everyone agreed to do the church plant for three more months.
But they stopped praying. They didn’t invite anyone to church. They didn’t post flyers. They didn’t do any outreach because they were so burned out and tired.
An amazing thing happened. In three months from September to December, they went from 35 people to 135 people. Stepping Stone (www.ssmjhu.com), the campus ministry they led at the Johns Hopkins University campus, went from 10 people to 60 people.
“And this is why I know our ministry is not our own. It is God’s!” Kim said.
Over time, Grace Life’s strategy became to plant a network of small churches that would work together, sharing resources and staff.
To date, they’ve added Grace Life-Baltimore, a church in downtown Baltimore for professionals, which quickly grew to around 250 people in about a year and a half; The Light (http://atthelight.org), a church near the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) that primarily reaches artists in the community; and now, Grace Life-Elkridge (www.gracelifechurch.com), which they are planting outside Baltimore’s city limits.
Among the core group for Grace Life-Elkridge are Johns Hopkins alumni, including Alice Huang, who has earned a baccalaureate degree in biology and a master’s degree in public health.
Now leading worship at the church plant, she said, “I want to be able to say the things I have grown in and have learned to value in a campus ministry are still relevant and real in the real world.”
She asserted, “God was real in college, and how real God was in college is how real God should be for the rest of your life.”
She wondered, Can we really translate the things we value in college ministry—like intensive discipleship, small groups, community building, accountability and missions—into a real church?
“All those components that were so good, I think these things can become a church…And that’s why I can’t wait to see what God does!” she said.
School teacher Elisa No, who graduated from Johns Hopkins last year, experienced Stepping Stone’s community first-hand and really felt motivated to seek God on her own.
Being a part of the campus ministry, especially her junior and senior years, reminded her “to really chase after God and not to stray from that, no matter how hard things got.”
She realized she had a heart for the people of Baltimore, so she decided to become a part of the church plant, where she could help others experience God.
Sam Trumbo, who serves on Grace Life’s worship team and helps out with small groups and administration, graduated in 2010 with a degree in biomedical engineering.
Trumbo was a sophomore when he surrendered his life to Christ. He remembers steering as far away from Christians as he could, but now he wants to know Christ more and more. He, too, wants to help others to know Jesus.
Likewise, Jason Zhao, who graduated as a chemical engineer in 2009, felt God grew him in many areas while he was a ministry leader at Stepping Stone.
“My time here, just spending time with people, just being fed by people who were older and just wanted to meet up with me—I think all of that really trained me to be a part of the staff.”
When Pastor Roger asked him to be a part of the church plant, he saw the opportunity to challenge himself more. “God always wants me to grow. God always wants to stretch me…”
He added, “It’s been a blessing.”