Reflections on Returnee Ministry

By Rev. Ken Sunoo

“You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 10:19

University Presbyterian Church has a wonderful ministry with the many international students and scholars who come to Seattle each year. This ministry has profound ripple effects around the world, as individuals become believers at UPC and then, when they return to their home countries, they end up in positions of influence.

In February, Stephanie Lam (UPC Executive Assistant) and I (Rev. Ken Sunoo) visited five of our returnees in Seoul, Korea: Juhee Jeong, Catherine Joo, Lily Moon, and Youngwook & Heather Park. We hosted them for a reunion dinner, and they shared with us how they were impacted by their time at UPC.



One common theme that emerged was how grateful they each were for the community, support, and love they found at UPC, whether it was on a Friday evening at Global Friends, a Tuesday dinner at the International Friendship House, an English class at the Language Institute, or on our annual mission trip working with the homeless in San Francisco. Many who come to Seattle as nonbelievers make the decision to follow Jesus Christ after joining the UPC community. Juhee Jeong told us that one of the most meaningful moments in her life was being baptized at UPC before returning to Korea. Catherine Joo was so touched by UPC’s continuing connection that she invited Stephanie and me to her graduation ceremony from Yonsei University that following Monday.  

Ministry with our returnees is an exciting way that UPC is engaged in global mission.  Internationals from many countries, including China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil, come through our doors every week. Many are transformed by their time at our church in Seattle, and when they return to their home countries, they can have a tremendous impact in their local communities. Thank you for your support and prayers for this important ministry!


Finding Kindred Globally and Locally

By Stephanie Lam

You don’t need to travel across the world to find Kindred, but for someone who doubted that the Kindred Project would challenge me as a person of color, the out-of-country experience helped me to see a few things and ask a few questions. 

I was reminded of the privilege of knowing these returnees. I wished that more UPCers of all ages had known or shared stories/meals with these friends during their time in Seattle. Perhaps the returnees’ gratitude towards UPC would mean more than a story or numbers brought back to the congregation. So I ask, are we finding ways to connect to these young adults, to connect them with each other (Americans and internationals), and to the greater Seattle community? Are we using our unique roles as neighbors and peace builders to the extent of its potential? 

We returned to Seattle at the cusp of the Lenten season. Lent is a powerful opportunity for UPC to spread its hospitality and sense of ‘family’. However, one of the weekly challenges was especially difficult for me: “Write a prayer of confession of ways you’ve contributed to ethnic divisions.” My gut reaction was, “Isn’t this for our white congregation?” I was wrong. I realized that my consistent passivity to our broken societal systems spoke louder than my fleeting racial thoughts. My silence was hurting my brothers and sisters. I didn’t have the courage or security in Christ to speak up or to bridge the gap to the less reached. So I ask, are we content in simply extending hospitality to our neighbors, rather than standing with them in mutuality and solidarity? Who else are our neighbors?

Working at UPC has given me more awareness of UPC’s (hidden) resources that can help us to ‘turn’ our perspectives, lean into a spirit of learning, and to remind us that ‘every member is a minister’. Tangible onramps include groups like the Urban Task Force, Multiethnic Worship Ensemble, and Good Neighbor Team, or attending our Kindred church partners’ events (Evangelical Chinese Church and Mount Zion Baptist Church). Discipleship resources include books, classes, and people well-versed in topics like intercultural studies, reconciliation, and community development. Now is the time to ask, how do our ministries intersect? How are we using our resources? And, in what ways are we consistently participating in meaningful ministry?

I am reminded that like Jonah, I need a “value change” in my heart for the people of Seattle.

I am reminded that I must use my privilege to connect people and to listen to the untold stories/dreams in our community.

I am reminded of the underused and undervalued resources at UPC and in our community’s network.

And, I am reminded that Kindred doesn’t end. Rather, it gains momentum. #kindred2.0