It started with the airport. As I arrived at Ashville, North Carolina, it felt at the very least cozy, if not completely reverent. I do not know why I felt the way I did, but the airport was even smaller than the tiny airport in Hartford from my past. I always miss the fall leaves from the East Coast; not to say I do not miss the fresh trees of the summer as well. Sure enough, the seemingly melting away of the trees caught my attention as my eyes refreshingly gaze the streets while evoking a cry of admiration, “Now THIS is green!” If the trees lining the streets in California emit a faded green, then the trees on the East Coast are a thick green, like they are saturated with water.
As the pastor picked me up from the airport to head to the retreat center, it seems the air was drenched with water as well. On the road now, the signs on the streets began to catch my eye. One of the signs said, “Black Mountain."
I exclaimed, “Oh, this must be where the Korean missionaries must live.”
I remember watching a documentary on missionaries to Korea some time ago. There was a time when thirty or so missionary families were living here, but now the missionary couple of Stan Topple and the Linton family who served Korea for four generations is residing there. Missionary Topple was the man in a picture that I saw when I visited the Aeyangwon hospital in Yeosu. He devoted his youth to helping Korean leprosy patients, and after establishing the hospital, he gave it to a Korean person to manage while traveling to an even more desolate place in Africa to look after more leprosy patients.
I cannot help but feel a sense of gospel indebtedness even while passing by Black Mountain, the neighborhood of his residency, as my heart pours forth respect. About a hundred years ago, the Southern Presbyterian Church headquarters was in this region, and missionaries to Korea would be trained here and sent out. It seems as though in lieu of his retirement, he naturally found his way back to this place. It was not a surprise to feel the reverence of the airport in Ashville considering Black Mountain, a place hidden away in the ordinary looking country side, where missionaries would pray for and dream about Korea to finally be sent out there, even carrying their young children, with a devotion to even martyrdom.
A few moments later, a sudden shower made it difficult to see ahead. All of a sudden, the sounds of the rain became music and it seemed like the entire world was dancing on water drops. Three to four minutes later, the sun rose again. A rainbow was visible off the highway, and I had nothing but thanksgiving to God who opened the pathway to the retreat center with a rainbow. It was not a mistake, the reverence I felt at the airport.
As we almost reached the retreat site, another sign caught my eye. It said, “The Billy Graham Center.” I was thankful to God for this place where missionaries would come together to sing by an open piano with dreams for Korea, quietly, in a cozy little chapel tucked away in the forest at the outskirts of Black Mountain. I discovered that a reverent environment is not made by a building, but by the history of devotion.
Rev. Bryan Kim is the lead pastor of Bethel Korean Church, located in Irvine, CA.