There are only a handful of people who call us on our house phone so when the phone rang one evening, I wasn’t surprised to hear our District Superintendent Neville Bartle’s voice on the other end of the line. “Would you be interested in having In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok from Tonga speak at your church?” I have to confess, sometimes I still get hung up on is understanding names said with a Kiwi accent. Attempt to relay Korean names in a Kiwi accent and it’s over. “Can you spell that?” I asked.
Turns out, I was already on to In-Kwon Kim and his wife Jeong-Seok and their story. After reading a couple of short articles here and here about their ministry, I had hunted down the video below via my friend Annie who works at the Nazarene Global Ministries Center to share as a sermon illustration the following Sunday. “Yes. Most definitely. We want them!” I exclaimed. These were people whose lives and stories were challenging me deeply. I most certainly wanted to meet them and hear from them first hand, and I wanted our church to have that opportunity as well.
This video is an excerpt from a longer documentary a Korean group produced several years ago.
In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok are Koreans. They’re also Kiwis. No matter where they live, they are servants. They raised their older children while serving in some of the poorest slums in Nairobi, Kenya. Currently, they’re raising their youngest son who is almost 10, while serving a marginalized group of people in Tonga.
As young a young person in Korea, In-Kwon felt called to serve the special needs population. Jeong-Seok felt called to missions. Almost a decade ago, they were living in New Zealand with two teenage children and a 6-month-old baby when they felt a very strong and specific call to serve people with special needs in Tonga.
When the Kim family arrived in Tonga in 2007, there were no services of any kind for people with disabilities. An untrained eye may have assumed that there were no people with disabilities at all. They were all in hiding. According to the Kims, many people in Tonga believe that a disability is a curse from the gods, a direct result of some hidden sin. Many of them couldn’t have left their houses even if they wanted to. They didn’t have wheelchairs or even doorways big enough to push a wheelchair through.
Imagine laying in a bed, unable to move yourself, attempting to catch a glimpse of the sky through the one tiny window in your home day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade of your whole life. That was the reality the Kim family discovered as they began to seek out the people they felt called to serve.
It took nearly two years for people to begin to trust In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok, but God had planted a big dream in their hearts for a respite center, a place of refuge and rehabilitation for people with all kinds of disabilities. It was a dream that could not be squelched. Nearly 10 years later, the ministry provided through the Mango Tree Respite Center has exploded and continues to expand as quickly as financial and human resources allow. Through rehabilitation services such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy, Braille instruction, Bible Camps for children and adults, and special education services, In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok and the staff at Mango Tree are offering hope to the hopeless in practical and tangible ways. They are the hands and feet of Jesus.
Their work does not only take place at the Mango Tree facility. Regular home visits provide opportunities for in-home therapy and the formation of relationships with families. Mango Tree seeks to provide mobility equipment such as crutches, shower chairs, and wheelchairs, and at the same time improving the quality of life at home by installing ramps and making bathroom facilities suitable. While these things are basic necessities of life, they aren’t always readily available for Tongan families. Mango Tree is making a difference.
Like Jesus, In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok, show up among the untouchable and outcast of society. They have much to offer and loads of education and experience, but they take a posture of humility, offering their whole lives to people who have often been scorned and rejected by their society.
The Mango Tree Respite Center has been blessed with buildings funded by the likes of the Korean Government and the offerings of Nazarene children from around the world, but the they run things on a tight budget—managing the facilities and the ministry on about $25,000 US per year. It’s incredible, really, but they still have a significant need. For example, they could use another wheelchair accessible van to help get people to therapy, education classes, and Bible camps. However, the gift of a van would be futile without the resources to purchase insurance and petrol as well. They are always in need of wheelchairs and other devices that can be customized to fit each individual. You can be a part of the incredible work that God is doing through Mango Tree through praying and through financial support.
But there’s a bigger narrative here. Not everyone is called to start an entire special needs respite and education program from scratch, but we are all called to offer ourselves in humble service, wherever we live. In fact, In-Kwon and Jeong-Seok have an additional purpose when they return to Tonga. They are going to begin intentionally equipping the very people they have been serving to serve as well. Their hope and prayer is that the people with disabilities and their families will begin reaching out to the homeless and addicted who live around the center, passing on their new-found love of Jesus to others who desperately need it.
And so these men, women and children are not cursed, rather they are bearers of the promise of God, witnesses to the light of Christ, and the embodiment of the Kingdom in their neighborhood.