Four years ago, two homeless people walked into the Minlak Seventh-day Adventist Church reeking of body odor and booze. The pair sat with plenty of space around them in the pews.
But a sinking feeling when recalling the Bible verse, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” didn’t sit well with many who say they realized their poor treatment of the visitors.
Now the environment has changed at this congregation in the city of Uijeongbu, just north of Seoul. The church has a special service, known as the “Love Church,” that caters to the needs of the homeless. Membership at the congregation of 120 now has an additional 50 attendees with the special service. Love Church averages about 20 new members joining the church each year through baptism.
Church Elder Lee Young Hwa, who runs the service, says he knows Love Church attendees need both encouragement and accountability. Every week he takes attendance and charts each person’s progress. He also photographs each person’s portrait and records everything from their consultations and job searches to personal savings and contributions.
“When we provide people with what they need, they will trust us,” Lee says. “I believe this is Jesus’ way of helping others.”
Lee, 58, has become the group’s respected elder, and says he feels he connects with them because of his own struggles, albeit not as severe. For years he worked as a marketing consultant, both in New York and in Seoul. He later started his own business, but it failed and he soon suffered severe depression. It was during this period of despair that he read through the book “The Desire of Ages” six times. The book is a touchstone title by Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White.
Members now help Love Church attendees by recommending job offers and studying the Bible with them.
“Helping the homeless people through the Love Church was invigorating for the whole Minlak congregation,” said associate pastor Gil Chul Jong. “Many people’s hearts were moved by their selfless service. So many volunteers came to serve.”
Gil said the project wouldn’t have happened without Lee’s service.
“Through his sacrifice, dedication and persistent effort, he was able to bring many people to God,” Gil said.
This year, Lee plans to start an organization called “Light House,” which will offer assistance to people in the nearby community.