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Korean church offers countrymen a place to worship, socialize
When Korean native Yong Cha Raider arrived in Yuma in the mid-1980s with her American husband, Clarence, there were only a handful of her fellow countrymen living here.
“Only Korean family — one — that's all. Then come more and more,” said Raider, who owns Oriental Gift Shop on Avenue B.
A few were stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station and Yuma Proving Ground.
Deeply religious, Raider invited the arriving Koreans to meet for Bible study in the living room of her home. As the little group grew, they needed a bigger space. The United Methodist Church near Southgate Mall allowed them to use their property.
Then in 1988, Korean-based Daewoo Electronics opened a manufacturing facility in San Luis Rio Colorado, Son., bringing almost 40 workers and their families from Korea. Some of them worked in Mexico but lived in the United States.
Daewoo is now defunct but a few workers started a new company. They still use the name Daewoo in Mexico, but they go by DDCAM in the U.S. The company has offices in Yuma.
With a growing community, the group bought 1.2 acres on Avenue B and established the Yuma Korean American Presbyterian Church. They met in an old farmhouse on the property, using the living room for services, the upstairs as office space and the kitchen to prepare meals because, as Clarence Raider noted, “Every time Koreans go to church, they have to eat.”
The farmhouse was used for many years under the leadership of several pastors.
When the Rev. Jin Ku Chung from Los Angeles arrived two years ago, he was used to starting churches and had established churches in Las Vegas, Alaska and Santa Clarita, Calif.
“But here, church was here,” he noted.
So in Yuma, Chung focused on giving the church a new home. The old farmhouse was knocked down and in its place stands a new 5,000-square-foot church. The congregation dedicated the new building on June 3, 2011.
The church seats 100 and has a “one-of-a-kind” crystal pulpit, a large video screen donated by DDCAM, a baby room, choir room and an office. On the other side is a spacious kitchen and eating area.
The kitchen is an important part of the church, since the congregation gathers for a traditional Korean meal after Sunday morning services. The members usually prepare and enjoy Korean dishes such as kimchi, a fermented dish made of vegetables with a variety of seasonings, and chapchae, a dish made of sweet potato noodles, stir-fried in sesame oil with vegetables.
However, sometimes they'll have American-style food and recently enjoyed hot dogs. It was the first time some of them had tasted hot dogs, Chung noted, laughing.
The association during this time is a vital part of the congregation, since it's more than just a church for them. It's also a community center.
“It's like family,” Chung said.
Although most are Buddhist, a growing number of Koreans are turning to Christianity. Chung estimates that about 40 percent of Koreans are Christian, and it's about the same ratio for Koreans in America.
Notwithstanding religion, Chung notes that 90 percent of Korean immigrants in America attend church. “Except for church, cannot get information about Yuma or America and cannot speak English at all.”
Since the minister first arrived in the United States 24 years ago, he has guided countless compatriots as they settle into their new country. He picks them up at the airport and helps them find a home, a car, furniture. He evens register their kids in school.
Before Chung's arrival, those duties fell to Yong Cha Raider. “Before he came, I pick up.”
“Very nice minister,” she added, pointing to Chung.
Chung said he does it because of his own experience when he first came by himself to America. “I make a lot of mistakes.”
He could not speak English and was not familiar with the American way of life. He even had to learn how to use the U.S. currency.
Chung, who is married to Seung and has two grown children, feels it natural to help fellow countrymen, even those who don't attend his church. About 100 Koreans live in Yuma and about half attend the Yuma Korean American Presbyterian Church.
The other members of the Korean community attend another church on Arizona Avenue. They're on friendly terms. Chung sometimes preaches at that church, and members of both churches visit each other, especially for holiday services.
However, the Yuma Korean American Presbyterian Church reaches out to more than Koreans. Chung regularly goes on mission trips to Baja California, and the church sponsors children around the world.
And while worship services are in Korean, the church uses a live translating system via headphones for English and Spanish speakers.
“Come everyone,” Chung said, inviting all Yuma residents.
Sunday services start at 11 a.m., with prayer, hymns and a sermon. After lunch, Chung holds a shorter service, with a 10-minute sermon and 30 minutes of musical “praise” with a live band.
Music is also an important part of the church. The 12 men and women who are members of the choir sing classic hymns and gospel songs. The band has two violinists, a drummer, a keyboardist, a pianist, a clarinetist and a guitarist.
Wednesday worship is at 7:30 p.m. and consists of small group Bible studies. Group meetings are held Friday evenings.
Members may also join Chung every morning at 6 for short prayer sessions.
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.