What would you do if someone said “I want you to write my biography”? And not just anyone, this was Dr. David Sang Chul Kim, early follower of Father Moon, 36 Blessed Couple, first pioneer missionary to the West, one of the first missionaries to the United States, first president of Unification Theological Seminary (UTS), and a Korean man in his 90s. Of course, I said “Okay,” all the time wondering what I had got myself into now!
For several years Dr. Kim has been asking various people, including my husband Yuichi and me, to help him organize his archives. Of course, by archives we all understood that he meant the piles of papers that covered every available surface in the “H-K House” in Poughkeepsie and the numerous boxes that were stored in various locations. For sure, organizing these materials would be challenging! At some point I had been given a box or two of papers and had started trying to make sense of them. But other things came along and Dr. Kim told us to leave it alone for a while.
Then, in spring of 2009 my work for the New World Encyclopedia came to an abrupt halt leaving me with lots of unexpected free time. Within days, hours even, Dr. Kim summoned me to his room at UTS after church and announced, “I want you to write my biography”! Not only did he say that, he also gave me a pile of papers and a bag of videos, saying that there were treasures to be given to the next generation and I should work on it, with my husband, and start immediately. Oh and he also said he needed 20 copies of a DVD we had made of his birthday celebration and how much would that cost? “Send me the invoice, I’ll pay immediately.” What could I say but “Okay” and “Thank you.” I realized that Dr. Kim was aware of the fact that I no longer had paid employment which meant, first, that I would have time to work on the archives again, and, second, that I would have no money.
I have always found Dr. Kim to be totally in tune spiritually with what’s going on in my life and this moment was no exception. Even though this work was to be a labor of love, Dr. Kim made sure that any expenses were fully covered. It even became a family affair, with not only my husband involved in scanning photos and other documents but my daughter being paid for retyping many of the speeches and other texts so that they could be included in the publication. Not only that, but any meeting would involve him buying us lunch at his favorite Chinese restaurant. If there was no time for that, we would just be given refreshments at his house and pressed to take home any leftovers.
Dr. Kim stressed continuously that he could not publish his own autobiography, “blow his own trumpet” as it were. Rather, he needed a scholar to sift through the materials and publish an academic account of his life. He considered me qualified for this task (to my surprise of course!) because I was a scholar and from Great Britain, his first missionary country. Again, the spiritual connection was very important. Another theme that ran through our discussions was Dr. Kim’s insistence that his accomplishments were not for his own glory but rather for that of our True Parents.
How did the work go? Well, it was quite exciting! My first task was to sort through the piles of materials, ever increasing piles since as soon as I thought I had some organization Dr. Kim would call and say he found new, even more significant, items. Many of the stories of his life were already familiar to me, but the significance of these events became much clearer as I studied the historical documents and photographs. Stories of his life before meeting Father Moon are fascinating. His grandmother, his father and mother, and the circumstances of his family and Korea surely shaped him and prepared him for his life of faith. His early times with Father Moon in Korea, efforts as the first missionary in Great Britain and later in the United States, struggling to teach Divine Principle to those God had prepared, sacrificing being with his family for many years, his legendary time at UTS and many more stories are such a significant part of the history of the Unification Movement.
Even though he was already over 90 years of age his enthusiasm and genuine excitement over God’s Providence had not diminished. In fact, he kept mentioning phrases that he has used often in his speeches, suggesting that they could be used in the title of the publication. For a while Dr. Kim talked about 900 pages for this publication, with a huge appendix of speeches and other items. Finally, though, I had the inspiration to suggest that we publish the speeches separately, and first, since we were getting totally bogged down in all the materials. He agreed when I said that book would be over 300 pages! His desire to honor Father Moon is clearly evident in the cover (my husband’s work) for which Dr. Kim insisted that a photo of him together with Father Moon be used. So at the end of 2009 “The Words of David S.C. Kim: Let Us Learn from the Past” was published.
Of course, that was not a biography, so my job was not at all done. Again and again Dr. Kim reminded me that I must make his story available to the next generations, and that if I didn’t do it who would. He continued to supply materials and photographs. We had a challenging time working on the cover, which he insisted should not have his own photo but rather a scene from nature. Of course this was early spring, you know the time when all the snow is gone and nothing is growing yet, so taking an interesting photo was a tough assignment. Yuichi and I spent a weekend touring the UTS grounds trying to find likely scenes. We finally thought we had the perfect shot down by the pond with a beautiful willow tree, the only thing to have signs of green leaves, and happily showed him. No, he said! Apparently willow trees signify death in Korea, who knew! We decided to wait for the magnolia tree that flowers in early spring outside the Massena House, and after several failed attempts we got some reasonable shots and Yuichi designed the beautiful cover that inspired Dr. Kim.
The biography, “The Ideal Family to Be or Not to Be: Testimonies of a Life of Faith,” was finally published in May of 2010. Since it is printed in full color many of the documents were not included, with Dr. Kim’s understanding that the documents not published in either of the first two publications would be used in a third I still had more work to do!
Fortunately, there was so much material already gathered that the process of compiling the third book was rather easier than the previous two. It was mostly a matter of organizing the many documents into a coherent outline, and then inserting them all into book form. And, of course, cover art was needed – my husband’s job! The title of the third volume used his oft repeated phrase “Let Us Work Together for Good” and was published in the summer of 2011. Dr. Kim was truly joyful and grateful, and I was also able to feel a sense of achievement and happiness that I could succeed in this task. And it was just in time, for Dr. Kim passed away just a few short months later.
An earlier version of this article was originally published in the UTS Alumni Association newsletter, September 2010.