The World Council of Churches (WCC) is mourning the death and remembering the life of Rev. Dr Dong Sung Kim, WCC programme executive for Diakonia and Ecumenical Solidarity, renowned pastor, peace negotiator and author of many texts on diakonia. Kim lived out a passion for peace and reconciliation both in the land of his origins and around the world as a faithful pilgrim for justice and peace.
Kim passed away on 25 March in Seoul, South Korea; his funeral will take place on 27 March in Seoul.
Kim served as a WCC programme executive from 2010, until he returned to his home country Korea in 2017 due to his illness.
Kim was an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church in Korea (PCK), and studied Theology and Church History at the Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary (PUTS) in Seoul. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh.
Before being appointed in WCC, he worked as a secretary for Ecumenical Relations and Planning at the PCK General Assembly Office, an assistant pastor of the Saemoonan Presbyterian Church, and a lecturer at the PUTS.
While conveying condolences WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit described Kim as a very gifted person.
“God had given him many talents, and he was eager to use them for the kingdom of God and to the glory of God,” said Tveit. “His calling to work for the ecumenical movement through the World Council of Churches he fulfilled with great commitment and with remarkable contributions. He was able to work on almost any subject or in any programme with knowledge and strategic thinking.”
Kim had a significant role in the preparations of the 10th Assembly in Busan, added Tveit. “He could give me and colleagues very good information and wise advice on many occasions, particularly in our visits to our member churches. His attitude of serving the church, as a true deacon of the unity of the church and its witness for justice and peace, was an example and inspiration for all of us.”
Tveit said Kim’s faith was mature and matured even more in the time of struggle and fight against his illness. “Dong Sung shared a lot of his valuable spiritual wisdom as we met during that difficult period, showing the faith and love to Jesus Christ in a living hope,” said Tveit. “His death is a great loss for the family, for his church, for his friends, but also for the World Council of Churches and for me personally. He became an entrusted colleague who could have done so much more. Now we mourn the loss of Dong Sung, our dear brother and friend, giving thanks for his life as a precious gift to us. I will always remember his smile – a sign of his love for the God of life.”
Peter Prove, WCC director of international affairs, said that Kim played a pivotal role in the context of WCC’s work to promote peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.
Kim helped conceptualize, plan and implement many initiatives, including a conference in Bossey, Switzerland on 17-19 June 2014, on the 30th anniversary of the ‘Tozanso Process’, involving church leaders from 34 churches and related organizations from 15 countries, including delegations from the Korean Christian Federation (KCF) in North Korea and from the National Council of Churches (NCCK) in South Korea, seeking ways to advance reconciliation and peace on the peninsula.
He also helped lead a 12-person international ecumenical delegation visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on 23-30 October 2015, which included an historic meeting of the Ecumenical Forum for Korea in Pyongyang on 28 October 2015, the first time an international ecumenical gathering of this nature was able to meet anywhere on Korean soil – North or South – with the official participation of both the KCF and NCCK.
Kim brought not only his exceptional language skills and theological expertise to this complex task, but also an acute political analysis of the dynamics of the region in a global perspective, reflected Prove. “Wise beyond his years, Dong Sung was greatly admired and respected by his colleagues and counterparts. His calm congeniality and his commitment to working collaboratively with others for a common purpose rather than pushing himself forward greatly endeared him to all those fortunate enough to work with him,” said Prove. “In his life and work, Dong Sung lived out a passion for peace and reconciliation both in the land of his origins and around the world. A true and faithful pilgrim for justice and peace.”
Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy programme, also remembered her colleague. “In the midst of the business of being ecumenical, traveling and all else, Dong Sung Kim remained a cheerful, prayerful, pastoral and dedicated colleague in everything he did,” she said.
Prof. Fernando Enns, co-moderator of the Reference Group of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, reflected that Kim helped immensely in getting the WCC pilgrimage started. “He was full of great visions and hopes,” said Enns. “And everyone who knew him could tell, that he was determined to commit himself fully to this ecumenical journey. Dong Sung was one of the most promising ecumenical leaders of our generation. It is a great loss - personally and for the whole ecumenical family.”
Rev. Dr Kjell Nordstokke, a special advisor to the WCC, thanked God for Kim’s ministry. “I shall always remember Dong Sung as a dear friend and a gifted theologian,” said Nordstokke.
Rev. Dr Carlos Emilio Ham-Stanard, rector of Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cuba, remembered welcoming Kim to the WCC diakonia and solidarity team. “I am grateful to God for all the time we worked together. In spite of this sad news, we are joyful, as we celebrate his life devoted to God’s kingdom in his church and the ecumenical movement,” said Ham. “As we remember his family, friends and colleagues in our prayers in this difficult moment of grief, but of gratitude for his life, we would like to share these words of the Bible: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (I Peter 1:3). Precisely in the celebration of this Holy Week during these days, we are reaffirmed that we also, as Jesus’ followers, co-participate in the resurrection as well. May the risen Lord continue granting you and the family, his peace and hope.”
Memories of Kim will always accompany us, said Rev. Prof. Dr Dietrich Werner, senior adviser for theology for Bread for the World in Germany. “I am very much saddened by the loss of my former colleague and friend Dong Sung Kim, one of the promising younger ecumenists from Asia with a great vision, commitment and outreach, who passionately has contributed both the preparatory process for Busan as well as renewal of church-based diakonia,” Werner said. “It is beyond understanding why his life had to end that early. We will keep his family in prayers.”
WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri said Kim cared for the work and the people he worked with. “He took his responsibilities with integrity and maintained good working relationships with everyone in the team. Even during the time when he was off work due to ill health, we received messages from the churches and ecumenical partners who missed his services and wished him well,” she said. “We are grateful to God for allowing us to serve God with Dong Sung. After he shared with some of us from Psalm 23 in June 2017, I shall always remember him every time I read that psalm. May he rest in peace and may God comfort his father, sister, wife and children whom we continue to hold in our prayers.”
Kim is survived by his wife Kahee Kim and two daughters, Yein Kim and Yewon Kim.