Church’s prayers and concern for discipleship of children, increase adult discipleship

By Jeff Campbell

Pastor hogun kim shinae leewife
Rev. Hogun Kim and his wife, ShinaeLee

When Rev. Hogun Kim arrived at Zion United Methodist Church in Mendota, Illinois, in July of 2015, one of the first things he noticed was the members. There weren’t many. “And the ones who were there were of retirement age; the youngest was 61.”

But he also noticed that these remaining members were willing to make changes.

With that in mind, Rev. Kim encouraged the congregation to spend time with God.

“I believe the first step to becoming a true disciple is to be with Jesus, to be connected with him,” Rev. Kim said, adding that he believes spending time alone with Jesus is the best way to develop an intimate relationship with him.

He started a Tuesday evening intercessory prayer meeting so people could learn to pray. The group started with just a couple of people and has grown to about 10. They have seen God answer prayers.

“At our prayer meetings, we began to pray for little children to come, just as Jesus said,” Rev. Kim said. “’Let the children come to me.’ If Jesus said it, we should, too.

“We decided to do a Vacation Bible School (VBS) to attract children,” he added. “The church hadn’t done one for more than 20 years.”

"I believe the first step to becoming a true disciple is to be with Jesus, to be connected with him."

Mendota zion vbs 2019
More than 100 children attended VBS at Zion UMC in 2019.

It was a huge step of faith for Zion. Some members were worried about how many would come. (Note: Isn’t it interesting that they were concerned about how many would come, not how many wouldn’t come. Doesn’t that show great faith?)

“We prayed God would intervene and he sent 70 children that first year,” Rev. Kim said. “The next year 80, next year 90, and this year we had more than 100 children!”

Each year following VBS, seven or eight families have decided to stay in the church. The church now has a children’s ministry, but also a youth group and a young adult group.

The new families have begun to work as teachers, in hospitality, and other areas.

“They work hard for the church,” Rev. Kim said. “I see God working in their hearts.”

Prayer ministry
Zion UMC members gather to pray for one of their own as he leaves for school.

While the adults have certainly made an impact on the work of the church, Rev. Kim said he knows the truth is the children have brought their parents to the church, not the other way around. The children felt loved at VBS, and then their parents felt loved when they came to the church.

“The children loved VBS so much,” he said. “They insisted that their parents bring them back to church after VBS was over. I have even had parents tell me they had to come back from vacation a day early because their children didn’t want to miss Sunday school.”

The church has been meeting continually since it began in 1887. Even with a 130-year history, Rev. Kim believes the best days are ahead.

“Our prayer group believes in miracles,” he said. “We have seen them. We prayed for him to bring us children, and he did. We had tried so many other things to bring people in, spent a lot of money, but nothing works like prayer.”

Given the church’s growth and their commitment to bringing people into their fellowship, the Northern Illinois Annual Conference awarded the church a 2019 One Matters Award.

“We were honored and grateful to receive the award,” Rev. Kim said, “but we are most grateful for the children and families we have reached.”

I pray you see miracles,


Rev. Jeff Campbell is the General Secretary of Discipleship Ministries. He comes to this role having led Discipleship Ministries as the Associate General Secretary for Strategic Programming, where he coordinated the work of the agency around three strategic priorities: an Intentional Discipleship System in every church; equipping local churches to engage their communities; and lifting up and creating local, contextual resources globally. Rev. Campbell joined Discipleship Ministries in 2013 as Executive Director of Conference Relationships.