Article and Photo by Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
The Bible Presbyterian Church has a new assistant pastor, but he is already well known to the congregation.
The Rev. David Joon Kyung Chi had been serving as “assistant to the pastor,” the Rev. Kevin Backus, since June 2022. But when Chi was ordained in July of this year, his title was changed to “assistant pastor.”
The two men work closely together to make the work of leading a congregation a lighter load.
“We start out every day together. We look at the day and we take a look at the general pastoral responsibilities, and we figure out how together we’re going to do those effectively. David is here just to serve in the pastoral ministry generally,” Backus said.
Chi’s responsibilities have included heading the church’s vacation Bible school for the past two summers, as well as preaching at the Sunday evening service, leading a prayer meeting and teaching the weekly Bible study class.
He also participates as a leader at the denomination’s week-long summer youth camp.
“Lots of children just open their hearts and share what is in their heart, and it’s a great opportunity to minister to them,” Chi said.
Just 31 years old, he has had a long and winding road to becoming a pastor in Grand Island. Born and raised in South Korea, he graduated from college there with a major in economics and a plan to go into marketing. Seven years ago, Chi emigrated to Canada and found a home in Kitchener, Ontario.
Once in Canada, he first set his academic sights on mastering the English language. But his ultimate goal became spiritual growth. When he started attending Riverside Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, the devotion of the congregation led him to his new career path.
“Surprisingly, it was eye-opening to spend time in the church, simply because the people’s Christian life in that church was quite different from what I had experienced in Korea. The center of their life was the church. That was shocking for me,” Chi said.
He made regular visits to the home of one of the elders of the church and his family.
“His children clearly knew that their parents loved each other,” Chi said.
He asked the elder how he could be such a good husband and father. The man’s reply was, “That’s what the Bible teaches.” Chi concluded, “That means I need to know the Bible better.”
He attended a program at Gillespie Academy in Woodstock, Ontario, that he described as resembling “Christianity 101.” After that, he decided, “If that’s God’s will, I want to study more about the Gospel word and then eventually preach the Gospel and be a minister.”
Chi said he shared that conviction with other ministers in Canada, and they encouraged him to attend Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in South Carolina. While he was there, he met and married his wife, Jennifer. They now have two children, a daughter, Sugi, 2, and a son, James, 1.
During his five years of seminary study there, one of his classes was with Backus, who, upon Chi’s graduation, invited him to come to Grand island and serve with him at the Bible Presbyterian Church.
“He’s an influential leader in the Bible Presbyterian denomination,” Chi said of Backus. “I knew that, as a young or prospective minister, I needed someone who would mentor me and teach me more so that I would be a better pastor.”
Backus is an adjunct professor and on the board at Greenville and teaches at three seminaries for at least three or four weeks per year.
This is his 42nd year as pastor at the Island church, and similar to Chi, “They brought me back here straight from seminary,” Backus said. His education includes a bachelor’s degree from Shelton College and a Master of Divinity from Faith Theological Seminary. He also has a master’s in sacred theology, a research degree in counseling and a Ph.D. in biblical counseling. His wife, Sharon, has spent many years in Christian education and has had leadership roles within church activities.
Chi said it was a great privilege to come to Grand Island in June 2022.
There are joys and challenges in his new position.
“The thing that I really enjoy is the fact that I could learn more about the Bible,” he said. “Every week as I study and think and read about the Bible, you can see the depth of the truth.”
He said even if you already know the particular Bible story, there’s always something new to learn: “That knowledge is not merely your intellectual knowledge of the Bible, but it’s eventually about God.”
As far as challenges, Chi said his is to develop greater leadership skills to minister to the congregation of about 115. He said when he began his ministry on Grand Island, people turned to him for guidance in their spiritual lives.
“When I was an intern, I could share my opinion, that’s all,” Chi said.
Now, he noted, he needs to show people what the Bible actually says and help them “apply the truth to their lives.”
Chi also said there is a lot of work that isn’t apparent in becoming a good leader. For example, he cites spending a week preparing for the “session” meeting with elders and ministers who guide the Bible Presbyterian Church.
Backus said sharing the pastoring responsibilities is going very well: “I’m delighted.”
“We’ve been here 65 years, probably 60 of those we’ve had interns,” he said of the Bible Presbyterian Church. “When David wanted to learn more about leadership, I tasked him with working more with our interns when they come. So, he’s been guiding and directing seminary students as they go through.
“He has a good handle on the scripture. What he hasn’t mentioned is that he has a wonderful relationship with the people in the church. Of course, when you have a couple of little kids, that really bonds people together.
“He cares about people very much.”
Backus said that some seminarians who learn to love the Bible “just go lock themselves in their office the whole time,” rather than reaching out to the congregation.
“But not David. He’s very involved in the lives of the people that are here. He wants to learn, and then he does learn. And that’s been great,” Backus said. “We’re looking for him being here for many, many years.”