Serving the community by saying ‘yes’

Serving the community by saying ‘yes’
Church-owned property at the corner of Gay Street and Atlantic Boulevard where dredging materials from Millers Creek will dry out and be trucked to the Trail Ridge Landfill, saving Millers Creek Special Tax District residents thousands of dollars.

Pastor Jong Oh Lee of St. Nicholas believes the Biblical precept “Love your neighbor as yourself” means serving community, both locally and in far-off Uzbekistan.

Once a month, Lee, who is senior pastor at Korean First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, donates space in the church’s Fellowship Hall so the board of the Miller Creek Special Tax District can hold its monthly meetings in a calm and quiet location. More importantly, he has also agreed to allow land owned by the church, which abuts Millers Creek, to be used as a staging area for the district’s eco-restoration project so that soil taken from the creek can dry out before being trucked away to the city’s Trail Ridge landfill.

“His offer will probably save us tens of thousands of dollars,” said Millers Creek Board Secretary Scott Bates. “By being able to put the dredge material there so it can be de-watered and dry out, that will save us from having to put it on a barge and take it someplace, which is a hugely expensive proposition. This way, it can be trucked out, which is much cheaper than having it on a barge to go someplace to be emptied and brought back to be refilled again. He is saving us a huge amount of funds,” he said.

Bates also added that prior to meeting at the Korean Baptist Church, the board met monthly at Havana Jax Café or the Mudville Grille. “It’s so helpful he’s allowed us to meet at his church. We felt it would be good to meet someplace close to the neighborhood that didn’t offer a lot of outside distractions,” he said.

To compensate Lee for his generosity, the board offered to pave and professionally landscape the grass-covered parking lot after it used it, said Millers Creek President Sharon Johnson. However, Lee declined the offer after “thoughtful consideration,” she said.

“Without him allowing us to use his property, we would probably have to shelve the dredging project for now,” said Johnson, adding that Lee is a kind and pleasant person and a “joy” to work with. “The property owners of Millers Creek will forever be grateful for his generosity. It is not often someone wants to do something of that magnitude and not only does not expect any compensation, but also declines any compensation.”

But for Lee, helping others is a Christian duty, one he takes seriously.

“The whole purpose of church is in serving others and serving the community,” said Lee using his daughter, Joy Lee, a Lakeside Park resident, as an interpreter. “When a committee from Millers Creek approached my father, there was no language barrier. He knew all he had to do was say yes,” Joy said. “Whatever we can do to serve the community, if we are able, we will do. My father did not see a need to say no. We are always open to any opportunities that are given to us.”

Joy Lee and her father, Pastor Jong Oh Lee
Joy Lee and her father, Pastor Jong Oh Lee

Although Lee’s congregation consists of a small group of 50 Korean and 20 English-speaking members, his church is rich in philanthropy. 

Korean First Baptist Church was originally a church plant by Henricks Avenue Baptist Church in San Marco in 1980. Lee, a South Korean native, was recruited by the church to become senior pastor in 1990, just in time for its 10th anniversary. At that time, the church inhabited an edifice on Mandalay Road next to Holiday Hill Baptist Church. 

In 1997, the group sold its Mandalay Road church building to Mother of God of the Zonoro Syrian Orthodox Church and purchased its present church building on Atlantic Boulevard in the heart of St. Nicholas. It is there that the church holds both Korean- and English-speaking services and runs an English-speaking Bible school, Lifeway Baptist University, where students earn theology degrees. 

In 2008, the church purchased the Morning Glory Christian Fellowship building at 3405 Atlantic Blvd. to use as its English-speaking “mission church.” The church also has an active refugee ministry, where it assists Sudanese and Burmese immigrants, among others, when they need help with housing, food, education, and tutoring. “This was an area we knew we as a Korean church could do because, although there is a language barrier, with that ministry all we need is love. It’s a love language. We don’t need English to serve,” said Joy.

Perhaps Lee’s greatest philanthropic effort of all is his work with his nonprofit, the New Hope Rehabilitation Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization that provides rehabilitation through prosthetics and education for the people of Uzbekistan. Founded by Lee in 1997, the foundation provides 120 free prosthesis per year to Uzbekistan citizens who have lost limbs to disease and land mines.

Twice a year, Lee heads to the central Asian country with prosthesis parts, which he purchases at the lowest prices he can find globally throughout the year. The parts are stored by a nonprofit in Nevada that, for a reasonable cost, stores and packs them in a container to be shipped. In Uzbekistan, the New Hope Rehabilitation Foundation owns a building where 15 employees work five days a week throughout the year constructing and repairing prosthesis and offering therapy to the beneficiaries of their labors.

“Nothing happens quickly. The work is very slow,” said Joy, noting that Lee and his group could be arrested if they preach Christian beliefs in the Islamic country.

“The patients know it is through Christ’s love that we do this, because why would we come over to another world without any charge?” she said. “This is how we are able to spread the love. There are no church meetings or preaching.”   

Lee, who walks with a cane after being stricken with polio when he was one year old, feels a kinship with the Uzbekistan amputees, said Joy. “I have good parents,” Lee said through his daughter, also noting there was no polio vaccine in South Korea immediately after the Korean War. 

“My father is so thankful because he had wonderful parents. In the environment he was given, he did not have to go through some challenges like other people. But the people we work with in Uzbekistan don’t have anything. He feels it is his responsibility to provide what they need because of his experience with polio,” said Joy.

“We are all God’s workers,” said Lee with his daughter interpreting. “We serve him by serving others. The No. 1 Commandment is to love others as you love yourself, so it’s my duty to love others as I love myself as long as I live here.” 

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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