One of the best perks of being in Korea is the opportunity I’ve had to do some writing with my brother-in-law, Josh. It’s been a great chance to get to know him better, and to develop my writing in community with another. Today, an article we worked on last fall was published through the Nazarene magazine, “Holiness Today.” It’s an interview of the president of KNU, and this article is one of, what I hope to become, many articles to come. Enjoy!
For Holiness Today, click here.
Seung-An Im: Leading with Vision In Koreaby Michael R. Palmer and Josh Broward
Just an hour south of Seoul and two hours south of the DMZ, Korea Nazarene University(KNU) is quietly changing the world. With almost 7,000 students, KNU is now the largest Nazarene university in the world. KNU’s president Seung-An (Abraham) Im has been named the Forbes Korea Global CEO for two years running. He regularly jokes about his small stature, but he has no shortage of vision.
Q: What was your childhood like?
A: I had a very difficult childhood. I was very poor, and at the age of seven I lost my mother. I often went without food or warm clothes.
In the sixth grade my friend invited me to a small Nazarene church. I attended it only two or three times, and then went to my sister’s house for the winter vacation. When I returned, I learned that the Sunday School teacher had been asking where I was and if I was okay. This touched my heart, and I started attending church regularly.
Actually, I was really a trouble maker in the church youth group, but I began to pray that God would change me. I didn’t want to be a trouble maker any more. At a church youth camp, I gave my life to God, and He deeply changed me. From this point on, I longed to attend KNU and study theology.
However, even though I had great test scores, my high school wouldn’t admit me because I couldn’t pay the entrance fees. I made a special request to the principal, and they finally let me enter high school. I sometimes had to drop out of classes because I couldn’t pay the tuition, but I eventually graduated at the top of my class.
I attended KNU after high school, but I still had no money and no home. I stayed on campus during winter vacation with no money for food or gas to stay warm. Often, I was so broke that I simply drank water for lunch.
However, over the past few years, I have realized again that God has always been faithful to me. He has used these difficult experiences to teach me to lead. When my wife died of cancer, I went through a very difficult time, but even then God showed me His love. He showed me once again that He will never leave me. I may not always have the best judgment or the highest virtue, but God is always faithful.
Q: Most of KNU’s growth has come within the last 10-15 years. Why has KNU done so well?
A: KNU started as a Bible college with very few students. This led to a financial crisis. But God used our money problems as a catalyst to change us. We took a deeper look at ourselves and what it meant for us to benefit our society. We changed from a Bible college to a full four-year liberal arts university. This was a great challenge for us. The Korean government’s Ministry of Education has very high standards, so we had to improve our internal systems and methods.
At that time the Ministry of Education was encouraging every university in Korea to find an area of specialization. Through a long process of reflection and prayer, we felt that God was guiding KNU to focus on people in our society who are lonely and forgotten, especially those with handicaps. We decided to specialize in rehabilitation and its surrounding majors—social welfare, special education, speech therapy, Braille, rehabilitative technology, etc. KNU is consistently ranked as the best school in Korea for rehabilitation.
We have also developed several unique majors, for which people with handicaps are specially equipped. For example, our Department of Design —Toy Design, Flower Design, and Universal Design— has a majority of deaf students because these fields do not require much oral communication. These majors give deaf students the opportunity to develop the professional skills necessary for success.
Because of our concern for people neglected by others, KNU has developed a very positive reputation in Korea. As our reputation has increased, we have gathered better students and better faculty— leading to a beautiful synergy.
Q: KNU has a unique partnership with the city of Cheonan, supplying English teachers to Cheonan’s public school system. Why is this an important program?
A: KNU supplies native-English speaking teachers to 110 schools across Cheonan. KNU desires to be a Glocal school (global + local). This means that we want to give back to the city where we reside as well as to our global community. These English teachers are an extension of the university. They display Christ’s character to our community, and our relationship with the whole city of Cheonan is strengthened through their faithfulness.
Q: As the leader of KNU, what is your driving passion?
A: Helping KNU become a missional university. I want students who attend KNU to love God, and to realize that God loves them. It’s also important for them to realize that God wants to use them to impact the world around them. The future of Korea will depend greatly on our young leaders. My passion is for KNU to prepare leaders who will embody God’s Kingdom in our world.
Michael R. Palmer is an English teacher at KNU and Josh Broward is lead pastor of International English Church.