Rescue the perishing: results of a mission trip a half-century later

Korea, November 1959. The raw cold of winter had stripped the landscape as clean of vegetation as the bombs of war had just a few years before. An old car carrying four passengers lurched along a rutted, potholed dirt road leading to the village of Wanju, 80 miles outside Seoul.

Inside the car, 16-year-old Paige Patterson, his parents Thomas A. “T.A.” and Roberta “Honey” Patterson, and an interpreter braced themselves to keep from bouncing up against the low roof.

Long before he was president of two Southern Baptist seminaries and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Paige Patterson was a fresh-faced, newly-ordained “preacher boy.”

T.A. Patterson, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Beaumont, Texas, and a well-respected leader among Texas Baptists, had been invited to preach at a conference in Tokyo, Japan. The conference organizer wanted to have a youth conference at the same time, so this pastor volunteered his son to preach at that event.

After the conference, the Pattersons went to Seoul as part of a mission trip that would take them to 20 stops in various countries around the world. Due to the poor conditions in Korea at that time, they planned to check on a home for the elderly in Wanju and report to churches who were praying for them back home.

When the car pulled up to the home, Honey Patterson, a tender-hearted woman, took the lead. The rest of the group followed her inside the home.

The American visitors soon realized that there were more people inside than they expected. There were six children living there, too. They looked to be about three or four years old; a couple of them were infants.

They were orphans. Malnutrition and sickness stunted their growth and distended their stomachs. Three of the older children were dangerously ill.

Honey swung into action. “We are going to get the babies back to Seoul,” she announced to her son and husband. “They need medical care and food.”

Honey gently reached down and scooped up one of the babies.

“Here,” she said, carefully extending the first little bundle toward her dumbfounded teenaged son. “You will take this one.”

Honey handed the next infant to T.A. She took charge of a third one.

“Please make sure these people know that we are going to leave funds to cover the medical care in Wanju for these three older children,” Honey instructed the interpreter. Plans were laid for a medical clinic to treat the last three children in Wanju, and for someone from Seoul to come check on them later.

The group made it back to Seoul by early evening. At the hospital, the babies were handed over to the care of the nurses and doctors. The group prayed that the Lord would protect the children and the three back in Wanju, and bring them into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ one day.

Fort Worth, Texas. May 6, 2005. Dr. Paige Patterson presided over his fourth commencement as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His commissioning message to the new graduates warned that some of them would be called to spread the gospel in dangerous places, and a few might even give their lives because of faithful service to God.

"To you graduates I want to say: do not view matter in its present state as the totality of it," Patterson said. "Your story might not be fully known until God welcomes you home to be with him in glory."

Unknown to Patterson, God was about to demonstrate a glorious exception to that observation.

In the balcony of the graduation service sat a woman named Kim Dison from West Monroe, La. She had come to Southwestern Seminary for her nephew’s graduation.

Kim was a faithful follower of Jesus Christ and raising six children alongside a Christian husband. The commencement message touched Kim. She leafed through the commencement program until she discovered the speaker’s name was Paige Patterson.

Back home in West Monroe, Kim had a strong hunch about why the name sounded familiar. She went to a shelf in her closet and pulled down a box containing some old papers and letters her mother had saved from Kim’s adoption.

In 1960, three-year-old Kim came to America from Korea, her country of birth. She had been adopted by Charles and Gertrude Hodges, a kindly couple who lived in West Monroe. Shortly after the adoption was finalized, Honey Patterson sent a letter to Gertrude Hodge, dated April 6, 1961.  

Dear Mrs. Hodge,  You are probably about to have about the biggest surprise you’ve ever had, but I hope it will be a pleasant surprise – at least in part. Certainly you do not know me now, but I hope to know you soon. You see, your little Kim Cherry means a great deal to us too. My husband, my son and I found her almost dead in a dirty room in Wanju, Korea…

Kim Dison’s hunch was confirmed: she was one of those children the Pattersons had provided for that cold winter’s day in Korea. The providence of God working through the prayers and financial sacrifices of his servants had taken Kim from Wanju, to Seoul, to the Holt Christian Adoption Agency, to West Monroe.

Now, 46 years later, Kim contacted Dr. Patterson to thank him for his kindness so many years before.

Patterson remembered her very well. That visit to Wanju in 1959 impacted him profoundly. It had taught him that material possessions were nothing compared to the riches found in Jesus Christ. It had taught him, like the Apostle Paul, to be content wherever he was and whatever conditions he was in.

Many times Patterson shared his experience in Wanju with congregations in order to alert Christians to the dire needs of people on the other side of the world and to teach about the love God has for people.

Dorothy Patterson invited Kim and Greg Dison to dine with them at the president’s home on the campus of Southwestern Seminary.

On August 5, 2005, the Disons drove to Fort Worth along with five of their seven children. Kim and President Patterson shared photographs, letters and memories from those days. Tears were shed as they marveled at the manifest wisdom and grace of God. Kim told of a wonderful childhood growing up in Louisiana, and then meeting and marrying her husband.

“I can’t thank you enough for what your family did for me back then,” she said to Dr. Patterson. “For our paths to cross again like this, it is just a blessing from the Lord.”

“You will never know how much you have played a part in my life, too,” Patterson said to Kim. “In so many ways my ministry since then has been impacted by what I saw and learned on that mission trip.”

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