By any account, the journey to get to this island village (pop. 400) in remote southeast Alaska and its hardy Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation of 22 members is an adventure.
For Kake Memorial Presbyterian Church’s new pastor, the Rev. Joey Chang, and his family ― wife Heea and young daughters Lydia, 3, and Maria, 1 ― the pilgrimage has been even more circuitous.
Kake is accessible by infrequent ferry and by slightly more regular floatplane service. For this reporter, the trip on the 21-foot cabin cruiser of Alaska Presbytery’s executive the Rev. David Dobler took six hours from Juneau, the state capital.
For Joey Chang, the trip to Kake took thousands of miles from his native Seoul to King College in Bristol, Tenn., in 1994, then to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va.
The final two “legs” of his journey here were a family vacation to Washington, D.C., a year ago and a Presbyterian News Service article about the Kake Church ― “Peace of Kake” ― published in June 2010.
Chang came to the United States from Korea as part of an exchange program between Hannam University in Seoul and PC(USA)-related King College. Providentially, when he arrived in Bristol, he was met at the airport by Heea, King College’s designated greeter that day. Joey and Heea soon married “and began to feel God’s call to missionary service,” he said.
After graduating from King, the pair traveled to Chicago and the mission aviation program at Moody Bible Institute. Joey, who was also taking pilot training, was scheduled for his first solo flight on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We were grounded for six weeks and I had a hard time catching up, so I failed my flight test,” he said.
During the ensuing “wilderness experience,” Joey and Heea felt a growing call to attend seminary. They were mentored during this discernment process by the Rev. Syngman Rhee, who serves on the Union faculty. Joey was ordained by the Presbytery of the James in 2007, and Heea completed her M.Div. studies last month.
For seven years, Joey served as a student pastor and then, after his ordination, as associate pastor at Lord Jesus Korean Church in Richmond,Va.
“We had felt that our first calling at Moody was missionary service, but LJKC was very different and so last year we began looking again for missionary service openings,” Joey said. “We were thinking maybe China.”
With a young family and not much money, Joey and Heea and their girls made the short trip to Washington, D.C., for vacation in the spring of 2010. While wandering through the National Museum of Natural History, they happened upon an exhibit depicting southeast Alaska.
“We instantly felt a strong sense of call,” Joey said, “so when we got home I looked pastoral calls in Alaska Presbytery.”
A Pastor Nominating Committee was at work at the Presbyterian Church in Craig, Alaska, but when Joey called Dobler, he was told that the church was on the verge of calling a pastor.
Joey and Heea continued to look for ministry opportunities in Alaska, and in June last year, “I saw the Presbyterian News Service article ‘Peace of Kake’ and the story just touched my heart,” he said. “David Dobler encouraged me, and so I began to talking to Mary Ann Kondro (Kake Memorial’s clerk of session). It all happened so fast after that.”
Dobler arranged for free transportation for Joey, Heea and their family to visit Kake in November, and on Dec. 29, Joey Chang began service as Kake’s pastor ― three years after the congregation’s last pastor left.
“When I found out his given first name (Joonho, pronounced “Joo-Know, the same as Alaska’s capital city, Juneau),” Kondro laughed, “I knew we were home free.”
After serving full-time in Richmond, Joey is a tentmaker in Kake, serving as the maintenance worker for Kake High School.
“When I came here, working for the school and the church was a time-management struggle at first,” he said. “But getting to know all the students and then their parents has been a real blessing ― I feel like I already know 70 percent of the town in my first five months.”
Despite its recent lack of pastoral leadership, Joey praises the elders of Kake Memorial as “a strong and supportive group ― God is really using this church and our family to reach out to this community.”
Borrowing from the PNS story headline, Kake Memorial has launched a Friday lunch and fellowship program for seniors called “Peace of Kake.” The program starts with prayer “so they know it is faith-based,” Joey said.
“We wondered how we were going to pay for it, but God is at work here, providing resources and pouring out blessings,” he said, adding that numerous Kake citizens and businesses support “Peace of Kake.”
Joey’s impact has also already been felt by an increased ecumenical focus on Lent in Kake this spring.
“We had an Ash Wednesday service, and many people in Kake didn’t even know about Ash Wednesday. The liturgical tradition of the PC(USA) is very strong and has helped us reach out to our community,” he said.