Turning adversity into strength to serve God

Kim, 32, has been deaf since childhood, but has not allowed that obstacle to dampen his desire to become the first deaf Jesuit priest in Korea.

Tran Thien Kinh
November 14 2013, 12:01 PM
Turning adversity into strength to serve God
Dong Jun Kim

Dong Jun Kim sees his pursuit of a vocation in the Society of Jesus as a miracle, and his hearing disability as a gift from God.

Kim, 32, has been deaf since childhood, but has not allowed that obstacle to stop him from a life of service and devotion, nor to dampen his desire to become the first deaf Jesuit priest in Korea and only the second in Asia. But his path has not been easy.

Born to a Catholic family in Seoul, Kim endured a sickly infancy and lost most of his hearing at the age of three – though he can hear slightly with the help of a hearing aid.

With great effort and the assistance of his mother, he learned to understand Korean through lip-reading and can now speak clearly enough to be understood – in fact, his deafness often goes unnoticed.

High school presented a defining moment for Kim, who says he faced isolation from his classmates and almost constant bullying. It was the way he dealt with the bullying, he says, that made the biggest difference to his future success. He never responded with hostility and never fought back.

With the unwavering support of his professors, Brother Kim graduated from Kangnam University with a degree in social welfare and began teaching himself sign language.

In the intervening years, he has worked diligently to learn English and perfect his signing skills. He is currently doing his first-year philosophy at the Korean Jesuit Province.

Everyone has some kind of cross to bear and weaknesses to overcome, says Kim.

“It is more important to get yourself adapted to your difficulties,” he says, adding, “The expression ‘overcoming disability’ does not fit here, I think, because my disability is a gift from God.”

Kim’s desire was to become a diocesan priest, though initial responses to that desire were not positive.

But in 2005 Kim met Father Min Seo Park, a deaf priest who served as a sign language interpreter for his parish and two Jesuits – Father Kuen Sang Yi in charge of the Vocation Office in Korea, and Father Paul Fletcher who also has a hearing impediment.

It was largely through their support and encouragement that Kim became a Jesuit candidate.

He spent two years at the Candidate House, from 2008-2010, and went on to his novitiate in 2011 before taking his first vows on February 7, 2013.

Kim says he is indifferent to the choice of his religious status, be it priest or brother in the Society of Jesus. He believes that God will choose what is best for him.

But he does have a strong desire to serve the poor and disabled, particularly among China’s ethnic minority communities.

“I think it must be a huge burden to be a person of ethnic origin and with hearing problems in China. I want to share the love I was given in Korea with children who have hearing problems around the world,” he said.

Wherever his path leads him, Kim says he is prepared for what God has in store.

“I firmly believe that it is God’s calling. My Jesuit fathers told me that I am a gift to the Korea Province.”