Icing on the Kake

God’s call, PNS article lead pastor to remote Alaska congregation

June 9, 2011

Heea Lee and Joey Chang, with Joey holding his young daughter, Lydia.

Heea Lee and Joey Chang with their daughters, Maria (in Heea’s arms) and Lydia (in Joey’s arms). —Photo by Jerry Van Marter

KAKE, Alaska

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.

  1. The collection of monies in support of a family in distress is a tradition across rural Alaska in most Alaska Native villages where the community supports one another, it is not related to the church.

    by Debbie Kellogg

    March 16, 2013

  2. I was looking at the news article of the young girl who was found dead on the steps of this church and am very happy to see that they have a strong pastor who will be able to give solace to the community. In 1970,I was the lay chaplin on the MV Anna Jackman and was priveleged to preach at this church when the pastor was Sacha Soboleff. I was also priveleged to be able to take a part in in the raising of the totem pole when it was returned from Japan and the following ceremony in the community hall. This is an impressive group of Christians.

    by Jon Pearson

    February 9, 2013

  3. Pastor Joonho and Heea are doing a wonderful ministry in Kake. They are reaching out as friends to people in the community and sharing Christ’s love with them. Our Minnesota church team of 18 people recently experienced the gracious hospitality of the people of Kake, Pastor Joonho and Heea. We had the opportunity to support the community’s vision for children and youth at the culture camp and help Pastor Joonho’s vision of service. Our team members are inspired by their examples.

    by Gloria and Stan Bomsta

    July 27, 2011

  4. On a memorable visit to Kake a few years ago, I witnessed the commitment and generisity of the people Kake. There was a person who was critically ill and had to be airlifted to the hospital. In support of this individual, the people took up a love offering of over $1600.00 that very evening.

    by Rev. Dr. Cecil Corbett

    June 15, 2011

  5. As director of senior high youth ministries at Evergreen Presbyterian Church in Graham, WA, I have been blessed to take members of our youth group to Kake to do a vacation bible school for the last 4 years. We have grown to love the people in Kake and made a number of close friends there. It is great that Kake Memorial Presbyterian Church has a new pastor. It is a wonderful church in a beautiful place and God has truly answered the prayers of many with Joey and his family

    by Rusty Smith

    June 14, 2011

  6. The gifts of our God are huge, stretching to all corners large and small. The Kake community has been blessed by the Presbyterians presence for over 100 years. The Rev. Joonho Chang and wife Heea Lee are a gift from God to our community and church. We are a blessed people!

    by Mary Ann Kondro

    June 14, 2011

  7. What a great story of faith and dedication for mission of the church! Joey and Heea have been truly amazing people. They are fulfilling their orininal intention to be "missionaries" wherever they may be. We are proud of them for their commitment for their mission service. It all comes from their deep sense of gratitude to God who has guided their lives with rich blessings all these years! We hope to visit them sometime in the near future. Syngman Rhee at Union Presbyterian Seminary


    June 13, 2011

  8. We had the privilege of visiting the people in Kake while on a small boat cruise a few years ago and found the people extremely friendly and delightful people. We are so glad the people now have a Pastor.

    by Dottie Abercrombie & Janet Schlenker

    June 11, 2011