December 7, 2022

Lee Jae Yi, a Korean missionary who helped established a church ministry that supports Korean students in Baguio City and evolved into an organization that reaches out to Filipino kidney patients and their family, went back to her home country after almost 13 years in Baguio – pandemic and all – for the final time after fulfilling her mission to help change the lives of those in need until her last breath.
Lee, 77, succumbed to the Covid-19 while she was staying in Baguio helping her daughter manage a non-denomination church, a school, and an association for dialysis patients and sharing what they can even if they had little to share.
She passed away on Sept. 3, leaving behind her daughter, Pastor Lee Me Kyung or Michelle and family to continue their mission, and a grieving circle of Korean and Filipino students and their families whose lives grandmother Lee touched, despite the language barrier and cultural differences.
Lee first came to the Philippines in 2007 for her daughter, Michelle, who came to Baguio in 2005 to attend a seminary while also tending to the latter’s ailing husband, who was receiving dialysis due to terminal chronic renal failure.
After a year, Lee went back to Korea, where she suffered from severe depression, then returned to Baguio in 2009, where she stayed and refused to leave even when the pandemic hit in 2020.
Ptr. Michelle established the United Vision Ministries of All Nations church on July 10, 2010, without support from her Korean home church or any big association, where they are also taking care of Korean students in the mission center.
But as they reached out to the local churches, they witnessed the limitations of the Philippines’ medical condition back then. Although they really had so little to share, they started to help the patients one by one and later established Gatoomo, an association for dialysis patients.
Kim Hye Sung, Lee’s granddaughter, said their main ministry is the church and their first and most significant goal is to preach the Good News to the people. They also reach out to the dialysis patients and their family by giving comfort to them through the Word of God and financial needs.
Through the school, Baguio International Academy, she said they try not only to urge students to study hard, but also emphasize the importance of spiritual and emotional intelligence through the school’s motto “holiness, happiness, and honesty.”
During the beginning of the ministry, Lee took care of her young grandchildren despite her old age while Ptr. Michelle and husband were busy going around for their mission. As the mission grew, Lee took part in the financial department of the ministry.
Lee couldn’t receive the best education from Korea due to the social criticism and situation, but it did not hinder her from giving up on her faith in God.
Ptr. Michelle shared that Lee, who attended the Sagang Methodist Church in Korea, received her religious education from her mother, a deaconess, and served as a Sunday school teacher.
Lee, who had two sons and one daughter, faced trials of faith but she did not lose the bond of her faith and continued attending church.
In Baguio, since she had been living with many Korean students together with Filipino church members in the mission center, Lee was a strict yet caring grandmother to all. As she managed their small canteen as well, she was always passionate and responsible in her job despite the language difference and physical difficulties she had to face.
“We would see her sitting down on her chair even though she was not feeling well,” Kim said.
Dalsenea Marzan, a Filipino associate pastor of the church, said it is a wonder for them to be able to communicate well with Lee, since she spoke in her native tongue and never learned English.
“I don’t know how, but we felt God working, because we understood each other by our gestures and convey messages by looking at each other. Even if we do not speak Korean well, we were able to understand grandmother Lee, surprisingly, even when we were discussing finances which was supposed to be complicated,” Marzan said.
Lee also was one who copied the entire Holy Bible, Korean version, by long hand, not only once, but three times. Marzan said this showed Lee’s deep devotion to God, and a therapeutic coping mechanism at the same time for her depression.
Lee also introduced native games and a glimpse of Korean culture to Filipino students, and in turn learned sungka, which she and Marzan’s 12-year-old son loved to play until the wee hours.
Kim said they almost begged Lee to go back to Korea, but it was her choice to stay here because she loved the Filipinos like no other. In fact, when her visa was about to expire, the immigration granted her a missionary visa, which was rarely granted to a foreigner more so to a 77-year old.
“By this, it was confirmed that God was acknowledging her as His missionary. I, as the granddaughter, can proudly say and witness that my grandmother had served God until her last breath in her mission field as a missionary no matter what people say,” Kim said.
“She did not have a specific purpose and plan to come to the Philippines to become a missionary herself. However, her just being there for her daughter and the ministry, we strongly believe that God made her a missionary. We have witnessed her overcoming her severe depression by staying in the Philippines and being part of the mission. We have seen her faith grow stronger in God leading her to stay in the Philippines despite the pandemic,” she added.
Marzan said despite Lee’s departure, they and the entire ministry are all the more fueled in continuing their missions for the church, school, and Gatoomo in helping people keep the faith and helping the needy, especially in the education of the children of seven dialysis patients they are currently supporting, as much as they can, with grandmother Lee – who chose to stay despite the barriers and adversities caused by the pandemic – serving as their inspiration and source of strength. – Hanna C. Lacsamana