SILVER SPRING, Md.—Don Lee, a deacon at Global Mission International Ministry, Silver Spring, didn’t want to go to Africa when his friend suggested Lee come to Gambia and oversee the building of a medical clinic for Heart of Medical Mission. Lee laughs when he tells how he immediately responded, “What? No, I don’t want to go!” There was no way he was traveling across the world to a hot, unfamiliar area to oversee work.
“I was like Jonah,” the young 70-year-old Korean man said with a twinkle in his eye. Lee said he didn’t want to go, but God kept nudging until he gave in.
When Lee went to an information meeting and heard from the Gambian Ambassador and medical missionaries and saw the pictures showing the need, he relented.
The senior saint braved the mosquitoes and change in diet and completed the building. It wasn’t easy. He had to take medicine everyday to prevent Malaria, and he lost twenty pounds due to the dietary differences.
The clinic building was started by a well meaning but inexperienced builder, Lee said, and much had to be redone, including the wiring, plumbing and structure. There was also insufficient material.
Lee was the right person for the job. He was very experienced. In fact, he built Global Mission Church’s current building in 1991.
As they worked, the deacon was amazed to see the differences in the way people worked construction in sandals and even mixed concrete in their bare feet.
He stayed several months then returned to bring his wife, Shin Ok. Lee remained in Gambia overall for a year and was overwhelmed to see the response of people coming from near and far to seek medical and dental treatment. In addition to medicine, the clinic offers people an opportunity to hear the gospel through scheduled mission team visits and weekly worship services.
Ministering in Africa in his 70’s is only part of Lee’s incredible adventurous life. He escaped from North Korea in 1946 after the end of World War II. When government officials came to arrest his father, an evangelical pastor, the senior Lee fled alone. The rest of his family escaped leaving by twos. Don Lee’s older brother, who was 21 years old at the time, strapped a sack of rice to the younger Lee’s back and carried him into the night through a high river to reach the border where American soldiers met them and helped them get to the refugee camps. Lee said he remembers eating lamb meat for the first time. They reunited with their father in Seoul.
Once the Korean War started, officials once again came for Lee’s father. This time he hid under the floor for few days. When they were able, the family fled to the countryside, 100 miles away. Finally, American soldiers came to Seoul and the family moved back but later Chinese soldiers once again came and the Lees escaped by boat. They then hid on the top of cargo train cars along with many other refugees, all with their sacks of rice.
“It was a very cold middle of January,” Lee said. “It took 10 days on the cargo train roof to reach the most south city of Korea, Pusan.
Lee made a confession of faith as a teenager at a revival meeting. As a preacher’s kid, he said he felt like he was okay, but the Holy Spirit convicted him and he went forward. When he grew up, Lee studied forestry and architecture. He began his own construction business and moved to America in 1971 when a friend told him it was “heaven.” Lee moved to the Washington DC area and eventually found his way to Global Mission’s International Church.
“Here’s a man going to a very alien country, with a difficult climate and living conditions to build a clinic for people he doesn’t know,” Jim Shirlen, pastor of GMC’s International Ministry, said.
“I have used Deacon Lee as an example to the ministry and to others of how God has a plan and a purpose for our lives no matter what our age. He is a great inspiration and encouragement to our group.”
By Sharon Mager