Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

November 3, 2019


Martha’s Korean daughters

            Martha and Hoyt Hill were the first two people I met in 1989 when I arrived in Opelika to become one of the pastors of Trinity United Methodist Church. They became fast friends and faithfully partnered with me in the Lord’s work for the next 13 years. After my retirement, I kept in touch with them, and with Martha since Hoyt’s death a few years ago.

            Martha is one of the most remarkable Christian women I have known. Like many Christians, she found humble ways to live her faith in Christ through intercessory prayer and inspiring others to join her in visiting sick and grieving friends and neighbors. But Martha took a daring step beyond that. 

In her senior years she became the American mother for two Korean women. Doing so brought her surprisingly great joy. The more she has shared this joy with me, the more I have wanted others to know the incredible story of Martha’s Korean daughters. Her story consists of two parts; part one about her daughter Myong Joo, the second about her daughter Kyoung.

Martha’s story begins with a salad supper she almost missed, at the home of her friend Jane Walker. “When the congealed salad I prepared to take looked terrible, I decided not to go. I would be embarrassed to walk in with that salad. But the Lord would not leave me alone; I kept thinking He wanted me to go, so I finally took my ugly salad and went to the meeting.”

The speaker that night was Jean Werner, who appealed to the women to help her begin an international ministry. Jean wanted to reach out to women from other countries who were moving into the area. After the Koreans built the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, a subsidiary plant, Mando, sprang up in Opelika, bringing hundreds of Korean employees to the city. Since Martha already had a lovely Korean daughter-in-law, she welcomed the opportunity to attend a luncheon for Korean women at her church. One luncheon led to another as Jean Werner led the Opelika women to befriend the Korean women and assist them with the many issues they faced adjusting to life in a foreign country.

It was during one of the luncheons that Myong Joo Kim, a young Korean woman, initiated a conversation with Martha, sharing with her that she was lonely. The other Korean mothers had children and were involved in their care and activities. Since Myong Joo was childless, she felt left out and all alone. This loneliness was intensified by her husband’s long hours at work at the plant. She surprised Martha by asking if she would be her American mother. Of course Martha said Yes! Martha had no idea at that moment in July 2005 that such a special bond of love and friendship would develop and continue to this day!

            Myong Joo was thrilled to have an American mother in her life and Martha was just as happy to be her mother. “I quickly grew to love this sweet, kind and gentle young woman,” Martha said.   “We spent many hours together!  It was not uncommon for her to be with me when Hoyt came home from the office and she would eat the evening meal with us.  We did many things together, attending Bible studies and activities at Trinity, eating lunch out, shopping, and sight-seeing.  How we enjoyed our time together!” Myong Joo told Martha that her mother in Korea was not so concerned about her anymore now that she had an American mother.

 Myong Joo followed the Korean custom of showing great respect for both Martha and Hoyt. One evening after visiting with Martha and Hoyt in their home, she respectfully declined Hoyt’s offer to let him lead her out of the neighborhood in his car.  He did want her to get lost before she got to a familiar street. Myong Joo said absolutely not! But Hoyt was insistent; it was dark and she could get lost since she was not familiar with the area. After arguing for a few minutes, Myong Joo explained why she could not accept Hoyt’s offer. Hoyt was her elder and she could not put him to this trouble.

Myong Joo learned that night that Hoyt Hill was a stubborn Alabama man who would not accept this Korean custom. In his quiet but firm way, Hoyt told Myong Joo it was no trouble and that she could follow him out of the area. Finally, she gave in and did accept his offer of help but continued the Korean custom of showing great respect to her elders, Hoyt and Martha. Martha said she was always concerned about their welfare and always looking for ways to help them.  

Spending most of her time with Martha, Myong Joo was always respectful of Hoyt yet very quiet and reserved around him. Martha explained how that all changed one December evening.  “Myong Joo and I had been decorating the Christmas tree.  She took great delight in this and was in a happy mood.  As Hoyt came in from work, she rushed to the door, hugged him and called him “Appa,” the Korean word for Papa.  This was a touching moment as hugging is not a Korean custom.  From that moment on her relationship with Hoyt changed.”

To Martha’s delight, Myong Joo quickly became a member of the family! “My children loved her and the grandchildren adored her.  She had been an eight-grade math teacher in a boy’s school so she and my oldest grandson enjoyed playing numbers games.  She is also a skilled pianist and all the children loved to hear her play lively songs.  But she was just as at home sitting in the floor playing Barbies with the girls or romping in the park or going on discovery walks around Collinwood.  Oh, how they loved her!”

Myong Joo and her husband, Ian, usually traveled around the country seeing America during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. However, during their last year in America, they had Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas with Martha’s family. “How special that was! We all had a chance to spend time with Ian and get to know him better!  He and my sons-in-law had no difficulty carrying on a conversation, one of them being an engineer like Ian.  A Thanksgiving tradition in our family is to have the grandchildren act out the Thanksgiving story using lots of scripture.  Myong Joo and Ian enjoyed this performance as they learned the story of the Pilgrims and their journey of faith to America.”

Ian’s company transferred him back to Korea at the end of 2008.  That was an extremely difficult time for Myong Joo & Martha. They had become very close and Myong Joo loved Opelika and did not want to leave. Almost a year after the couple returned to Korea, a precious daughter, Eunjee, was born to them. Martha was given the privilege of giving the child her American name, Emily. “From then on she became Emily to me and my family.  When she started to talk, I became Grandma Martha.  I often sent her gifts most of which were books written in English.  Myong Joo and Ian are not Christians but it was alright with them for me to send Emily books about Baby Jesus and his birth. Later I sent her books about the Easter story.” 

Martha continues to pray that Myong Joo and Ian will become followers of Christ. Emily seems to have become an ally in that desire. She has begun asking her mother questions about God and expressing a desire to go to church. When Emily and Myong Joo were planning their trip to visit Martha, Emily told her mother the one thing she wanted to do was go to church with Grandma. 

Myong Joo and Emily did visit Martha for a week in 2014.  “Hoyt was still living then,” Martha said. “ Little Emily, then three and half years old, happily came into our home and started talking like she had known us all her life.  Hoyt and I quickly feel in love with this precious little girl.  It was a wonderful visit!  When it was time for Myong Joo and Emily to leave to fly back to Korea, Hoyt insisted on driving them to the Atlanta Airport, despite Myong Joo’s objections.  I will never forget watching them go through security as we all waved back and forth until we could no longer see them! That remains such a touching moment for only a month later Hoyt was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer! We had no idea of what we were about to face.”

Emily, for several years, pleaded for another visit with Grandma Martha. “They finally made that visit in August 2018 and spent  eight wonderful days with me. When Myong Joo called to tell me they were coming, I was overjoyed but concerned.  Would Emily enjoy her visit this time? What could we do to fill the days?  She was much younger the last visit!”

To make matters worse, Martha thought, they will be tired when they arrive here. Her father had been sent to the plant here on a work project two weeks ahead of their visit.  He met them at the Atlanta Airport and they headed to Disney World.  “My concern was that after all that excitement, Emily would be bored here.  Then there was the concern of fatigue for me! Would I have the stamina to host house guests for eight days, prepare and serve food, and arrange activities?”

Once again God surprised Martha. “The most amazing thing happened,” she said; “I had no problems. God gave me strength that I never knew I had! Emily, with her bubbly personality, was so happy to be with me. She had such a good time that she didn’t want to leave. As soon as they arrived back in Korea, she reminded her mother to go ahead and make reservations for next summer!”

The above is a brief summary of what happened when one older Christian woman, now 85, reached out with love to a lonely young woman from another country. Martha Hill hates to even think of the joy she would have missed had she decided to skip that salad supper at her friend’s home. But because she went, God gave her the opportunity to offer her love, her friendship, her faith and her home to a woman who became her Korean daughter. I am sharing this story with you because it blessed my socks off to hear Martha share it. I hope it has inspired you to look for someone to whom you can offer your love and friendship.

At a later date: the story of Martha’s other Korean daughter.  + + +