Deep connections for Minnesota’s adopted Koreans


The Korean Adoptees Ministry Center (KAM Center) event, entitled Celebrating a Decade of Making Deep Connections held a gala fundraising dinner on August 21 at Ramada Plaza hotel in Minneapolis.

KAM Center, located in the Twin Cities area, has served as a spiritual and cultural resource center for adoptees and their families since 2000.  It encourages adoptees to connect with Korean society through other Christians, and has fully sponsored many adopted Koreans to return to Korea for the first time since their adoption. 

Rev. Sung-chul Park, KAM Center executive director, spoke to the 150 guests about the genesis of the organization.  According to Park, the influence of Confucian values has led to Koreans building relationships based on kinship, regionalism, and school ties.  Because of this relationship system, adoptees and orphans are effectively denied a place in Korean society.  He said international adoptions allow children with no future in Korea a chance for a life in America.  However, when they become adults, because of social barriers, they are often unable to connect with Korean society.

As a Minnesota resident for nearly 40 years, Pastor Park said that he saw Korean adoptees for the first time in 1974 when his advisor at the University of Minnesota introduced his two Korean adoptee children.  He remembered his shock that this was possible and slowly warmed to the idea that the Minnesota Korean community might also have a role in ensuring a cultural connection for Korean adoptees. 

Today there are 200,000 Korean adoptees: 150,000 in U.S. and 50,000 in Europe and elsewhere.  Minnesota earned a reputation as the home to the most adoptees of any other state 
—- it is estimated that nearly 20,000 adoptees live in Minnesota, Park said. 

KAM Center is the first faith-based non-profit organization in the Presbyterian Church USA denomination. As the oldest group of Korean adoptees grew to adulthood, they began to associate with one another and develop their own organizations, holding their own forums and discussions on the adoption experience. Park said he has often been one of the few “non-adoptees” invited to attend these special events.

Hyun Sook Han, the keynote speaker, said that Rev. Park invited her as a speaker not only this event, but also 10 years ago when KAM Center began its ministry.  Han, now retired, was the head of the Korean adoption program for the agency Children’s Home Society in St. Paul.  She  discussed how her faith has kept her family close and successful.  She said that without her faith, the results of all the time spent away from her family and working for others might have had negative consequences. 

She moved to Minnesota in 1975, continuing a career begun in Korea as an international adoption social worker.  She worked for Children’s Home Society, now called Children’s Home Society and Family Services.  Han worked to expand Korean adoptions and develop support services in Minnesota, and was the head of the Korean adoption program for many years.  She has authored and consulted on the subject on international adoptions.  She also received numerous awards for her work, including the Medal of Service from the South Korean government and the Social Worker of the Year award from the Child Welfare League of America, among others. 

Speaker Kim Jackson said that with help from Yoonju and Sung-chul Park, she visited Korea eight times to meet her birth father and other birth family members.  Jackson, a photographer and graphic designer, has published a book of photography and oral histories of adopted Koreans in Minnesota in early 2010 entitled HERE: A Visual History of Adopted Koreans in Minnesota.  The work is a collaboration of Jackson as  photographer; Heewon Lee, graphic designer; Jae Ran Kim, writer; Kim Park Nelson, oral historian; and Wing Young Huie, photographer.

Jackson talked about how years ago she wanted to do a project document the Korean adoptee community with photographs.  What began as “photos of my friends” grew to the larger community and then to all the adopted Koreans in Minnesota.

She said the project collaborators wanted to reflect the diversity within the Korean adoptee community, from the age range to the similarities and contrasting experience based on settlement across the state in small towns to large cities.  As Jackson began to learn the compelling stories of her photo subjects, she collaborated with Kim Park Nelson who had begun an oral history project on Korean adoptees.   The other partners came on board to edit and design the book before it was published by Yeong and Yeong Books.   Jackson, who is self-employed with her graphic design firm Dalros Design said she would continue her project to photograph and interview adoptees as she meets them.

Angela Copeland, who experienced one of the KAM-sponsored “spiritual journeys” to Korea, said the trip changed her life.  Copeland was adopted to a Minnesota family along with her twin sister in 1974, and now teaches high school chemistry in Wachahatchie, Texas, where she was recently named Teacher of the Year.

Copeland presented photos and narrative about her trip, entitled My Spiritual Journey to Korea.  Copeland said the trip was an amazing experience from the start.  She and the adult adoptees were greeted with huge banners that had their faces printed on them.  She enjoyed the bath houses and learning to cook Korean food, and being able to offer testimony at the church in the community where she was born.

“We really, truly are changing generations,” Copeland said of KAM.  “I have two boys and I know that the change in my life is being passed down to my own children.”

A Chang Mi Dance and Drum Academy member performed two solo performances for the banquet. Mikyoung Park, a professional singer and deacon pastor at the Korean United Methodist Church, performed two spiritual songs. 

Other members also offered a few words on how their association with KAM has made a difference in their lives. Candace Oyloe, a former KAM Center board member, visited Korea as a spiritual journeyer with Pastor Park in 2003. She was introduced by a host family to a producer at KBS-TV.  As a result, she had a chance to tell about her birth family search on the KBS program People to the World.  As a result, she met her birth family.

Susan March, event organizer and KAM Center communication director, said the organization has brought her lifelong friends and has helped her connect to adoptees who share similar life experiences.  March was present with her daughter, China Eubanks, 15, who said she also enjoys volunteering for the organization, adding that she has made friends outside of school at KAM activities.

The silent auction contained rare artwork from South and North Korea. Roy Kim, whose sisters live in North Korea, donated the artwork from North Korea.  

For more information contact KAM, phone:  612-331-0143, or e-mail:  The website is at: