AU Remembers Two Giants Who Nurtured its Success

Two United Methodist “giants”—diaconal minister Dr. Rosalie J. Bentzinger, 96, and bridge builder the Rev. Hae-Jong Kim, 85— died late last year. Both played key roles in the creation of Africa University and are remembered fondly by those whose lives they touched.

The Rev. Rebecca J. Bentzinger, an elder in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, credited her Aunt Rosalie with influencing her own vocation. Rebecca is the daughter of Rosalie’s brother, the Rev. Richard Bentzinger, who died in 2010.

“My career was in chaplaincy and Clinical Pastoral Education,” Rebecca Bentzinger said. “Rosalie was always my model for women in ministry, and she encouraged and supported me every step of the way. I always aspired to have her grace and dedication to being a servant and steward of God's creation.”

Rosalie’s enthusiasm for Africa University was contagious. “I began to explore the inclusion of Africa University students in the CPE program at the Washington Hospital Center, where I was the director of Spiritual Care,” Rebecca Bentzinger said. “Over the years, we were able to host some brilliant Africa University students from whom we learned much.”

As associate general secretary of diaconal ministry at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry from 1979 to 1994, Rosalie helped to design the School of Education at Africa University. She traveled to Africa five times to advise and consult with the faculty.

Rebecca Bentzinger said, “Rosalie worked with the vision of enabling leaders. She saw that Africa University would be a powerful force in equipping professionals in all fields for empowering people across Africa.”

James Salley, associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement at Africa University, said Dr. Bentzinger “embraced Africa when a lot of people were in doubt about a ministry at this level on the continent of Africa. She had passion for the institution…She gave a perpetual and fully endowed scholarship to AU.”

Like Dr. Bentzinger, the Rev. Hae-Jong Kim was a modest but influential leader, Salley said.

“Born in Kwang-Ju, South Korea, in 1935, Kim spent his ministry building bridges,” Salley said. “He believed in and lived the diversity of the church and served without fanfare.” 

Kim was taught by U.S. missionaries at Methodist schools in Korea. As a teenager during the Korean War, he became a Christian. While working for the United States Marine Corps chaplain as an interpreter, translating sermons before Korean audiences, he decided to pursue the ordained ministry.
After completing studies at the Methodist Theological Seminary in Seoul, Kim came to the United States in 1961. He graduated from Methodist Theological School in Ohio in 1964.

Kim served as president of the National Association of Korean American United Methodist Churches and as a General Conference delegate (1980-92). He was appointed as the first Korean superintendent of the former Northern New Jersey Conference in 1984.

Elected to the episcopacy in 1992, he served the New York West and Western Pennsylvania conferences before retiring in 2004 and resigning from the episcopacy. In 2008, Kim resumed his ministry as a pastor of Alpine Community United Methodist Church in New Jersey.

Bishop Ernest S. Lyght recalled meeting Kim 50 years ago when Lyght was a pastor in the former Southern New Jersey Conference and Kim was a member of the Northern New Jersey Conference.

“As I understand the story,” Lyght said, “Bishop Kim played a key role in introducing Africa University to Kwang Lim Methodist Church in Seoul Korea.” He invited the Rev. Sun Do Kim, senior pastor and bishop of South Korea, to attend the official opening ceremonies for Africa University. The congregation funded the university chapel.

“That major gift was announced during the official opening of the university in 1994,” Salley said. “The chapel was built and finished in 1996.”

“Bishop Kim was instrumental in building a connection between Africa University and the Korean community in Korea and the Korean community in the United States,” Lyght said. “He supported education because he had been a beneficiary of The United Methodist Church’s mission work and support of higher education.”

Kim planted 16 Korean immigrant churches in the United States and provided direct and indirect support to those congregations.

“Hae-Jong Kim was a great evangelist and a gifted preacher,” Lyght said, “always inviting people to be a part of The United Methodist Church. For him, education and mission were about helping people to develop their talents and providing an opportunity for a better life.”

By Barbara Dunlap Berg, a freelance writer and editor based in Carbondale, Illinois.