The last thing Kim Wickes saw with her own eyes was the flash of a bomb. Born in 1947 to a poor family in Korea, she was only 3 years old when Communist forces in the north began attacking their fellow Koreans in the south in 1950.
When the first bomber roared over the family’s village in rural South Korea, Kim’s father told the family to lie flat on the ground and cover their faces. But Kim looked up just as a bomb exploded, and after that day, she could only see shadows and faint outlines.
Even before the fighting began, life was difficult for Kim’s Buddhist family.
“Occasionally, we would offer a little bit of rice that we had to the Buddha statue,” Kim says. “I would wish that I could have that little bowl of rice instead of offering it to the Buddha. Then we, who were so poor, became even poorer when the communists attacked. Even the meager rice we had, we now had to give to the North Koreans.”
Kim’s family joined thousands of refugees fleeing south toward the Sea of Japan. After days of walking for miles, sleeping in the dirt and begging for food for his family, Kim’s father began to lose heart.
Early one morning, as the family walked down the road in the dark, Kim heard the clang, clang, clang of a truck. Her father ordered the family to stop walking, then said woefully: “It is useless to go on living, so we will stand here and let the truck hit us.” Kim’s mother screamed no and pulled the girls to the side of the road.
Then, referring to the rushing body of water nearby, Kim’s father said: “If not the truck, then the river!” In desperation, he threw the girls in. Kim can still remember her mother’s anguished screaming as she forced her father into the river to retrieve the girls.
“My baby sister did wash away there,” Kim says, “but God had a plan for my life. Isaiah 43 says, ‘Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee’ (KJV). God was at work fulfilling those words, even though I hadn’t yet heard that there was a Bible.
“That was the last time I ever saw my biological mother,” Kim says. Her mother explained that three were too many to beg in one group, so she was leaving. In reality, she had lost all respect for her husband, and he had lost respect for himself. He realized now that he could not provide for his family. He had lost his self-esteem and social status in the tragedy at the river, and Kim’s mother would always be a reminder of this great failure, so he sent her back to her parents.
Father and daughter began walking to Taegu—a southern city relatively untouched by the war—where World Vision had an orphanage for the blind and deaf. Upon reaching the orphanage, Kim’s father told her that he was leaving her with people who could care for her. What he did not mention was that Korean society considered blindness a disgrace. By leaving Kim at the orphanage, he knew she would receive an education not normally available to blind Koreans.
Kim screamed after him, begging him to stay. She ran out into the street, but she could not see well enough to catch her father, and he was gone.
Within a few weeks, Kim was moved to a smaller orphanage and school for the blind, run by American missionaries Harry and Mary Hill. Life at the orphanage was not easy at first. Almost immediately, teachers told Kim she would be having surgery to remove her left eye because it was swollen and oozing.
But during surgery, doctors saw a need to remove both eyes, and Kim woke up from surgery in complete darkness, no longer able to see shades of light.
But there was help and encouragement for blind children at the orphanage, where the children were taught songs about Jesus. Because Kim had had no toys as a baby, she had entertained herself with singing as soon as she could open her mouth. Now, the missionaries discovered that God had given her a gift of music.
The children also were taught how to read books in Braille and to memorize vast portions of Scripture.
“No teacher said to us, ‘Oh, this is too hard for you. Nobody can memorize that much.'” Kim says that because of this attitude, the students conquered whatever challenge the teachers gave them. This carried Kim through the many obstacles she would face as an adult following God’s call on her life.
When the Korean War truce was signed in 1953, Americans began adopting Korean children. And on the other side of the world, God was putting His plan for Kim into place.
One day in October 1956, Eva Wickes of Dayton, Ind., read a magazine article about Harry Holt, a friend of the Hills. Holt had founded an adoption agency in Korea. Eva and her husband, George, had four children but felt God’s prompting to write to the agency to inquire about adopting a child.
Missionaries who had heard Kim sing and recite Scripture at a church meeting felt she should be given the opportunity to go to the United States, so in May 1957, Harry wrote to Eva and George, asking them to pray about adopting her.
Eva responded immediately, saying they would take Kim. By November, the final details were in order, and the Hills told Kim it was time for her to fly to her new home.
After a long plane ride, Kim arrived in Portland, Ore., on Thanksgiving Day. Harry Holt introduced her to George and Eva, and the trio boarded a train for Chicago to meet Kim’s new grandparents, who would drive them home to Indiana.
Kim began settling into the family and learning more English. She did well in public school and thrived in her new environment, but one thing was missing: Although she had heard the Gospel at the orphanage in Korea, she still didn’t understand that its message could apply to her.
An Encounter With Billy Graham
When Kim was 12, Billy Graham held a month-long Crusade in Indianapolis. On a rainy October night, the Wickes family went to hear Mr. Graham preach.
“I had wanted God to love me,” Kim remembers. “But what I did not know was that I could have a personal assurance of going to Heaven. Jesus could die for important people like Americans, but it didn’t make sense that He, the Son of God, would die for me—a blind, Korean, orphan, beggar girl.”
In Korean culture, boys were longed for and treasured. Kim says, “I was a girl, and this made me feel more unworthy.” But as Mr. Graham spoke, Kim heard a new message: “Jesus has made everything that people would call unworthy into something through which He could show Himself great.”
Kim went forward and invited Jesus into her heart that night. In the coming weeks, the Scriptures she had memorized in the orphanage began to make sense. It was like someone pulled open the drapes and let the light of the Gospel shine in.
About four years later when Kim was 16, she heard World Vision founder Bob Pierce speak at a Youth for Christ International conference.
“I wanted my life to count for the Lord,” Kim says, “so I surrendered for full-time Christian service, not knowing what that might bring.” In the ensuing days, she began to wonder if she had done the right thing. “I thought being a missionary meant living in the boondocks of Africa and starving. I started my life starving, and I didn’t want to go to Africa and starve. I didn’t yet know that when the Lord calls you, He will equip you and send you to a place custom-made for you.”
God provided scholarships for Kim’s undergraduate and master’s degrees in voice at Indiana University, all in preparation for her to travel the world, telling people what He had done in her life.
In 1970, a reporter from a Korean newspaper interviewed her for a story about Korean-American adoptees. The reporter felt that many Koreans were still bitter about the Korean War and decided to write a separate piece on the way God had turned Kim’s hopeless situation into something good. She was happy to share about God’s goodness and thought that was the end of the story.
But one day in 1972, she received a letter from Korea. A Korean student read it to her. It was from Kim’s Korean father, who had read the article in the Korea Times and recognized his daughter’s story. He wrote that he was sick and wanted her to come visit him.
Kim kept the letter but wasn’t sure how she would get to Korea. In 1973, after completing the coursework for a doctorate degree, she won a Fulbright scholarship to study in Vienna, Austria. While there, she met the American ambassador to Austria, who was fascinated by her story and offered to pay for her to visit South Korea. Because her father’s health was poor, Kim wasn’t sure if he was still alive, but she gratefully accepted the ticket, believing that God would work out the details.
In 1974, Kim was invited to sing at the Lausanne Congress, sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. In July, a telegram arrived from the Korea Times, just before she left for Switzerland. She arrived in Lausanne with the unread telegram and the plane ticket to South Korea.
After her performance, many people invited her to come to their churches to sing and share her story, including Billy Kim, a Korean pastor. Kim explained her situation to the pastor, and he asked to see the ticket and the telegram. The telegram, he said, gave the address of her Korean father; he was still alive.
“Your dad’s address is only about 10 miles from my home,” Pastor Kim said. “My church can take charge, help you and take care of your going to see your dad.” So while Kim traveled to prior engagements elsewhere in Asia, Pastor Kim finished the final details for her first visit to Korea in 17 years.
Kim was in Korea for 29 days, and the press followed her everywhere, telling the story of her reunion with her father and reporting on concerts she gave throughout the country.
She met with her father twice during her trip, and he came to one of her concerts. He wrote a letter to Kim after she had returned to the United States and said that he had prayed. Those were words Kim hadn’t heard him use before, and she wondered what he meant. Sadly, she was never able to ask him about it, as he died shortly after their reunion.
“We did at least two T.V. shows together that summer,” Kim says. “He said he had no regrets about how things had turned out for me. I’m hoping and trusting that maybe his letter meant that he prayed to have Jesus come into his heart.”
Today, despite obvious limitations, Kim lives alone and does her own housecleaning and office work. And she continues her music ministry, both through her local church and through appearances at other churches, schools for the blind and military events. She teaches flute at her church, and at every opportunity, she tells how God has sustained her.
“I’ve held hands with dying veterans who had nobody else to hold their hand. I’ve sung at a lot of military bases. The servicemen get excited to see how God can use anybody, and I always thank them for their service. Even though losing sight during the war was bad in itself, it has turned into a channel of gratitude—and God has blessed others.”