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Christmas Cantata: Youth support concert, share faith

Members of the Christian-based International Youth Federation have been in Bemidji for a few weeks, drumming up support for Saturday’s performance of the Christmas Cantata by the Gracias Choir, which performs around the world. IYF member Songhui Nam asks Bemidji State University student Hadeel Tanash to help volunteer in some fashion in connection with the performance. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – When the 70-member Gracias Choir performs Saturday at Bemidji High School, the free Christmas Cantata will be the culmination of a month’s work by members of the Christian-based International Youth Federation.

Bemidji residents and visitors may have noticed the youth in the community, clad in red T-shirts. They come from South Korea, Japan and other Asian countries, and they have been sharing their faith, looking for volunteers and seeking donations to defray costs of the concert.

Khun Taik, an IYF director based in Fort Wayne, Ind., and the Rev. Dong Wook Kim, pastor of a Korean church in Minneapolis, are leading the youth, who are joined by Guy Johnson of Red Lake. Johnson, who met Kim at his church, lived in Minneapolis but moved back to Red Lake three years ago.

The youth are all about 19, all recent graduates of high school. They are volunteering one year of service to the IYF, traveling around the world to help people while sharing their Christian faith.

They’ve already taught English in a camp in Haiti and participated in World Camp in New York, which brings students together for leadership training and cultural exchange.

“A strong mind equals a future leader,” Kim said, adding that World Camp participants exchange open hearts with one another in the four-day New York camp, which draws 800-1,200 students from 40 countries.

“I want to go to Mexico for English camp next year,” Hyeon Jeong Jo said.

Johnson participated in World Camp in Mexico in 2007 as a high-school junior through his church. “It was fun,” he said.

In Haiti, the volunteers helped deliver hope and help after the 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 316,000 people and made a million homeless.

“English is one of the most global languages in the world,” Mikke Balayut said. “You can work in America and many places.”

In addition to teaching English, the camp gave Haitians some basic knowledge, such as how to sanitize their hands in areas without access to clean water. The students also shared their faith.

“We want to teach about the world of the heart, Balayut said, “deliver true hope in the world of God.”


In Bemidji, witnessing their faith is an important part of their mission.

“We’re trying to witness to the community,” Taik said, “reaching out to share the birth of Jesus Christ.”

The group has been visiting businesses, schools, city and tribal leaders and other destinations, looking for volunteers and sponsorships and talking about their faith.

“There are significant costs to bring a (large) choir to Bemidji,” Balayut said.

The group is also open to donations from businesses of beverages and refreshments, such as fruit, to share with concert-goers.

Hyeon Jeong Jo said Bemidji is a big change from New York. “They are so busy,” she said of New Yorkers. ‘It’s very crowded. When we promoted our concert, we felt difficulty.”

But in Bemidji, people are relaxed. They stop and listen open-mindedly, and they take the flyers for the Christmas Cantata, she said. “Bemidji people listen to us very well.”

Overcoming limits

Ock Soo Park founded the IYF in 1995 in South Korea to help students overcome their own limits, Taik said. The first chapters outside Korea formed in 2001. IYF now has chapters around the world.

“He knew exactly about the world of the heart, how we can change and see truth. … Most students don’t know the amazing power within them,” Taik said.

 “These young people are overcoming what they feel are their own limitations every day,” said the Rev. Mark Peske, the mission pastor for Lutheran Indian Ministries.

Wansun Paik, who grew up in South Korea, had known people who had joined IYF, including some troublemakers who came back transformed. He was very eager to join the group after graduating from high school.

“For me, after IYF, I have a dream,” he said. “I’m going to teach the next generation to be a leader.”

The organization taught him to have a strong heart, he said, adding that he attended six World Camps as a participant before joining IYF. The keynote speakers at those camps gave him hope.

“In my mind and my heart, I can have hope for my dream,” he said. “I have the power to overcome. I want to be a businessman and not only earn money, but also help society.”

Churches helped

The IYF volunteers are sleeping on mats and sleeping bags on church floors. They stayed briefly at Calvary Lutheran Church, but moved to First Baptist Church because Calvary has a day care center so it has less room. Both churches were very hospitable, the group members said.

They have been trying to experience the culture of the area through visits in the area. In one such trip, they went to Battle Point and learned about wild ricing.

People who would like to give a donation toward the concert can contact Taik at (280) 797-3412 or


Laurie Swenson
Laurie Swenson is a reporter/copy editor for the Bemidji Pioneer. She has been with the Pioneer since 2004.