No one saw it coming—not even Dan himself.
After all, he’d already survived medical school, two years of residency, and another of research. By that point, most young surgeons are eager to complete their training, join a practice, and begin chipping away at tuition debt. But even with all that momentum and the end coming into sight, Dr. Daniel Kim, the Brown University surgical resident who’d been named Intern of the Year, surprised everyone by announcing he was leaving . . . for seminary.
My husband Elliot and I were among his shocked friends. For one thing, we were going to miss him—Dan had become like family in the few years he’d been attending our little church in Rhode Island. What’s more, as a pediatrician, Elliot had also bonded with Dan professionally and knew leaving the residency program would likely end a promising medical career.
The unheard-of move was even something of a surprise to Dan. “[During the research fellowship,] I had more time that year to think and reflect,” he said, “and to teach Sunday school.” As Dan dissected Scripture to prepare lessons, the Lord gave him a passion to study the Word. And though seminary had never previously entered his thoughts, he began to realize such a “detour” was actually God’s Plan A for his life.
“The feeling of joy was far greater than anything I had ever experienced. That was when I realized God created me to be a missionary.”
He also discovered what a solitary pursuit obedience can be. Dan’s residency director, for one, didn’t want to see him leave and generously offered to hold his place for a year. His parents weren’t on board, either—not that they objected to his serving the Lord. On the contrary, as a young married woman, Soonja Kim had prayed that if the Lord gave her a son, she would dedicate him to serve God’s kingdom as a medical missionary. The elder Kims, though, were troubled about the timing.
But to Dan, there wasn’t a choice. He explained by summarizing his faith journey. Only 8 years old when he accepted Christ as Savior, Dan gradually wandered from the Lord. “I knew I was saved but would never tell anybody I was a Christian because I didn’t want my testimony to slander Christ’s name.” But after three years of partying and seeing everything the world had to offer, he came to the conclusion that, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Eccl. 1:2), and there was no meaning to life apart from a right relationship with God through Christ. So in 1991, Dan recommitted his life to Jesus.
“I was a young believer,” he recalled. “I didn’t know anything about purpose or missions.” But when a friend suggested a church trip to Panama, he sensed God challenging him. “It was a very short deadline for me to join the team,” he said, “but God was able to raise $1,300 in about two weeks. So I knew He wanted me to go.”
Once in Panama, however, Dan realized how ill-equipped he was: He’d never been on the mission field before; he didn’t speak Spanish very well; and he didn’t know how to preach the gospel. “I was totally broken,” he said, “but it made me so dependent on God that when I saw God work through me, I knew it was all Him. And the feeling of joy was far greater than anything I had ever experienced. That was when I realized God created me to be a missionary.”
By the time Dan was a research fellow, he’d known that call on his life for about seven years. The more Scripture he learned, the more he understood the importance of fulfilling one’s God-given purpose (Eph. 2:10; 2 Tim. 1:9). And now the Lord was bringing that purpose into sharper focus.
Soonja tried to dissuade her son from rushing to Bible school, especially after Brown’s research director contacted her; he thought Dan had Nobel Prize potential and hoped she could talk sense into him. But recognizing clear direction from God, Dan completed the application process and was soon accepted to Dallas Theological Seminary. Recalling how he himself knew the decision appeared “out there,” he said, “Up to the minute I was getting into the car to leave, I was saying, ‘God, this is crazy. But if it’s not from You, I don’t want to go—stop me.’”
And so he left Rhode Island, expecting not to return. Then, though Dan had almost no contact with the surgical program during his four years at Dallas, God revealed the next step: to finish his residency at Brown. “So I called the program director, who was now the chairman, and asked if I could come back,” Dan said. “Remarkably, after all that time, he said yes.”
In 2002, Dan returned with a Master’s degree in cross-cultural ministry—and a wife. Fellow DTS grad Julie Pak Kim had a passion for missions that matched her new husband’s, but the couple’s dream of serving abroad would require patience. Dan still had three remaining years of general surgical residency, and during the pediatric segment, he “fell in love with taking care of children.” That specialty would tack on two more years.
Plus, there was an additional consideration: To serve in a country with tremendous medical need, Dan wanted as much hands-on experience as possible before moving overseas—which meant joining a practice for a few years (five, as it turned out). Happily for Elliot and me, that brought him, Julie, and their children to Atlanta.
I’m not sure many surgical groups would even consider a candidate with such temporary intentions, but Dan was upfront about his plans. There was no need to manipulate circumstances: He was sure of the Lord’s purpose for him and continually prayed God would keep him on course. When Dan applied to Pediatric and Adolescent Surgical Associates, the practice happened to be short a person. “We really needed some additional help,” senior partner Dr. Ted Brand said. “We figured, okay, he’s going to be with us anywhere from 3 to 5 years. So at least we can bring him on and help him, and he can help us.”
When Dan finally gave notice a couple of years ago, his partners teased, “You should read the fine print on your contract: It says M-A-L-I, not M-A-U-I.” But they are impressed with the young man who gave up comfort and security to bring hope to an impoverished land. Calling Dan “very, very, very brave,” Dr. Brand spoke for the group: “While we don’t all envy what he’s doing, we envy his commitment, his sense of his place in the world and of what he was put here to do.”
Learn more about the Kims' work in Mali in “Foolish for God . . . All the Way to Mali” by Sandy Feit.