They may be more than 3,000 miles away from the destruction, bloodshed and racial tension in Los Angeles, but the Rev. Jonathan Song and his 1,300 Ellicott City followers are helping the riot-torn city heal its wounds.
Last week, Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church in Ellicott City, where Mr. Song is pastor, decided to donate $15,000 from the church's emergency fund to help the families of Koreans and anyone else who lost loved ones when violence ravaged the city.
More than 50 people were killed and damages have been estimated at $785 million.
"I pray that our donation might . . . be the seed money to build racial harmony," Mr. Song, 41, said in an office in his church yesterday.
Mr. Song believes his congregation, which is predominantly Korean but also includes some whites and blacks, will reimburse the church.
But, he said, the church, with a budget of more than $1 million a year, can afford the donation. The money is intended to help Los Angeles families of all races, not just the Korean families who were victimized during the rioting, Mr. Song said.
During a service last Sunday at his church on Saint Johns Lane, Mr. Song challenged his congregation to look through their "spiritual eyes" while he preached for racial understanding and harmony.
"I said to my people 'it's not anger against Koreans by the blacks, it's protest' " to the oppression and inequality, Mr. Song said of the violence. "We've got to understand the black people's history in this nation. How they have suffered and were oppressed."
After that sermon, church members agreed to make the donation, Mr. Song said.
Ki Duck Han, 36, a member of Mr. Song's congregation and co-owner of Triple C Wholesale Inc. in Baltimore, said he is thrilled with the church's donation.
"It's well thought of and very nice," said Mr. Han. "I'm very positive that all of (the church-members) share the same feeling." His company is also raising contributions to help those victimized during the unrest.
Mr. Song said he planned to mail a check to the Salvation Army in Los Angeles this weekend.
Mr. Song, who used to be a pastor in Los Angeles, said he knows the family of Edward Song Lee, the 18-year-old Korean-American who was killed when he tried to protect his neighborhood during rioting April 30. Mr. Lee was buried Wednesday.
"My friends [in L.A.] said they never expected this to happen, the violence," Mr. Song said. Most of the Koreans left their native land for the U.S., seeking a better life, he explained. "They saw America as a dreamland. A dream country. . . . That dream was shattered."
A Korean minister in Los Angeles told Mr. Song that "60 percent of Korean businesses were afflicted; either they got burned, looted or damaged."
On Thursday, Mr. Song said, "It's true we (Koreans) were hurt" during the rioting. We feel we were mistreated."
But, he added, "We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We don't feel we were . . . targeted."
Mr. Song said he was dismayed by the rioting, but said he believes the anarchy "was waiting to happen" because of racism, disunity across the nation and the country's abandonment of Christianity.
In time, the unrest in Los Angeles may prove to be positive,Mr.Song said.
At least it has "opened a wound," Mr. Song said. "It made people see who they are and see what the problem is."