Why do I run a restaurant?… I want to share God’s goodness

Brother Kim Sung Min, who serves the lowest of the lowest

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

In 2012, a Vietnamese noodle restaurant named Tin Lanh (meaning the good news in Vietnamese) launched in town of HwaGok. It’s been 6 years since the restaurant launched proclaiming that Christ is Lord. We went back in 5 years to hear their story again.

“It’s been 5 years already? Last time we interviewed, it was after about a year since we launched as a restaurant without regular price. It was physically draining time and we were always nervous. But as time passed, we got used to the workload and more people started to visit us. When we reached 6 months, 1 year and 2 year point, overwhelming amount of people just flooded in. When there is sudden increase in the number, that number became the norm from then on. People would wait at the door before we even open, and fully fill the space when we open.”

Looking back, they were all people sent from God. Tin Lanh ran for 5 years as No-Price restaurant. Last September the landlord notified that the lease contract was over.

“We didn’t know what to do because we had no money to move to a new place. We had good profit, but we used them all to help the needy or donated to the missionaries. So when we were told to find a new place, we had no savings. As we prayed and prayed, the landlord contacted us and renewed the contract for another year, with the condition of vacating the space within 3 months. People around me in real estate suggested to us to rather buy a building. They all thought we made a lot of money. We had more than 200 customers in a small restaurant that can hold 20 people.”

“At first so many people flooded in”194_5_1-interveiw-4

They were exhausted from busy business. Last month, he was even diagnosed with diabetes.

“Honestly, I fought a fight of faith every day at this place.  I imagined serving least of least with greatest love, but I struggled to love. There were customers who come regularly for years, yet still pay a dollar, students who pay couple cents and mess with the food, people who don’t plan to leave even when there is line of people waiting… God surely sent many souls to our restaurant, but it was getting more and more difficult for me. Regardless of my feelings, I gave them the noodle reminding myself that they are sent by God. Although I didn’t feel like it, I served being reminded that God is the owner of Tin Lanh and I am a mere servant. As I was running Tin Lanh, I got married and even had a child. Born in March 2016, the first child was nothing but precious to him.

“When I held the child in my arms, I had two feelings at once. I was so happy because the child was so precious and beautiful, yet my heart was broken to think that there are as precious and beautiful children in other parts of the world that are unloved. My wife and I mutually shared this feeling, and we knew it was God given. Since then, we have been sponsoring children through international Christian welfare organization. We made a piggy bank to collect coins for donation, and we’ve been spiritually and financially supporting alternative schools for North Korean children.

Around this time, their church started collaboration with the welfare organization, and so their family vision and church vision aligned naturally.

When they were thinking of Tin Lanh’s future, they were thinking about children in need. God gave them the heart to use Tin Lanh as a mean to sponsor the children in absolute need. With this in mind, they set a price to the noodle and collaborated with organization to help.

To sponsor the children in absolute need

Compassion, the organization Kim serves, started out as an organization to help the orphans in Korea during Korean War. Korea now became the first recipient country to be helping other countries’ orphans.

194_5_1-interveiw-2“Compassion not only support the children financially, but helps them to be nurtured properly and biblically. They receive education, medical assistance, and spiritual guidance all at church, so they are constantly at church. Until they are 20, children are nurtured with prayer, and they develop biblical values. In countries with limited education, these children will grow up to be leaders that guide the generation. They’re sponsoring 23 children including the 3 that my family supports. We’ve been partnering with them since last November, so it has been exactly a year.

The wall of Tin Lanh is full of pictures of the sponsored children from Philippines, Haiti, Ecuador, Ghana, and other countries. Despite the change of price, the essence of Tin Lanh remained unchanged: to serve the least of least.

There was change in customer dynamics after the change in price.

“About 30-40% of the customer stopped coming after the price change. We had more profit when we had no price! I was wondering if I made a mistake… and even debated whether Tin Lanh should be No-Price restaurant once again. Then I realized that God was breaking and humbling me down.

Honestly, when we set the price to the noodle, I was thinking that we were going to get more income. I was thinking of all the things I could do with the additional income. Ever since Tin Lanh launched, I’ve seen customers coming nonstop for at least 3 years, so I was getting used to having so many customers. Israelites were so used to receiving Manna in the wilderness and took God’s grace for granted. Likewise, I was taking all the number of customers for granted. When Tin Lanh first started, there were days when we had only 6 customers… it’s by God’s grace that Tin Lanh was full of people and I took it for granted all this time. Now God taught me once again that each customer is God sent.”

“With reduced income, I downsized as much as I could, and reduced the spending. I’m not even going to perm my hair (laughter). It took a while for me to get used to this new change, and at time, I was afraid whether things will work out well. I was afraid even with all the promises of Christ, so I can only imagine how fearful nonbelievers can be without Jesus. Whenever fear strikes, I go before the Gospel once again and am reminded that I am a mere nomad in this world like Jesus was. Once I dedicate myself to Christ once again, joy fills my heart. Through these circumstances, I am constantly humbled.”

At first, it was too difficult on me. I wonder why I need to put myself in such a difficult place unlike other people. However, God is revealed more and more through the brokenness, and it becomes the path of happiness and willingness.

“As I go to work each morning, I pray that I will be broken even more. I realized that specific actions do not please nor matter to God. It doesn’t matter whether there is a price to noodle or not. What matters to God is whether I am a true worshipper where I stand. When God reigns as God, the lord, and father, and when His power and righteousness was acknowledged where I stood, God accepted my lives wherever I was.”

He wishes more businesses like Tin Lanh opens up. Or at least, I wish there are businesses that can collaborate in Godly work.

“I get to see so many people whose hearts are roughened up. So many people were heavily disappointed at Korean church, and it was beyond my capability to melt their hearts. I get to realize that it is still time to sow the seeds of life. Until the day life blooms in their heart, I will have to show Christ through my life continuously. I wish that the world would see more people and businesses arise to show Christ in every part of their lives. It’s my utmost prayer that I, myself, will be the gateway for people to return to Christ.

We were curious if anyone returned to Christ through Tin Lanh.

“We haven’t had anyone return to Christ directly from Tin Lanh. Some Christians come and encourage us, but many times, they are not really interested. What matters to people is whether the noodle is delicious or not, how long they need to wait, or how much the noodle is. Many people think that Tin Lanh is ran by a church since there is no price. No one thinks that it is privately owned. Regardless, we will remain as we are since the Lord called us here. I will stop when God says stop, simply because God is the Lord of Tin Lanh. Even if I don’t tangibly see the fruits of labor, God may be using Tin Lanh indirectly and I would be grateful.

Right now is time to spread the love of Christ.

He recently had funeral for his Father-in-Law. The father-in-law lived a solitary life before he passed away.

“I met my father-in-law’s pastor at the funeral. He evangelized to the father-in-law who was drunk in the street. The pastor took him to church and fed him. He even connected him to the government aid to find a place to stay. Through this pastor’s thorough care, the father-in-law learned about the Gospel.  One of the church members left the church because the father-in-law always would come to church drunk. Before he left, the member argued that he would come to church if the father-in-law leaves the church. The pastor could not abandon my father-in-law because the father-in-law has no other option but this church.”

“We were encouraged at how he was served. We couldn’t take care of him, but Jesus came and served him through this pastor. I learned this day that walking with Christ is not only abstract like reading the bible and praying. Walking with Christ means to approach and love the least of least. Ever since, my deepest prayer is this: Lord, help me to walk with the least of least. Also help me to serve each soul with love at Tin Lanh. I pray that our sincerity reaches people’s heart.”