Call it 1,700 miles for hope (and counting).
In 2020, Paul Kim – an Army veteran and chaplain at Marsh Post 442 in Cambridge, Mass. – signed up for the American Legion’s first 100 Miles for Hope Wellness Challenge. In a month, he had covered that distance and more, so Kim decided to keep going…and moving forward.
“The role of a chaplain in the army is to boost morale,” he says. “I want to encourage other veterans. We can do it. You can do it. That’s why I keep walking.
Kim, 74, plans to travel 3,000 miles by the summer of 2023. In his mind, he’s crossing the country from Boston to Seattle, where his brother and two sisters live. Each time he hits a milestone, Kim posts his progress on the legiontown platform, where participants can share their 100 Miles for Hope stories.
He walks at least four to five miles a day: to Harvard on Mondays, around the Danehy City Park athletics area on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, to the War Memorial at Belmont High School on Thursdays, to the graves of his in-laws at Mount Auburn Cemetery on Fridays and at his American Legion post on Saturdays.
As Easter approaches, Kim draws a parallel between her daily walks in the city and her daily walk with God, or “pilgrim’s journey.” Both require discipline, determination and, above all, faith.
“If you don’t have faith, you can’t reach hope,” he says.
Kim and his wife, Rebekah, founded Berkland Baptist Church (BBC) in Berkeley, California in 1981. A decade later they opened a second church, BBC-Boston, now known as Antioch Baptist . As pastor emeritus, Kim is grateful for the couple’s 41 years of ministry, during which they mentored students, young professionals and hundreds of others in their Christian faith.
He recruited members of his congregation to support him and even join him in the 100 Miles for Hope challenge, not only to boost their spiritual health but also their physical health. He can attest to the importance of the latter, having survived a heart attack 28 years ago.
Kim had just finished swimming at the Cambridge YMCA when he felt a sharp pain in his chest. He thought it was a stomach ache, but when he got home and Rebekah found him too weak to move, she took him to a clinic. He remained in the hospital for 12 days, while his friends and family prayed for a miracle.
“It is by the grace of God that I am alive today and able to continue to do his work,” he said.
Told by his doctor he would not survive a second heart attack, Kim underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 1997. Once recovered, he organized a bike club with members of his church, riding two hours on Saturday mornings . He also got into the habit of walking around his neighborhood.
However, the Legion 100 Mile Challenge for Hope rekindled Kim’s enthusiasm for personal fitness and created opportunities to share the faith that shaped her life.
“My message to veterans is not just that I walk, but that I want to walk by faith,” he said. “I want to encourage others. Some veterans are young, some very old, and I want them to have a hope in Christ for eternal life.
Born in Taegu, Korea in 1948, Kim grew up wanting to be like the American soldiers who came to help fight for his country. “They sacrificed their lives, nearly 36,000 killed and missing in action,” he says. “I wanted to pay my dues, serve.”
His family immigrated to Hilo, Hawaii, in 1967, and Kim enlisted in the military. He trained at Fort Ord, California, was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, and became a U.S. citizen while in uniform. After his release in 1969, he went to college on the GI Bill, then studied at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Kim returned to military service in 1986, serving 10 years as a commissioned officer and chaplain in the Army Reserve. And for 25 years, Rebekah worked as a Southern Baptist chaplain at Harvard. Their love for such work only grew as Kim took on the role of National Chaplain for the Korean War Veterans Association.
When the VA hospital wait times scandal broke in 2014, Kim asked a friend — retired Col. Sam Birky, a former Navy SEAL and Army Reserve chaplain — where he could get involved to help veterans. Birky referred Kim to the American Legion, and he has been a lifetime paid member ever since.
Every Saturday, Kim is at Marsh Post 442, a mile and a half from his home. He relishes his role as chaplain, opening and closing meetings with prayer, and listening and speaking to members. He encourages them and sometimes prays with them.
Kim also wants to lead by example and plans to keep walking even after reaching her 3,000 mile goal. On his list of potential destinations are Massachusetts sites important to the country’s religious history. Among them are Northampton, where the preaching of Jonathan Edwards sparked a religious revival that led to the First Great Revival, as well as a monument at the site of the 1806 Haystack Prayer Meeting in Williamstown, which started the missionary movement modern.
“I want to keep going for as long as I can,” Kim says.
Sign up here to participate in the third annual American Legion 100 Miles for Hope Challenge, track the miles or donate. All proceeds are donated to the American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation (V&CF), which provides essential support to disabled veterans and military families in need of temporary financial assistance.