The Rev. Tongjin Samuel Lee, 94
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
The Rev. Tongjin Samuel Lee, who spent a lifetime serving the local Korean community as well as people of other ethnicities, died May 9 in Honolulu. He was 94.
Lee served as pastor for several churches over a career that spanned 70 years. His "Rainbow Ministry" found him in the pulpit that traditionally served Native American, Japanese, Sāmoan, Tongan and Filipino congregations, as well as Korean.
He was the pastor at the Christ United Methodist Church, Kilohana United Methodist Church, Parker Memorial United Metho- dist Church and the Aldersgate United Methodist Church.
Lee's daughter, Eunice Wakatsuki, said her father was most proud of his ministry at the various ethnic churches. He also liked to point out that his family was a blend of ethnicities.
"He used to say, 'My grandchildren constitute a rainbow of nationalities. We have Korean, German, Japanese and Chinese blood. Makes us almost hapa-everything,' " Wakatsuki said.
Lee was born in a rural area near Pyongyang in the then-unified Korea in 1915. His father was one of the first ordained Christian ministers in Korea, and Lee attended the Soong Sil Boys' Academy, a mission school sponsored by the Presbyterian Church.
It was at that school where Lee met George McCune, a missionary from the United States and principal of the school. McCune was a mentor to Lee and helped mold Lee into the compassionate minister that he would become, said Dale Lee, one of Lee's sons.
"He was really the man that mentored my father and that's why my father mentored so many people," Dale Lee said.
During the Japanese occupation of Korea, McCune was deported to the United States because he opposed an order that students be taught the Shinto religion at the school. But the two kept in touch and McCune served as Lee's sponsor when he came to the United States when he was 23.
Lee graduated from the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary in Kentucky and worked as a missionary to Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest before moving to Hawai'i. In 1982, doctors advised him to slow down and he retired from the active ministry, although he never really stopped working.
He was a guide and interpreter for international dignitaries for the U.S. State Department and worked as a translator in state and federal court proceedings. Lee also continued to advise churches, organizations and individuals across the state.
"He positively influenced so many," his sons Earl and Dale wrote. "It was commonplace for people that we did not know to tell us, 'Your father was like a second father to me. He was my mentor. I called him Uncle.' "
Son Christopher Freas recalled a time when a "disheveled man" on drugs came to his father's church and asked for money. Rather than give him money, Lee brought the man home and fed the man before taking him to the old Armed Forces YMCA.
"He did those kinds of things all the time," Freas said. "Every once in a while God sends a special man or woman to Earth. Our dad was surely one of them."
In 2006, the Korean Consulate in Honolulu presented Lee with the Magnolia Medal, Order of Civil Merit, for his lifetime contribution to the "betterment and harmony of communities in which Korean-Americans resided outside the Korean Peninsula."
Lee is survived by sons, Earl and Dale, and Christopher Freas; daughter, Eunice Wakatsuki; and seven grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. June 5 at Christ United Methodist Church in Makiki.