FORT KNOX—Sgt. 1st Class Michael Shipman's military career has taken him to about 25 countries—now he is retiring from the Army and moving back to one of those countries to be a church planter/senior pastor.
Shipman and his family will be relocating to South Korea, where he will minister to English-speaking people at Pyeongtaek branch of Seoul International Baptist Church, located strategically near Camp Humphreys, home to 40,000 U.S. Army soldiers.
The seaport city of Pyeongtaek is home to the Army's most active airfield in the Pacific and the center of the largest construction and transformation project in the U.S. Department of Defense's history.
Shipman's most recent duty assignment has been at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he became active at CrossPoint Church, which has benefitted from assistance by Job Juarez of the KBC Church Planting team.
Shipman and his family—wife Jessie and children Hannah, 13, and Noah, 9—were stationed in Korea from 2010-2013. "We loved the church and people there, but initially I was glad to leave. My job was pretty strenuous. I had no idea we would be going back."
He said that heeding God's call to ministry there involved much "cost-counting." Ultimately, he came to the realization that "you don't make the decision for your benefit, but for His kingdom; that Christ must be taught and must be glorified."
It was in that first year of his tour in Korea that God's call to ministry was confirmed to him. After leaving Korea, God "continued to supply various teaching opportunities."
As Shipman retires from the Army this month, his family has hopes of being on the mission field by late June or early July. His work in Korea will be under the auspices of the North American Mission Board in its "Church Planting near Military Communities" endeavor. That ministry focus is to ensure a significant gospel presence near every U.S. military installation across the globe.
The Korea opportunity was not what Shipman expected as he eyed retirement from a 23+-year military career that found him in the infantry, then working as a budget analyst. "Around this time I was going to retire and go to Southern Seminary. I'm taking classes there online now. But then the Lord intervened—I got a message from Dan Armstead (senior pastor at Seoul International Baptist Church) that they needed help with this church. The area was primarily military, but that is not the case now. There are people there from Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Great Britain.
"You have an eclectic body of people, and I don't know how many have sat under verse-by-verse expository preaching. If the people will be patient, they'll see there's great benefit to that."
His major challenge will be the turnover rate as the military transfers personnel routinely. "We did a trip in February when we ate with various families. The majority of those won't be there when we arrive. That's part of the challenge but also part of the beauty of it." Shipman said he looks forward to proclaiming the truths of the gospel to people not previously associated with a Southern Baptist church.
"We want the church to be known as a church that preaches and teaches the Bible; not known for its programs, but as a church that teaches the Bible," he added. He envisions the culture there to be similar to what the Bible describes of the first century church—where people from different backgrounds and ethnicities gathered together around the Bible.
As the Shipmans sought to discern if this was the Lord's will for them to go to Korea, the Seoul church launched a fundraiser with a goal of $75,000 to help fund aspects of the move. "I thought 'no way'—then there was a $10,000 donation that came in, and several thousand dollar donations. We were stuck around $13,000 or $14,000, then one day I was talking with Dan and he said, 'By the way, someone donated $50,000. The Lord is going to do what the Lord is going to do.'"
The Shipmans said their children are excited about returning to Korea. "I think being military children this is not a lot different for them," Shipman said. "There's no shock factor."
CrossPoint Church and its pastor, Steven Head, have been ardent supporters of the Shipmans in this transition. "We're so thankful for them; they have been a blessing. Michael has filled the pulpit several times," said Head, a Southern Seminary graduate who served as a chaplain in the National Guard.
The way the Shipmans found CrossPoint is considered quite providential by Head and the Shipman family. "I was in LifeWay and asked a man working there is he knew of a good solid Bible believing church in the area," said Michael. "When I typed in the name of the church in Google, I typed CrossPoint rather than the name he said. I listened to a couple of sermons online—we showed up there and never left."