Seoul International Baptist Church (SIBC) traces its beginnings to the English-speaking congregation of Seoul Memorial Church that began in 1971. Initially, Southern Baptist missionaries conducted the service for U.S. military personnel, civilians, missionaries and their children. Rev. James Swendenburg (deceased) was the first pastor, and he and his wife, Joyce, served the church from January 1972 to June 1974. Then in 1973, the Foreign Mission Board (FMB; now the International Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention voted to release up to $30,000 in capital funds from the 1972 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering to allow SIBC to purchase land on Yeouido Island in Seoul. Again, in 1974, the FMB released an additional $20,000 in Lottie Moon funds to assist SIBC.
In February 1975, the FMB appointed Rev. and Mrs. Roland Leath of Shelby, North Carolina to serve in an interim pastoral ministry at SIBC. Rev. Leath served in this capacity until June 1976, when Rev. Cloyes Starnes assumed the pastorate, serving first as assistant pastor and then as senior pastor. During Rev. Starnes pastorate, SIBC completed construction of its facilities on Yeouido, next door to Yeouido Baptist Church. Rev. Starnes and his wife, Mary Jo, served the church until January 1980. Throughout the 1970s into the mid-1980s, the FMB also appointed several journeymen to serve in SIBC youth work. They included Karen Ballard, appointed in 1975; Mary Lyn Ward, appointed in 1977; Mark Okazaki, appointed in 1979; Sherry McGee, appointed in 1981; Jeff Waldo, appointed in 1984 and Gary Hartman, appointed in 1986.
In 1981, Rev. Jack Green and his wife, Mary Edna came to SIBC. During Rev. Green’s tenure the church added to the educational building on Yeouido using Lottie Moon funds. Yeouido Baptist Church also paid SIBC for a 99-year lease on the parking lot property and the church used those funds to construct a new worship center with fellowship and teaching space.
In October 1983, the FMB authorized Dr. and Mrs. William C. Link, Jr., of Liberty, Missouri, to serve as extended-term volunteers in South Korea. Dr. Link assumed the pastorate of SIBC in December 1983 for a one-year term while the Greens were on furlough.
Also, during Rev. Green’s 12-year tenure, SIBC became involved in a prison ministry through the help of a Korean pharmacist. The pharmacist, whose name has been lost to history, discipled converts from services that Rev. Green preached three times a year in the juvenile prison at Incheon. According to Rev. Green, the church baptized 1,028 young men during the ten years of this ministry. Rev. Green also recalled that he once baptized 132 men in one prison baptismal service.
Rev. Green and the church leadership dubbed SIBC, “a mission church on a mission field.” As a result, the church donated a large portion of its weekly receipts to the Home Mission Board of the Korean Baptist Convention. They also sponsored the start of ten new Korean churches and paid for their start-up expenses. The church also partnered with the blind church in Seoul, bought them a piano and helped them build a new facility.
Bill Colston and his wife, Gerry, succeeded Rev. Green and served the church from 1992 until September 2001. Back in June 1996, the FMB authorized the Korea Baptist Mission to sell the SIBC property located on Yeouido. The property, which was originally purchased in March 1975 for $39,627, had an estimated value of $4 million. The FMB authorized that funds from the sale be used to relocate SIBC, mission office facilities and other Korea Baptist ministries currently occupying the Yeouido address.
In November 2001, Rev. Tim Swihart and his wife, Mari, relocated from Busan, South Korea to lead SIBC. Under Rev. Swihart’s leadership the church grew in numbers and ministries and added vibrant men, women, children and prayer ministries. The church also renewed its mission emphasis, as members took trips to Bangladesh, China, Tibet, and Thailand.
In the mid-2000s, the International Missions Board (formerly FMB) recognized that most of its international churches had matured to the point that it was no longer necessary to provide missionary pastors and financial support. As a result, when the Swiharts completed their term in June 2007, the church formed a search committee and began searching to call their first pastor. During this process, the church invited Rev. Jack Peters to serve as interim pastor which he did with his wife, Debra, from June 2007 to June 2008.
In early 2008, SIBC called Dr. Dan Armistead from Cummings, Georgia. He and his wife, Sherri arrived in Seoul in June of that year. During the interim period and early in Dr. Armistead’s tenure, the church committed to planting English-speaking churches in and around Seoul. International Christian Fellowship in Yeonhui-dong was the first such plant, with the intent of reaching expat’s with ties to Seoul Foreign School.
In addition, the church voted in 2009 to join the Hawaii-Pacific Baptist Association to solidify its Southern Baptist identity and to partner with churches in that association to take the Gospel throughout Asia. The church continues its support of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program, the exclusive source of support for missionaries serving through the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. The church also supports a number of independent mission endeavors throughout Asia.
In 2010, the leadership team travelled down to Pyeongtaek (1 hour south of Seoul) to explore the idea of a 2nd SIBC. For years news had circulated about the move of Yongsan Garrison to Camp Humphrey’s near Pyeongtaek City. At the time nothing materialized. We prayed and asked God to give us his vision for this endeavour. It wasn’t until the summer of 2016 that the leadership team finally decided and voted on a plan to plant a church in the Pyeongtaek area. SIBC Pyeongtaek was born. It began as a Saturday night service and continued with just that service for 2 years. Finally in the summer of 2018, plans were made to begin a Sunday morning service.
Back in 1980, Rev. Green cast a vision for SIBC as “a mission church on a mission field.” Although the areas of emphasis may have changed throughout the years, SIBC continues working toward that vision as they share the Gospel throughout Seoul and to the ends of the earth.