One Sponsor, Connected To Korea For A Lifetime

Volunteering at a Winter Jam concert was just the latest in a lifetime of ways Clare found himself connected to Korea — and to child sponsorship.

A command radio and radar repairman for the U.S. Air  Clare Graham was just 20 years old when he found himself stationed near Seoul during the last year of the Korean War. On his rare days off, Clare and his buddies would sometimes drive the 30 miles into Seoul to find ice cream — a nearly unheard-of treat in Korea in 1954. But one day in April, he decided to stay close to base. He headed out for a walk, and it became a walk he’d never forget.

“I went out walking in the neighborhood and came across what had to have been an orphanage,” says Clare, now in his 80s and long retired from his military service. “There were dozens of kids lined up in front of the building … 3- and 4-year-olds bundled in polka-dot and plaid clothes.” Curious, and captured by their sweet innocence, Clare walked over to them. He had some candy stashed away in his pocket, and handed it out to the children. His friend snapped a photo, forever sealing this moment in his memory.

Children like the ones who Clare met while serving in Korea are the reason Harry and Bertha Holt began Holt International over 60 years ago.

His heart broke for these children, orphaned and abandoned in the wake of the Korean War. And his wasn’t the only one.

Several years after he returned home from the war, his mother began sponsoring a child through Holt — from Korea.

“My mom used to say, ‘If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right,’” Clare says. In 1973, when his mother passed away, he felt moved to continue supporting the child his mother had sponsored for many years through Holt — continuing the mission that she felt was so worth it.

This began what for Clare and his wife Nancy would become 45 years of child sponsorship — first sponsoring the child his mother had sponsored, then Chil Duk, then Sang. Each one of them a boy living in Korea.

In 1982, Clare returned to Korea for the first time since the war as part of an international convention with the YMCA. At the convention, he had an opportunity to meet his then-sponsored child — actually a young adult living at Holt’s Ilsan Center, a long-term care center for children and adults who have special needs. This young man continued to receive support from Clare and Nancy through sponsorship after he reached adulthood.

“He couldn’t live on his own, but he went out and worked — was a very outgoing person,” Clare says of this young man, who he got to meet while visiting Ilsan. “It was emotional,” Clare says, reflecting on the legacy his mother began, as well as the hope and opportunity this young man experienced because of sponsorship.

Asked about his reasons for sponsoring all of these years, Clare says it’s a “tying together” of his mother’s influence, his personal experience in Korea and his awareness about the need for sponsors. But Clare doesn’t see this as coincidence.

“Isn’t it crazy how God works, how God puts all this together?” he says. “It seems like Korea and I were intended to be connected for all these years. In different ways, but one way or another.”

Just last November, Clare volunteered at a Winter Jam concert in Tacoma, Washington. Joined by his daughter and grandkids, Clare helped sign up new sponsors during intermission, and took the opportunity to share about his sponsorship experience through the years. But he never expected to step up on stage, in front of thousands of people.

As the Tacoma concert fell on November 11, Veteran’s Day, Clare wore a Korean veteran’s baseball cap. Spotting him among the volunteers, a Holt team member quickly came up to him. “We’re going to sing God Bless America,” he told him, “and we’d like you to come up on stage with us.”

“You never expect that,” Clare says. While on stage, he answered questions about the Korean conflict and his time in Korea. The audience then stood to honor him for his service.

Clare and his wife, Nancy, visited the Holt office in February 2018.

“God has blessed us,” Clare says, reflecting on his life. “Just because I said yes to serving. The more I served and volunteered, the more I got blessed — always giving God the glory.”

In February, Clare and Nancy visited the Holt headquarters office in Eugene, Oregon. They learned more about Holt’s beginnings, how Harry and Bertha Holt felt called to care for children left orphaned or abandoned in the wake of the Korean War, and how this is what led them to begin Holt International. Understanding this connection, and how Holt sponsors are still a part of this critical work in Korea and around the world, he felt moved.

“I now have a better perspective on what attracted my mother to become a sponsor,” he says. While the circumstances are different today, the work is very much the same: caring for orphaned and abandoned children. And for this reason, Clare says he will stay connected with Holt for many years to come — through sponsorship, and through prayer.

“We continue to pray for Holt daily,” he says.

Megan Herriott | Staff Writer

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