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Saturday, April 14, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Legacies of love and learning

Seattle Times staff reporter

It's not a very long video, just 10 minutes or so, called "Daddy's Letter."

The video shows Johnathan Sim dressed casually in a white T-shirt, sitting on a sofa.

His two children, Nathan, 5, and Natalie, 4, watched for a bit. They had already seen these images of a dad they now only can see on a screen.

Sim died on July 25, 2005, at age 33, after a massive stroke. He had made the video in May 2002.

On this evening, they bounced on their mother, Kelly Sim, and jumped on the sofa to avoid focusing their attention on the video. Kelly Sim turned it off.

"I don't want to talk about Daddy because that makes me sad," Nathan said. "I'm done talking."

The video was one of Johnathan Sim's legacies to his children, now in preschool.

Soon, work will begin on another of Sim's legacies.

In the small, isolated village of Twachiyanda, Zambia — 9,700 miles from Seattle — the building supplies have been delivered, and work to build the town's first school is scheduled to be finished in August. It will house 430 children in the elementary grades, many of them orphaned because their parents have died of AIDS.

The school will be named the Johnathan Sim Legacy School, honoring the staffer for World Vision, the Christian relief agency based in Federal Way that sends help to more than 100 countries. Some $110,000 was raised in donations in Sim's memory to build the school and buy school supplies.

Sim recorded the video only eight months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The world seemed to have become a much more dangerous place for Americans, and Sim was about to go on a five-week trip to Bangkok, Thailand.

He had traveled in other Asian countries, as well as Africa, often going to the world's hot spots. As he sought donations for World Vision, Sim was learning firsthand why that help was needed.

At that time, Nathan was 7 months old, and Natalie not even born. Sim decided to leave a recorded message for his young son.

"... life is unpredictable, and anything can and does happen, and just in case, I wanted to leave a message for you," Sim began the video.

He would go on to tell his son:

" ... I have a lot of dreams for you ... study hard ... be a leader, not a follower ... " He would tell Nathan about the airplane toys he had just bought him:

"I guess the toys represent my hopes and desires for you to shoot for the stars ... " At that point, and not for the first time in the video, Sim choked up and tears ran down his cheeks:

" ... dream, you know, beyond what people dream today ... I believe that anything is possible with the help of Christ ... " He would conclude:

"... take care of Mom, listen to both your grandmas and grandpas because they love you very much ... you're a very precious gift to us and I love you very, very much."

There were no problems on Sim's trip to Bangkok, nor on subsequent overseas trips. He journeyed to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, China and even North Korea.

Life progressed for the young couple, a happy journey of pride in their work and continuing happiness in their family life as Natalie was born.

As is often the custom with families of Korean heritage — Johnathan and Kelly had both come from Korea when very young — the grandparents helped out.

Kelly's parents, William and Misun Yang, moved into the Sims' large, four-bedroom home in Renton.

While Johnathan worked at World Vision, Kelly had a career with another nonprofit, Casey Family Programs. The grandparents took care of the kids during the daytime, and Grandma prepared dinner.

For Johnathan, life held nothing but promise. By all appearances, he was a young man in good health, trim, playing in a weekly basketball game and a golf enthusiast.

And so the tape he made — just in case something happened — ended up in a box.

Kelly Sim still has a hard time dealing with the whys of what happened on Saturday morning, July 23, 2005.

On that Saturday morning, as the children were playing downstairs with visiting cousins, what wasn't supposed to happen to a healthy 33-year-old man happened. Johnathan Sim suffered a massive stroke. He would have brain surgery, to no avail. On July 25, he was taken off life support and died. He was an organ donor, and his heart, kidneys and liver went to save other lives.

Kelly Sim went through a crisis of faith, wondering why her prayers, and the literally thousands of other prayers e-mailed to her, didn't work. She returned to her faith after deciding, "If this is gone, then aside from my kids, I'm gone."

At World Vision, Johnathan Sim's co-workers were stunned by his untimely death.

"Here's a young man, vibrant, hitting his stride, a present and future leader," said Sim's boss, Marty Lonsdale, vice president of donor engagement. "You can't fathom this kind of thing happening."

Kelly Sim found the box with the video, and it was played at her husband's funeral.

She and Nathan both have a hard time watching it.

"He's kind of an internalizer; he'll cry quietly and wipe away his tears before I can see," said Kelly Sim about her son. Nathan has told his mom, "I wish Dad was here to play with me."

As heartbreaking as it is to watch the video, and any of the 15 other videos she has of the family — showing her husband playing in the snow with the children, or giving them baths, or snuggling up to them — Kelly thinks of them as treasures.

She'll bring them out when the children are older, she said.

"I want to show what he left for them. It's a legacy," Sim said. "I thank God for camcorders."

But for now, the images can be watched for only a few seconds at a time. Some things are just too powerful.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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