The recent kidnapping of Korean Christians in Afghanistan has highlighted their long-standing, fervent commitment to mission. Inspire takes a look at the past, present and possible future of the former “hermit kingdom”
“After prayer, confessions were called for and immediately the Spirit of God seemed to descend upon the audience. Man after man would rise, confess his sins, break down and weep… .”
These are the words of an eyewitness to the beginning of what is known as the first Korean revival, which took place in 1907 and which is being commemorated across Korea now, 100 years later.
This revival propelled Koreans into cross-cultural mission – to places like Japan, China, Mongolia and even as far away as Africa – places where many westerners encountered resistance.
The recent kidnapping of several Korean Christian aid workers in Afghanistan, a story that made headlines around the world, has highlighted the fact that commitment to mission remains a focus of Korean Christian life.
It is estimated that between 10,000 and 16,000 South Korean Christians are involved in cross-cultural mission. On the home front, in 2006, CMS officially opened an office in Seoul, which is headed by CMS Regional Manger Simon Na.
The office was opened at the invitation of the Anglican Church of Korea. “We need CMS to help us with the two things it does best: evangelism and work with the poor,” said the Most Rev Park, Primate of Korea.
Heart in Seoul for the poor
“Helping is not so much sharing an umbrella but getting wet together,” reads the plaque just inside the entrance of Bong Chun House of Sharing. Outside, this building doesn’t look any different from neighbouring blocks of flats, but behind its doors is a uniquely Korean approach to Christian witness and service in urban neighbourhoods.
Bong Chun House dates back to the 1980s when the Anglican Church in Korea started searching for new ways to reach out to the poorest people in Seoul. Their first venture began in a small rented house in Sangay Dong in September 1986. The principal work of this first house was the provision of a night school for teenage workers and an infant house for dual income families.
Today the Anglican Church in Seoul runs eight Houses of Sharing, with a wide array of programmes to meet the social, financial and spiritual needs of poor people in Seoul.
According to Na, this type of work speaks volumes to local people. “Koreans tend to assess churches by their words and deeds. [Some] Korean Christians focus on preaching and a change of heart.
“Non-Christians, however, focus more on ‘What do the churches actually do?’ Mission work can satisfy these two demands. [We] can do humanitarian work while at the same time concentrate on faith.”
Reunification: imagine the possibilities
But the greatest opportunity for mission in Korea might be the possible reunification of North and South. Prior to the Korean War of 1950-1953, two thirds of the country's Christians lived in the North, but most subsequently fled to the South.
It is not known how many Christians remain in the North, but should unification take place, it will certainly be a mission focus.
The government of South Korea’s Department of Unification is headed by Rev Dr Jae-Joung Lee, a long-time friend of CMS. Recent strides toward reunification cause excitement, but also raise concerns for Dr Lee. For one, when Germany reunited it all but bankrupted the country.
Also, people need to understand that reunification will take time. At the current rate of progress, it will take 60 years to reunite all families who have been separated by the conflict. This could be a vital ministry for Korean Christians. Dr Lee and CMS are concerned that the churches really use this moment in history to tell people about Jesus.
This month CMS plans to take part in an international peace conference to discuss how to deal with these issues as well as learn from its partners in a country with a long-standing passion for mission.
For more about the work of CMS in Korea, please contact CMS on 0845 620 1799 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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