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Friday, April 1, 2016

They Discipled A Nation

The Yanghwajin Cemetary in Seoul, Korea, was designated in 1890 as a site for burying foreign missionaries by Emperor Gwangmu, the first Emperor of the Korean Empire. [Photo by Matthew Smith, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.]

In the secularist view of development today, Christianity is not always seen as a positive contributor to the cause. That’s because it is often stereotyped as “institutional” rather than community-oriented, and relegated to “private inspiration” rather than seen as a player in public life.

The history of Korea, however, tells a different story. In the late 19th Century, Korea was mostly illiterate, without roads or railways, power or sewer systems. But beginning in 1884, a movement of Christian missionaries took place, mainly coming from the USA, England, South Africa and Canada. 

These missionaries played a significant role in shaping Korean history. From the hundreds of schools these missionaries established, future leaders of Korea came.

A couple of years ago, I was privileged to visit the Yanghwajin Cemetery in Seoul. Among the 376 graves of foreigners, 145 belong to missionaries and their families. A brochure for the cemetery said: “Abandoning promising careers back home, they came to share the light of the Gospel with ‘Corea’ which was then unknown. The missionaries profoundly influenced Korean society, not only by establishing hospitals and schools, but by affecting its intangible values, thus contributing to the abolition of the class hierarchy in old Korea.”

Elmer L. Towns and Douglas Porter, in their book, The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever, report  that the missionaries required adult converts to learn to read Korean before admitting them to church membership. To distinguish Christians from collaborators with the Japanese who later invaded and occupied Korea, "the patriots required Christians to recite chapters from the Bible to prove they were Christians. The result was a 100 percent literacy rate among Christians in a largely illiterate nation. Their ability to read made Christians the natural leaders of the Korean society."

Christianity “caught on” in Korea. The Koreans took to the Bible like kids in a candy store. I’m not sure of all the reasons for this, except to say it was a move of the Holy Spirit, beyond human orchestration. Men and women of God left places of greater comfort to come to a far off land in need, and as a result, they discipled a nation. 

Now you know "the rest of the story."

I took this photo of the gravestone of Canadian medical missionary Robert A. Hardie. My guide let me know this man made a public confession of sin which started a movement of repentance among Christians in Korea known as the Wonsan repentance movement of 1903.

H. B. Hulbert is said to have "loved Korea more than Koreans did."

H. G. Appenzeller established the Pai Chai School, which "produced many capable men who served the Korean people based on the values of the Gospel." He helped with the Korean translation of the Bible.

A pioneer of Korean Christian education was William M. Baird. The school he started in his living room grew into a university.

M. F. Scranton, a pioneer of education for women in Korea, came to Korea at the age of 52, from the USA. She passed on at the age of 76, having dedicated herself to spreading the Gospel and the betterment of Korean women for the last 24 years of her life.