Saharial reports from the recent talk at the Korean Cultural Centre:
Dr Kirsteen Kim (Theology at Leeds Trinity University College)
Wednesday 31st March 2010
In the summer of 2007, a group of missionaries from the Saemmul Presbyterian Church, South Korea, were kidnapped by the Taliban, an incident that left 2 of their members dead and brought the spotlight of the world on the missionaries of South Korea. It is with this incident in mind that the talk began, a good starting point for an explanation into the history and attitude of Korean missionaries in the modern world.
Dr Kim explained clearly and in detail the way Christian culture took root in South Korea since 1884 and the arrival of Horace Underwood, a US citizen and Presbyterian. The US itself was going through a religious revival and the main object of the mission was conversion by setting up of small independent churches, a method known as the Nevius Method. It was 20 years later however that rapid conversion began, the hub of which was Pyongyang, and Christianity spread throughout Korea until it became indigenous.
Japanese occupation of Korea was the next event that had a great influence on the Korean Christian psyche. Suffering under this occupation they saw parallels between themselves and the Israelites, the idea that they suffered the same as Christ had done for their beliefs. They were ready to sacrifice themselves as Christ had done. In post war, post liberation Korea the Christian population expanded once more as missionaries were invited in and proved vital services for social work – orphanages, hospitals, schools etc. all things that helped to rebuild Korea and guide it towards the nation it is now. The association of Christianity with national spirit was made, with the idea of being modern and advanced. Today some 30% of the population are Christian.
In the 1980’s, with the advent of the Olympics, travel restrictions were lifted and missionaries from Korea began to travel the world spreading the gospel. This was something done as much out of a need to repay the debt they felt was upon them, as the need to spread the word of God. This motive has not changed to this day. What has changed is the world itself, and South Korea’s place in this world, no longer a growing nation of 30 years ago, but one that is a major player in the world. Whilst Korean missionaries, usually a family of four, are recognised as being genuinely keen to help, the training given often lacks depth of education to cultural and political issues, something that needs to change to prevent further incidents as those in Afghanistan.
As someone who attends a Korean Presbyterian Church that places much emphasis on Missionary work, I was very keen to hear this talk and it certainly enlightened me to a perspective on this that maybe my friends might not have been able to explain so objectively. The talk and issues go far deeper and are more complex than I was able to cover here, but hopefully it gives you some insight into what has become a controversial aspect of Korean Christianity.