Korean Christianity is one of the great stories of church history. The church grew from the soil of martyrdom, persecution, and civil war into a globally vibrant movement. Seoul has some of the largest churches in the world and Korea has the highest number of missionaries per capita of any country in the world.
I saw chapel relics that were given from a church in Wales to Sarang Church where the first Korean missionary, Robert Jermain Thomas, was martyred in 1866. Today, Sam Ko, Missions Leader at Sarang Church is leading an effort to plant 1000 churches in Europe. It is the first effort of its kind that we are aware of. The first 50 churches are expected to launch in 2017.
Sarang Church played an instrumental role in the Lausanne Cape Town congress in 2010. The most moving moment in Cape Town was the story of a young woman whose father had been martyred in North Korean as a missionary. Pastor Jung Hyun Oh from Sarang Church was a presenter at Cape Town.
I attended the Sarang Church Saturday prayer meeting with 2000 parishoners at 6:15 am. I was hosted by Isak You for the morning. He was traveling later on Saturday with a medical missions team to Nepal to treat 1500 patients. The medical team would be sleeping in tents for the week.
I also met with Pastor Young Hoon Lee, pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church, the largest in the world with 550,000 members. I am currently reading his book The Holy Spirit Movement in Korea. I asked him what the greatest challenge facing the Korean church today. He said, “Prosperity, our country has become affluent and people feel they need God less.”
I was also able to visit the DMZ and see North Korea across the border. No where in the world is there a great spiritual contrast between the vibrant church of South Korean and the atheism of North Korea. The DMZ is the most heavily militarized place on earth.
There is strong interest to link the vibrancy of the South Korean church with the global church. The South Korean church has fully entered into the struggle of a declining presence of next generation. This is influenced by lower birth rates as well as trends of secularization facing churches worldwide.
The hope is that God can rekindle the fires of renewal that swept Korean in the past recent decades. The spiritual vibrancy and sacrifice of the Korean church is a great model for the global church.