Korea and the 5 a.m. prayer service

Published 12:25 pm Thursday, November 5, 2015

Our group of 30 United Methodist pastors was escorted into the sanctuary of Bupyeong Methodist Church in Incheon, Korea. We were there for their morning prayer service held at 5 a.m. every day throughout the year.

Did I mention that it was 5 a.m.?

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I say that because the sanctuary was filling up. At least 500 to 600 people had arrived, and I would soon discover they were not there just to sit. This was to be a prayer service unlike any I’ve attended before.

We started singing familiar hymns, but we were singing more quickly than I was accustomed. The song leader pounded the podium in beat with the music while we clapped. The atmosphere was joyful and celebratory. Lyrics in Korean and in English were located on screens in front of us.
The singing was followed by a reading from 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Never stop praying.”

The Rev. Hong Eun-Pa proclaimed: “We gather together to pray, to wake up our souls in the presence of God. I am sure God will listen to our prayers and answer our prayers. Christians pray continually. Pray without ceasing. Prayer is like breathing. We must continually breathe or die. When we do not pray our souls will die.”

He added: “The Korean church started with early morning prayer services in 1905. Prayer is a critical part of our history in Korea.”

Following the message, we sang more hymns followed by a prayer. At the conclusion of the prayer instead of saying “Amen,” the entire congregation simultaneously raised both hands and shouted, “Lord, Lord, Lord.”

This was the signal to begin praying. Koreans describe this form of prayer as Tongsung Kido, or “fervently praying together out loud.”

With the organist playing in the background, people began praying out loud. Some quietly, others shouting and others moaning. Being a relatively private person I was at first intimidated, but as I listened and began to pray I stopped thinking about myself and began to focus on connecting with God. My feelings of intimidation gradually gave way to a feeling of comfort and peace. I, too, desperately needed to release my struggles and burdens before God.

All too quickly the lights in the sanctuary became brighter. The hour for prayer was coming to a close.

Our group attended the 5 a.m. service every day. I was beginning to understand why I felt led by God to join other pastors on this journey to Korea. My journey was becoming a personal part of my walk with God. I too needed reassurance that I was fulfilling the calling God placed on my life.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit.”  — Romans 15:30

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES  can be reached at larrydavies@sowingseedsoffaith.com.