Understanding Korea: Churches and testimonies

Published 8:54 am Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Winter Olympics are in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. Several years ago, I accompanied a group of pastors to nearby Seoul to meet with churches and church leaders. What surprised me was not the differences but the striking similarities. Except for language, the hymns were familiar, worship services were similar, even the buildings, sanctuary, classrooms and kitchens could easily blend within any town or city in America. Then there were the stories: testimonies of lives changed.

“I was a student in college when I first became a Christian but as I started teaching, I stopped attending church. When I got married my husband was away a lot. I was living in a different neighborhood, had a child and felt so lonely. I decided to go back to church but didn’t know which one? I was impressed by the fervent early morning prayer service at this church. But at first, surrounded by people at 5 a.m. praying felt a little strange. ‘Am I in the right place?’”

The woman who spoke these words was a member of Bupyeong Methodist and part of a group that met with us to share their testimonies of how God through the church changed their lives.

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She continued: “I joined a group meeting after the prayer service. One day, I was called on to pray. I didn’t know what to pray about. So, I prayed: ‘When my husband comes back, help us come back to church.’ Soon, my husband asked if he could attend our music festivals without attending prayer services. He became severely injured and was in the hospital for a long time. One day, at early morning prayer, I felt from God that he would be okay. He began to be more serious about his faith during the recovery process. Now my husband has become an elder in this church.”

Jesus said: “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” – Matthew 16:18

The church should be the foundation of our society. Korean religious preferences nationwide are primarily Christian and Buddhist, but recent years have shown an increase in “Without Religion.” So, Korean and American churches mutually struggle to stay relevant in a culture drifting away from Christianity and claiming no religion.

So, if our churches are mutually struggling, what should we learn from our friends in Korea? Bupyeong Methodist Church was certainly not struggling. They were filled with several thousand worshipers who often stayed all day for worship, small groups and service ministries.

Why was this church so successful and so relevant? Their pastor cited several reasons: Stressed the vital importance of prayer and following the Holy Spirit. Lay leadership was efficient and enthusiastic coordinating hundreds of ministries. Emphasis on continuous discipleship. We heard testimonies of lives changed and renewed. A ready willingness to make bold sacrifices for God through the church.

An older man said: “I work at a bank. I might look okay but my hands and my body ache. I drank excessively so that it damaged my stomach. When the pain got severe, my wife, a faithful Christian suggested honey may work so I tried honey. It didn’t work. Later, I discovered what she meant by ‘honey’ was reading the word of God. I decided to read the entire Bible in 40 days. It was not easy. When the pain was severe, I woke up in the middle of the night. Reading the Bible was part of my therapy. I realized when I read the Bible a lot, I felt better. I went to the morning prayer service and felt God calling me to a life of prayer and reading the Bible. When my children were in middle school, I woke them up and took them with me to prayer service. My son went to seminary and now serves as a pastor. I’ve been attending early morning prayer service for over thirty years. Ezekiel chapter three mentions eight scrolls, one tastes sweet as honey. This year I have read the entire Bible eleven times so far. It still tastes as sweet as honey.”

Bupyeong Methodist believed in the importance of prayer and following the Holy Spirit: training and encouraging strong and passionate lay leaders; a continual emphasis on discipleship; a willingness to make bold sacrifices; emphasis on teaching adults and children; sponsoring ministries within the community and continually relying on the greatest promise of all: “Jesus Christ is with us.”

Jesus said: “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” — Matthew 16:18

Bupyeong Methodist Church sanctuary displays two banners; one has their church on one side with an airplane in the center flying toward a city filled with landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and skyscrapers. The message reads: “Taking the Gospel, around the World.” Another banner displays John Wesley on horseback saying: “The world is my parish.” The churches we visited in Korea truly consider the “World as their Parish” and are serious about “Taking the Gospel around the World.”

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