Korean Christianity Leads by Example | echo

Until the end of the 19th century, less than 0.1% of the Korean population was Christian. Today, a little over a century later, 28% of South Koreans are Christians. South Korea currently sends more missionaries abroad than any other country except the United States. Here’s how it happened.

From the beginning of the Christian movement, Korean Christians decided not to participate in ancestor worship, which was an integral part of the predominantly Confucian Korean society. They looked up the scriptures and decided it wasn’t biblical. As a result of this ruling, there has been a systematic persecution of Christianity in Korea since the late 18th century, when Roman Catholic Christianity was first officially introduced in Korea.

In the 19th century, around 10,000 Catholics were martyred. Currently, Korea has the fourth largest number of saints in the Catholic world. Korea’s first Catholic priest, Andrew Daegun Kim, was beheaded in 1846 at the age of 25. The first Protestant missionary martyr in Korea was Robert Jermain Thomas who gave his last Bible to his executioner with a smile, before he was beheaded at the age of 27 in 1866. The executioner kept his Bible, and his nephew later became a pastor.

From 1910 to 1945, the key issue for Christians during the Japanese occupation was Shinto shrine worship. Many Christians refused to bow down. Reverend Chu Kichol is one of the martyrs who strongly preached against Shinto worship. He was imprisoned for this in 1938, refused to recant even under severe torture, and finally died in prison in 1944.

During the 1919 independence movement under Japanese colonialism, 15 of the 33 signers of the Declaration of Independence were national Christian figures. In the 1930s, when many Christians were persecuted for refusing to worship the Japanese emperor and the spirits of Shinto shrines, Reverend Sohn Yang Won was also imprisoned for five years for refusing to let his congregation participate.

During the “Yeo-Soon Rebellion of 1948”, her two sons were brutally murdered by a leftist student. In obedience to Christ’s command to love enemies, Reverend Sohn asked the court to forgive him and later even adopted him as his own. This man was radically transformed by Reverend Sohn’s love and became a devoted follower of Christ.

Shortly after the Japanese occupation ended, the Korean War broke out in 1950 and Christians went through another horrific period of suffering and martyrdom. North Korea’s communist regime sought to crush Christianity, and the brutal atrocities of that time are well chronicled and documented, as is the heroic and courageous witness of Christians who died for their allegiance to Christ. An estimated 300,000 Christians have disappeared from North Korea since 1948, and around 100,000 others have been sent to labor camps.

The martyrdom of many believers during the Korean War prompted many others who survived the persecution in North Korea to move to South Korea and start spreading the gospel, which was the main reason for the growth of the South Korean churches after the war. Korean Christianity roughly doubled every decade from 1945 to 1985.

As Tertullian said, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. Korean churches grew rapidly amid persecution and martyrdom. Just as the death and resurrection of Jesus brought many people to faith and the martyrdom of early Christians led to the rapid growth of Christianity, the growth of the Korean Church has also been largely indebted to the suffering and martyrdom Christians in the key moments of its short history. There are probably many factors that contribute to the rise of Korean culture and economy today, but I believe that much is due to the influence of martyrdom-enhanced Korean Christianity.

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