[Paleopsych] NYT: Korean Missionaries Carrying Word to Hard-to-Sway Places
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Tue Jan 4 00:26:07 UTC 2005
Korean Missionaries Carrying Word to Hard-to-Sway Places
NYT November 1, 2004
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
[This came shortly after I abandoned reality. I am not sure of its
relevance to reality, actually. I have over a hundred articles still
backlogged. They will come five a day for a few more days and go to
everyone on my lists. On the 10th, I'll send them only selected lists and
step them up to ten a day. If you want to get everything, let me know and
I'll put you on my master list. Sometimes, even still, I'll send articles
of general interest, like things about computer problems, to all my
AMMAN, Jordan - A South Korean missionary here speaks of
introducing Jesus in a "low voice and with wisdom" to
Muslims, the most difficult group to convert. In Baghdad,
South Koreans plan to open a seminary even after Iraqi
churches have been bombed in two recent coordinated
attacks. In Beijing, they defy the Chinese government to
smuggle North Koreans to Seoul while turning them into
South Korea has rapidly become the world's second largest
source of Christian missionaries, only a couple of decades
after it started deploying them. With more than 12,000
abroad, it is second only to the United States and ahead of
The Koreans have joined their Western counterparts in more
than 160 countries, from the Middle East to Africa, from
Central to East Asia. Imbued with the fervor of the born
again, they have become known for aggressively going to -
and sometimes being expelled from - the
hardest-to-evangelize corners of the world. Their actions
are at odds with the foreign policy of South Korea's
government, which is trying to rein them in here and
It is the first time that large numbers of Christian
missionaries have been deployed by a non-Western nation,
one whose roots are Confucian and Buddhist, and whose
population remains two-thirds non-Christian. Unlike Western
missionaries, whose work dovetailed with the spread of
colonialism, South Koreans come from a country with little
history of sending people abroad until recently. They
proselytize, not in their own language, but in the local
one or English.
"There is a saying that when Koreans now arrive in a new
place, they establish a church; the Chinese establish a
restaurant; the Japanese, a factory," said a South Korean
missionary in his 40's, who has worked here for several
years and, like many others, asked not to be identified
because of the dangers of proselytizing in Muslim
In Iraq, eight South Korean missionaries were briefly
kidnapped in April. Then, in June, Kim Sun Il, a
33-year-old man who had planned to do missionary work, was
taken hostage and beheaded. In July, nearly 460 North
Korean defectors arrived in South Korea, thanks to a
smuggling network set up by missionaries in China.
In 1979, only 93 South Koreans were serving as
missionaries, according to the Korea Research Institute for
Missions. Compared with South Korea's 12,000, there are
about 46,000 American and 6,000 British missionaries,
according to missionary organizations in South Korea and
Roman Catholicism first came to the Korean Peninsula in the
late 18th century, followed a century later by Protestant
missionaries from the United States. Christianity failed to
set firm roots in Japan and China, where 19th-century
missionaries were seen as agents of Western imperialism.
But it spread quickly on the Korean Peninsula, where
American missionaries helped Korean nationalists fight
against Japanese colonial rulers and informed the outside
world of the brutalities of Japanese colonialism.
It was only in the last two decades, however, with the
growth of the South Korean economy and its newly democratic
government's decision to allow its citizens to travel
freely overseas, that South Korean Christianity took on a
Today, an equal number of missionaries are born again or
members of Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptists
denominations, said Steve S. C. Moon, executive director of
the Korea Research Institute for Missions. These
missionaries, like their Western counterparts, tend to
focus on activities that are evangelical, educational and
medical, and their beliefs are far more traditional than
those of newer sects like the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's
Unification Church, the Korean-rooted movement.
A typical case is the Presbyterian Onnuri Church, founded
19 years ago with the main purpose of training
missionaries. It now has 500 in 53 countries, though it
focuses on China, Indonesia and India, said Kim Joong Won,
director of its missionary program.
Until June, Onnuri had a church in Baghdad where Kim Sun
Il, who was beheaded, had gone to worship.
"He is a martyr to God's glory," said Mr. Moon of the
research institute. "Korean missionaries are eager to do
God's work and glorify God. They want to die for God."
Because religious visas are difficult to obtain in the
Middle East, many come on student visas or set up computer
or other businesses, and evangelize discreetly.
One Korean who has worked here several years and spoke of
evangelizing in a "low voice and with wisdom," said that
over intimate meals with three or four Muslims he would let
the conversation drift to Jesus. So delicate is his work
that he never mentions words like "missionary" or
"evangelize." Muslims who have converted to Christianity
are never identified as such - a necessary precaution in a
society where some families engage in so-called honor
killings of relatives who have left Islam.
Many missionaries also focus on bringing Arab Catholics or
Chaldeans into the evangelical fold.
"There are so many ways to do our work," said the
missionary in his 40's, who works in a local church in
Amman and delivers English sermons that are translated into
"Just as American missionaries did in Korea by building
schools and hospitals, there are many ways here," he said.
"One important group is Iraqi refugees. They come here.
They are tired physically and spiritually. They are so
lonely. We help them. They realize they are being helped by
Christians. Then they ask about Jesus."
About 30 missionary families have settled here in Amman.
Others wait to return to Iraq, which they left in June
under intense pressure from the South Korean government.
John Jung has been working with an Iraqi pastor, Estawri
Haritounian, 40, to open a seminary at the National
Protestant Evangelical Church in Baghdad.
"Saddam Hussein's regime allowed Christians to gather in
private houses, so it was difficult, though possible, for
us to evangelize," said Mr. Jung, who has been traveling in
and out of Iraq for several years. "But now it has become
even more difficult for Christians in Iraq. Christians are
afraid of Muslims for the first time. We are frustrated we
can't be in Iraq at this important time. But as soon as the
security allows, we will go back to Baghdad."
In Baghdad, Mr. Haritounian explained recently that the
church had been founded half a century ago with the help of
British missionaries. American missionaries replaced them
later and were in turn succeeded by South Koreans.
"We dreamed this dream, Pastor John and I, to start a
seminary in Baghdad," said Mr. Haritounian, showing eight
completed, though empty, classrooms.
Mr. Jung, in Amman, said they hoped to start classes as
soon as the security improved in Baghdad. "We'll start with
only 15 students, but we hope to grow in the future," he
Many in Amman said South Koreans had an advantage over
others, especially now that the war in Iraq has aggravated
anti-American feelings in the Middle East.
"People expect missionaries to be from America or Europe,
so Koreans can do their work quietly," Mr. Haritounian
said. "Because of the bad image of Americans now, it will
be more difficult for American missionaries to work here."
Dennis Merdian, 50, an American missionary, said that in
one difficult project he and a South Korean counterpart
agreed immediately that it would be better for the South
Korean to take the lead.
"He wasn't carrying the American government with him," Mr.
But because of their short history of living overseas, some
South Koreans expect that other cultures will behave the
same way their own does and that Christianity will spread
abroad as quickly as it did in South Korea, said Mr. Moon
of the Korea Research Institute for Missions.
"Western missionaries tend to carry a sense of guilt
because of their imperialist past," he said. "But Koreans
don't have that historical baggage, and they are not
inhibited in reaching out to people with the Gospel. So in
their missionary work, they tend not to consult the local
people, but make decisions in one direction."
Shadi Samir, 28, a Jordanian pastor who has worked with
South Koreans and recently visited Seoul, said he had seen
inexperienced missionaries commit cultural blunders.
"They come here full of energy and go out on the streets
where they approach women and tell them Jesus loves them,"
Mr. Samir said. "By making such mistakes, they create
problems not only for themselves and other Koreans, but
also for us."
Kim Dong Moon, a missionary who works in the Middle East
and also writes about the missionary movement, said some
South Korean missionaries had been deported from the Middle
East and ended up on blacklists.
"There are some pushy Korean missionaries whose approach
is: 'Come to the Kingdom of God now! Or, go to hell,' " Mr.
Kim said recently in Seoul.
In China, South Koreans concentrate on converting the
Chinese, as well as the ethnic North Koreans living in
northeastern China. After they are smuggled out of China to
South Korea, though, only about a third of the North
Koreans continue practicing Christianity, missionaries
said. Other South Koreans train North Korean Christians to
return to the North to spread the Gospel.
"North Korea, which is occupied by the devil Kim Jong Il,
is the biggest target of our missionary work," said Kim
Sang Chul, president of the Commission to Help North Korean
Refugees, a Christian organization.
The missionary here in Amman in his 40's said that, in his
previous posting in the Philippines, he was awed when he
saw American missionaries fly to remote islands and,
wherever they spotted signs of life in the jungle below,
drop food packets as the first contact with what
missionaries call "unreached people."
"So even here, it is very difficult, but not impossible,"
he said. "We are planting one church at a time."
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