SEOUL, South Korea — Celebrating
60 years of Southern Baptist work in South Korea, the Korean Baptist Convention
recognized 15 former and emeritus Southern Baptist missionaries during its
annual meeting in Seoul.
David Hahn, 74, emeritus pastor of Seoul Memorial Church, organized the trip
for the returning missionaries. Hahn said he feels a deep sense of gratitude to
Southern Baptist missionaries for the support they provided following the
devastation of World War II and the Korean War.
“Korea was in darkness,” Hahn said. “Missionaries brought us the living gospel.
They brought us Jesus Christ.”
Missionaries also provided practical help as they shared the gospel, Hahn
noted, citing free medical care that missionary Daniel Ray provided in the late
1950s as he traveled from town to town with a portable X-ray machine. Ray and
his wife Francis were appointed to Korea in 1954.
As Koreans like Hahn recounted kindnesses shown and lives touched, returning
missionaries like Lucy Wagner appreciated the opportunity to reconnect with old
friends during the Sept. 27-29 sessions at Central Baptist Church in Seoul.
Wagner, who retired in 1994 after 39 years of service in South Korea, reunited
with Samuel Choi and his wife Song. Wagner first met Choi in the late 1950s
when, as an 11-year-old boy, he snuck into the back of a Girls in Action class
“The class was for girls but he came with his friends to hear an American speak
Korean,” Wagner recounted.
When Wagner asked the children if they would say “yes” if God called them to be
a foreign missionary, Choi raised his hand. That decision was the beginning of
his call to foreign missions.
Choi and his wife were the first missionaries appointed by the Korean Foreign
Mission Board (KFMB) in 1980. Today, they serve with the KFMB in Honolulu, Hawaii —
among nearly 650 South Korean missionaries serving in 54 countries.
The Korean Baptist Convention and its affiliates grew rapidly from the 40
churches that appealed in 1950 to Southern Baptists’ then-Foreign Mission Board
(now International Mission Board) to send missionaries to the war-ravaged
country. Today, South Korea has more than 2,800 Baptist churches with nearly
Early missionaries like Wagner and Don Jones, who served with his wife Nita
from 1956-93, marveled at such rapid spiritual growth.
Jones attributed the growth of Baptist work in Korea to a strong sense of
“Koreans compare their liberation from Japan to the liberation of the Jews from
Egypt,” Jones said. “They believe that God liberated them physically and
spiritually. As a result, they believe they have a special role to fulfill in
Franklin Harkins, who served with his wife Janie from 1967-99, agreed.
“(Koreans) saw us as their friends,” Harkins said. “They accepted the gospel as
their gospel — not as a foreign gospel.”
Sterling Edwards*, an IMB strategist, noted that Koreans used the economic
gains of the past 60 years to further spiritual pursuits. The World Bank
currently ranks Korea as the 13th largest economy in the world.
“Koreans have a tremendous work ethic,” Edwards said. “While many Asian
countries have vision and passion, Koreans have vision, passion and financial
As a result, Koreans can do things that others with equal vision and passion
can’t, Edwards said.
Koreans, however, humbly deflect such notions, pointing to the training they
received from American missionaries as key to their rapid spiritual growth.
“American missionaries came in love to help churches, start churches and train
pastors,” said Chul Ky Pek, 73, retired director of the Korean Home Mission
Board. “They modeled for us how a missionary should live, act and love. We have
followed that example.”
Hahn’s wife, Hyun Sook Um, agreed. Um, 59, attributed the missionary zeal of
Koreans to the lifestyle they saw lived out by the missionaries and to the
personal kindnesses missionaries showed to families like her own.
“Because of what missionaries did for us, we always try to help those in
difficult situations,” Um said. “And we have a special place in our heart for
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Rivers
is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Southeast Asia.)