Koreans celebrate 60 years of So. Baptist work
Tess Rivers, Baptist Press
October 28, 2010

Koreans celebrate 60 years of So. Baptist work

Koreans celebrate 60 years of So. Baptist work
Tess Rivers, Baptist Press
October 28, 2010

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.

Photo by Ann Lovell

Lee Nichols, second from left, who served in South Korea with his wife Norma from 1967-98, laughs until he cries with three Korean men about the time a mutual friend tricked him into eating meat from a canine.

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

Wagner taught.

“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

800,000 members.

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

world missions.”

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


*Name changed.


is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Southeast Asia.)