The Christian Church in Korea

The people of the Korean peninsula have a distinctive history and culture extending over four thousand years. After the Second World War Korea was divided into military occupation zones, with Soviet forces in the North and US forces in the South. North Koreans entered the South in 1950, and a three-year war followed.

Today, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North) and the Republic of Korea (South) are divided by an impenetrable barrier of reinforced concrete across which, until recently, there has been very little communication.

The first Christian missionary work in Korea was done in the 18th century by Koreans themselves, who in the course of official visits to China came into contact with Roman Catholic Priests and Christian literature.

Many Christians fled from the North to the South during the 1950-53 war, and there has been little contact with those in the North since. The indications are that they are continuing to meet in house churches.

Much more is known of the Christian Church today in South Korea, which is experiencing tremendous growth, with new churches springing up all the time. About 25% of the population of South Korea are Christian. Many are Presbyterian, meeting for worship in congregations numbering thousands. The Catholic Church, and the Anglican Church are also, however, both experiencing steady growth in South Korea, with three Anglican Dioceses - Seoul, Taejon, and Pusan. On Sunday mornings in Seoul the number of Christians going in cars to their different churches is liable to cause a traffic jam!

Why is there such an interest in Christianity? There are probably a number of factors, but Korean people are certainly open to Christianity in a way in which people are not in the West. Normal conversation might include statements such as “I am not a Christian, but I am very interested in Christianity”, or, as was said to me on one occasion, “I am searching for Jesus, but I haven’t yet found him”! The Christian Church is also very committed to prayer. Many congregations meet together for an hour every morning, between 7am and 8am, to begin the day in prayer before going about their daily business.

When a new church comes into being, the congregation rents meeting space in an already existing building, so churches may be found above shops, businesses etc. The night sky of Seoul is scattered with hundreds of brightly-lit red crosses high above buildings, indicating the presence of a Christian church, sometimes several in one street.

Christians in Korea, both North and South, long for the reunification of their country. The story is told of an ageing South Korean pastor who, on his death, donated his eyes to a young person needing sight. He wished his eyes to be able to see the reunification of his homeland. With Korean Christians, may we pray for the unification of their land, and the creation of a new, just and peaceful future.

Hazel White, CMS Area Co-ordinator

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 30th December 2000