Korea and the rapidly growing church was on the lips of every notable Christian leader in my country during my early days of ministry. I remember often praying for the ‘spirit of revival sweeping across Korea’ to break out on our nation too. Little did I understand that the answer to that prayer could only come at a very heavy price.
The words of Rev. Daniel Lee as he started his talk saying: “Setting foot in Seoul is stepping on soil that’s soaked with the blood of Christians” awakened me to a reality that is often missed. I am not sure whether we would have been ready then as we pleaded for revival. It was a prayer demanding all the benefits claiming them as a Christian’s birthright without a willingness to pay the prize. I am not sure whether we are ready now either.
Secondly, living in an age when leadership is most often associated with success, popularity and fame, it was very sobering to read the words of Homer Hulbert “I would rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey”. Those words have great meaning expressed by a man who stands out among history’s world-changers. He was considered a contributor to Korean independence and modernization. Westminster Abbey would have only been the least of what the world could have offered him in return. He deserved to be laid to rest among the most noble and mighty.
Missionaries with a holistic vision of God’s work and with Christ like humility have always been a great inspiration to me. Visiting the Yahghwajin Foreigners’ Cemetery museum brought a flash back of a few past experiences. They were early milestones in my life. The day I stood beside the grave of William Carey in Serampore was one of those. It was followed by my first visit to Westminster Abbey and standing beside the place where the remains of David Livingstone are placed. He was my boyhood hero. A small bird bath marks the place where Amy Carmichael was laid to rest. It was her wish not to be memorialized with a monument. She is one of my favourite missionaries. I remembered the time I stood there unable to resist my tears. I remembered my tour around the chapel where Bishop Robert Caldwell was buried in Southern India. In Stephen Neil’s words, “His grave is to me one of the holiest places in the world”. His contribution to India is a model for me. Those were significant moments, each one leading to a fresh commitment to God’s call upon my life. Yahghwajin is another milestone. I found myself wondering what the epitaph on my tombstone would read.
And then, the level of esteem in which the Koreans hold Missionaries and the gratitude they feel toward their contribution to Korean development was quite a revelation. It helped me understand better their drive behind the zealous commitment to missionary-sending.
Among these uplifting experiences there also lies one that isn’t so heartening for me. It must be mentioned. It grieved me to hear repeatedly that the Korean Church has become stagnant or might even be on the decline. I found myself asking whether the Church in Korea is getting encumbered with religiosity and an institutionalized Faith that is draining the richness of its spirituality upon which it has thrived to this point.
There were strong affirmations of what God did and what God said. I have come away with a lingering thought regarding this. For me it is equally important that I have clarity on what God is doing now and what God is saying now. Creative pathways will unfold where there is a healthy blend of the past and a commitment to relevance to the present. Following those will lead toward the best that Christ has willed for His Bride.
Every single experience on this visit to Seoul has contributed significantly to my personal intellectual, social and spiritual growth. This is not said nonchalantly. What I have seen, heard, learnt and experienced will truly have an enormous bearing on my daily life and ministry. I leave enriched after being in the company of fellow toddlers and older pilgrims on this journey. The reassurance of those who have offered to guide, counsel, encourage, teach and hold my hand as I learn to walk has left me a lot more courageous and confident than when I got off the plane at Incheon wanting to take the next flight home.
“Seouladvance” will certainly stand out as a “soul-advance” for me.