Dr. von Habsburg, Mr. Mayor, Sir John and Lady Templeton, Distinguished Guests, and Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is my real privilege to be here to speak to you. I was here in 1966, but – at that time – a great wall divided this city, so I was only able to speak in West Berlin. It is so nice to speak to all of you in this reunited city.
I am just a country boy, born in Cha-Chak which is now in North Korea. I was born in 1902 during the Yi Dynasty. About ten years before I was born, the late Reverend Samuel Moffett had come to our village with his assistant Han, Suk-Chin to establish a church. I had the privilege to attend this small country church each Sunday and to attend daily the small parish school they had also established.
The first verse I learned in those days was John 3:16 which reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” So you see I have grown up entirely in a Christian atmosphere.
In those days, it was rare for a country boy to be able to continue his schooling beyond day school. But with the support of my parents, who sold their only cow to raise the money, and the support of the elders in the Church, I was able to go 70 miles north to attend O-San High School. That school was chosen because its founder, Mr Yi Seung-Hoon, and its principal, Mr Cho Man Sik, were considered to be great patriots. When I consider the influence O-San had on my life, I recall the three emphases that were stressed:
- Each student was taught to become a patriot and, in particular, to fight back against Japanese domination of Korea.
- Each student was encouraged to learn modern science as the old Confucian learning was considered inadequate.
- Each student had impressed upon him the idea that education was not enough to accomplish anything; one had to become a good Christian.
As you can see, from childhood I have received a real Christian education. This continued as I went to Soong-Sil College in Pyung Yang, a school which was established by missionaries from the United States of America. There were many student activities, including a YMCA and evangelistic movements.
Although there was a humanities department at the school, I entered the department of science. You see, until that time I thought I was going to be a scientist and serve my people. But God had another plan!
It was the summer of 1923 and I had the privilege to go to a small village which was located by the seashore. I went there to help with a translation of a book for one of my teachers. My schedule was not very busy and I had plenty of time for leisurely walks by the seashore, which I enjoyed very much every evening.
I do not remember exactly which day it was, but I was just taking a walk by the seashore as usual and all of a sudden I had a call from God. Although I cannot explain it, I heard a definite call from God for His service. I prayed long hours that evening by the seashore and, when I returned to my lodge, I felt that I was a different person and I began to pray more and meditate long hours.
Because I was not allowed to transfer between departments in my college, I graduated in 1925 as a science major. A door was then opened to me to go to America. I went to the College of Emporia in Kansas and, of course, I took humanities there. Then I had the privilege to go to Princeton Theological Seminary in 1926. It was an old institution and I found the professors were mostly old gentlemen. I tried to learn what they could offer during the class room and also from the library and the university. As for my devotional life, I found a very quiet place near the campus, namely, the tomb of the unknown soldiers who died during the revolutionary war. Very nice pine trees were planted all around the tomb, the inside was very quiet and nobody was there. That was the spot for my prayer and meditation.
The school atmosphere, however, was not as nice as I expected. There was a great controversy between conservatives and so-called liberals. As some of you might remember, the controversy was so severe that the seminary split in the very year I graduated from the school in 1929. Dr. Machen and some of his friends left Princeton and established Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
I had further planned to go to another prominent university and study further, but – once again – God had another plan for me! I got sick that summer. Doctors found TB and finally I had to go to the Presbyterian sanatorium in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the southwestern part of America. The doctors were not sure whether I would be cured or die soon. I must confess that I went through a real crisis at that time. Sometimes I felt I was going to meet my Lord face to face before long. I worried that my seventeen long years of study would be wasted if I died before I could serve God and my people, thus repaying all who had helped me.
So I went through real dark hours in the lonely hospital room. Sometimes I prayed that God would give me a chance to serve my people even two or three years. I decided to go back to my country as soon as I got better to serve people and preach the Gospel. I gave up the idea of going to another university and studying further. I decided to go right back home. My prayer was that God in his mercy might give me back my health even for two or three years. I gave up reading philosophical books and began searching in the lives of saints like St. Francis.
Three or four months later, my health began to improve. I was able to get out of the hospital two years later. I spent about half a year in Denver, Colorado for recuperation and then came back home. It was 1932. As soon as I came back home, Mr. Cho Man-Sik who was my former high school principal asked me to teach at Soong-In Commercial High School in Pyung Yang. I also worked as a student pastor there. But it wasn’t very long before I was dismissed from the school by the Japanese then in authority. They thought I was not good enough to be as teacher as my political outlook differed from theirs.
That gave me a real chance to serve the church. I was called to the small Second Presbyterian Church located way up by the Yalu River which divides Korea from Manchuria. It was a provincial capital with a population of about 130,000 people.
The church met in a renovated old house and I still remember that there were about three hundred people, singing earnestly. I was happy to be one of our common people, the poor people. I prayed, preached and served as much as I could.
This was the beginning of my pastoral ministry. God helped me in many ways and, miraculously, my health was steady and I was very happy because God had given me a chance to serve and work for my beloved people.
Soon a sanctuary was built and a new kindergarten was established. An orphanage and the older people’s home were opened and the poor flocked to the church. Every Christian was working hard in every way.
But, as you remember, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and declared war against America and Great Britain. Then the Japanese authorities began to place restrictions upon many organizations, including the Korean churches. I was removed from the church because my American education made me suspect. I went to my orphanage where I lived and worked with the children.
When Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, Korea was divided by the 38th parallel line. Thus we had South Korea as well as North Korea. We still have two Koreas. I am so happy that the two German Republics have already united and you now have one country. How anxious we Koreans are to have one united country like you do! We are also anxious to see churches active again in the North and I am hopeful that this year’s Templeton Prize will help to make such rebuilding possible.
As you know, North Korea is still under communist dictatorship. I was able to sneak away from North Korea to the south in late 1945. South Korea was also in chaos but we had an election under the auspices of the United Nations and began to form a democratic government. We have had all kinds of confusion over the years but now we have a real democratic government and our economy has grown so that the living standard has been greatly improved.
You might be interested to know a little about what a handful of Christian refugees have done during the last forty years. As I have already told you, I came down late in 1945 and a few young people also followed me. We did not know what was coming in the future. So we began to gather together and pray for God’s guidance for our country. Thus the present Young Nak Presbyterian Church was formed.
The first thing the refugees needed was to find places to live. So we organized a committee to help them find places in which to live. We had to organize all kinds of committees to help one another and survive that awful period. We needed new schools for boys and girls. We also needed to re-establish colleges in the south.
Evangelism, education and welfare work were very much needed during this time of trial and transition. It was entirely the grace of God that helped us South Koreans spiritually, politically, economically, socially and in every other way. As a matter of fact, there were very few churches in Seoul before the division of the country. I remember there were only about thirty churches in the city of Seoul. But today you will be really surprised by what God has done. The statistics show the following:
As of the end of 1991, the number of churches in Seoul was 7,477, the number of ministers was 18,903 and the number of Christians was 4,383,422. They say that the largest Presbyterian church in the world, the largest Methodist church, the largest Assembly of God’s church, and the largest Holiness church are all in Seoul. The total population of Seoul is about 10 million and 43 percent of them are Christians. And today there are 34 thousand churches in South Korea. We have 58 thousand ministers and almost twelve million Christians in South Korea. That is over a quarter of the total population. God has really blessed the growth of Christianity in Korea.
Throughout my life I have remembered the old saying in Korea which translates as “A cooking pot always has three legs.” Man also needs three “legs” to support him. The Bible says it this way: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Cor. 13:13)
We need faith in our life. Man did not create the universe. God Almighty created the heaven and earth. When we have faith in Him, He will provide power and wisdom. David proclaimed, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” That is the confident faith we need to live in this kind of world. That is the faith the writer of Hebrews meant when he spoke of all the great men of Old Testament, “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouth of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in was, put foreign armies to flight.”
Hope is the second “leg” for our lives. We cannot see tomorrow, but can only hope. The Bible says hope is the anchor of soul! We live by hope. When hope ends, life also ends!
What is the source of the living hope? Once again hope, whether individual or social, comes only from the living God.
And, finally, we need a third “leg” for our lives. That is the “leg” of first love. I think you all remember the thirteenth chapter of the First Corinthians in the New Testament. Love is the proper relationship among men. We cannot live alone. Man is social being. We must live together. We must love one another.
“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Far down in the southern tip of Korea there is a small town called Yosu. A small Presbyterian church and a hospital for lepers were located there. In 1948 a band of communists revolted and ruled the town for two days. During that riot, pastor Sohn Yang-Won was away and his son, a high school boy, was alone in his house. The communist band invaded, found him to be the pastor’s son, and killed him right away.
The communist revolt was stopped in a day or two and order was restored. Those students who had helped with the communist uprising were also arrested and tried in court for their crimes. Pastor Sohn, having heard the story, felt very sorry so he went to the court and pleaded to pardon one particular student. But the court would not. The final settlement was that the pastor promised that he would adopt the convicted student as his own son and also promised to raise him and educate him.
Two years later the communist in North Korea invaded the South and, at one time, occupied the most part of the South. They also occupied the small town Yosu where pastor Sohn lived. They arrested him as well as his adopted son.
The story goes that pastor Sohn appealed to the Communists, telling his own story of love. But the communists did not listen and finally killed him and his adopted son, the former communist boy. So we have three graves besides that small Yosu church even now.
Pastor Sohn is an example of the kind of love the world needs, – that kind of love which can forgive even enemies. That is the kind of love which can help bring world peace.
“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”