Christianity has had a storied history in Korea, where early Christian converts were violently repressed by well entrenched monarchic dynasties. At the turn of the 19th century, Protestant missionaries started arriving on the Korean peninsula. The sustained Christian missionary presence in the country was represented primarily by Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, and groups from the Holiness Movement. American Baptists never had a historic presence as a denomination in the country, but there was one Baptist missionary from Massachusetts who established the first Baptist settlement in Korea in 1896. His work became the soil in which another Baptist denomination birthed the Baptist congregations of modern Korea.
Many years ago, several of these Baptist congregations began to seek a richer and fuller spiritual fellowship together, as well as a deeper appreciation for their own Baptist identity in the country. As providence would have it, our own Rev. Hojin Yu, ABCNJ associate regional pastor for Asian Ministries, has close friendship ties with many of the leaders of this emergent group. Through these relationships he began inviting his friends to come and learn about American Baptists, and ABCNJ in particular. Over the past 10 years leaders from this Korean Baptist group have visited both ABCNJ and ABCUSA. They attended our Annual Sessions, worshipped in some of our churches, and visited both the region office and the national office in Valley Forge. For the past two years they have also sent young people to attend summer camp at Camp Lebanon! They did all this to learn about us — to study how we organized ourselves for mission and ministry. From these relationships they expressed their desire to make the American Baptist model their model. Not only for their organizational life, but for mission and ministry!
In December of 2017, the Korean Baptist Churches of the Republic of Korea (KBCROK) was officially born as a recognized Christian denomination in South Korea and elected their General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Jongpo Kim, to lead them in this new journey. To celebrate this auspicious moment in their history, they formally invited ABCNJ and ABCUSA to be their partners.
And so ABCNJ, through the leadership of Rev. Yu and in partnership with American Baptist International Ministries, organized the 2018 Friendship Mission Trip to South Korea on April 23-30, 2018, timed to coincide with the inauguration service of the new denomination. Nine pastors and lay people from ABCNJ, including both myself and Rev. Yu, responded to the mission team invitation. In addition Rev. Dr. Benjamin Chan, from International Ministries, rounded out our 10-member American Baptist delegation. One of the major highlights of the visit of ABCNJ-IM delegation was a visit to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) in South Korea the day before the historic summit meeting between the leaders of the North and South Korea.
I had the privilege of joining Rev. Yu in bringing greetings on behalf of ABCNJ and Rev. Dr. Lee Spitzer, general secretary of ABCUSA. Rev. Dr. Benjamin Chan brought greetings on behalf of Rev. Sharon Koh, executive director of International Ministries (IM). ABCNJ presented a plaque to the KBCROK during the inauguration service to commemorate our friendship. Rev. Yu fittingly was the keynote speaker of the inauguration service.
At its regularly scheduled meeting in May 12, 2018, the ABCNJ Council voted unanimously to enter this mission partnership with KBCROK. Once again, ABCNJ has paved the way for a pioneering mission partnership. May God’s name and Christ’s work be glorified as we journey together in common mission.