Mark T. Bube
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:5
Another chapter in the story of God's people in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church drew to a close this past year. Almost from our very beginning, we have had missionaries laboring in Korea, except for brief periods of being excluded from the country during two wars. But our direct missionary involvement in Korea has now ended.
Although there had been some contact with Christianity before then, Korea received her first Protestant missionary, the Rev. Robert J. Thomas, in 1865. Barely one year later, as he was traveling up the Daedong River (and tossing copies of the Scriptures in the Chinese language to some Koreans along the riverbank), he was captured by soldiers and beheaded. Little did anyone then foresee that the place where he died would one day become fertile ground for Presbyterian missionary work. Indeed, half a century later, some would refer to the Pyongyang area as the "Jerusalem of Korea." While others would continue the effort to introduce the gospel into Korea through the Chinese-language Scriptures, it was a Scottish Presbyterian missionary, the Rev. John Ross, working in Manchuria (now a part of China) with his brother-in-law, the Rev. John McIntyre, who began translating the Scriptures into the Korean language in the 1870s. By 1887 the entire New Testament had been translated and published.
In 1882 a royal decree ended the nation's isolationist policy. For the first time, missionaries were allowed to enter the "Hermit Nation" (as Korea was then nicknamed) for medical and educational purposes. These new missionariesbearing familiar names like Allen, Blair, Lee, Moffett, and Underwoodwere able to take up their work, already having significant portions of the Scriptures available in the Korean language. In 1890 a veteran missionary to China, the Rev. John L. Nevius, was invited to present a series of lectures on missionary methods, and the Presbyterian missionaries adopted a mission policy based on his four principles.
Following a series of meetings in 1903–1907, which the Holy Spirit seemed pleased to bless, the church grew rapidly. In 1910 Japan annexed Korea, and decades of increased persecution of Christ's church began. Many Christians fled north into Manchuria and Siberia, bringing the gospel with them, and missionary work accompanied them. In 1931 the Japanese invaded Manchuria, and conditions for believers and missionaries grew increasingly grim.
In the Lord's timing, two children of the first generation of Presbyterian missionaries to Korea, Bruce Hunt and Katharine Blair, grew up to become part of a second generation of Presbyterian missionaries to Korea. After graduating from Princeton Seminary in 1928 and being ordained by the Presbytery of New Brunswick (PCUSA), Bruce Hunt returned to the land of his birth to minister to those still in bondage to sin. He and Katharine were married in 1932, and the Lord blessed them with six children.
In 1936, while on furlough and studying at Westminster Theological Seminary, he found that he could not abide the modernism that was overtaking his church and that he could not submit in good conscience to the extraconstitutional demands of his presbytery. So he withdrew from the PCUSA (and from service under its Board of Foreign Missions), became a constituting member of the First General Assembly of what was to be named the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and enrolled with the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. He transferred the focus of his labors (still alongside those of the Korean Presbyterian church) to the Korean-speaking population in the region around the city of Harbin in what was then called Manchoukuo (i.e., Manchuria). Soon after the OPC established its own Committee on Foreign Missions, the Hunts became the sixth family on the roll of its missionaries. (For you OPC missionary history buffs, the other five missionary families were the Rev. Egbert W. Andrews and the Rev. and Mrs. Henry W. Coray, laboring in the Chinese language, also in Harbin; Mr. and Mrs. Richard B. Gaffin, laboring in the Chinese language, in Tsingtao, Shantung, China; and the Rev. R. Heber McIlwaine and the Rev. and Mrs. Malcolm C. Frehn, laboring in the Japanese language in Tokyo). Then came war, and one by one the missionaries found themselves unable to continue their work. In his remaining months on the field, Bruce Hunt was especially used by the Lord to encourage Korean brothers and sisters not to offer worship to any but the living and true God. For his open opposition to believers' participating in Shinto acts of worship, he spent several months in prison before being repatriated.
In late 1946, Bruce Hunt returned to Korea to join the faculty of the new Korea Theological Seminary, which had been established by some of his former fellow prisoners who were seeking reform in the church. In addition to his work at the seminary, he was engaged widely in evangelistic work throughout the southern part of Korea. His family was finally able to join him on the field in October 1948. In February 1949, the young church experienced its first loss of a missionary while in active service, as Miss Florence B. Handyside, who was still in her first month of missionary service on the field, succumbed to poliomyelitis and went home to her Lord.
The Hunts' heavy labors began to take a serious toll on their health. In the summer of 1950, only days before they were scheduled to return to the States for a furlough, the outbreak of the war in Korea necessitated their evacuation along with other missionaries. By February 1952, Bruce Hunt's health had recovered enough to enable him to return to Korea, but again he had to leave his family behind (this time in Japan), as foreign women and children were not permitted to enter the war-torn nation. Katharine was finally able to join her husband in Korea in the fall of 1953.
Ted and Grace Hard joined the missionary force in Korea in 1954. Both the Hunts and the Hards lived and worked in Pusan (Busan), the seaport at the southern end of the Korean peninsula, where the seminary was located. They were joined by Boyce and Gladys Spooner for four years, beginning in 1956. In addition to the work at the seminary and evangelistic outreach, the ministry expanded to include teaching in other Bible institutes; translation, literature, and library work; student and youth work; hospital and relief work; and ministering to soldiers.
In 1960 Harvie and Dorothy Conn were added to the work, and, after a period of language study, began their labors in the Seoul area. In 1962 Harvie began the first regular radio program by an OPC foreign missionary. In 1969 Ralph and Joan English were added to the OPC Korea Mission. The Conns returned to the States in 1972, as Harvie joined the faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary. The Hunts agreed to postpone their retirement, eventually returning to the States in 1976. In 1977 Young and Mary Lou Son arrived on the field.
In the 1980s, the Mission consisted of three families: the Englishes, the Hards, and the Sons. The Hards labored in Pusan, the Englishes in Kangneung, and the Sons in Seoul. In 1982 one of the Korean Presbyterian churches with which our Mission worked asked Dr. Son to establish a school to help prepare Korean missionaries for cross-cultural service, and the first monthlong session of the Missionary Training Institute (MTI) took place in January 1983. Ted Hard began making regular visits to theological institutions in which Korean Presbyterians were involved in both India and the Philippines. In 1987 the Englishes relocated to Suriname, and the Hards began dividing their time between Korea and the Philippines, eventually relocating to the Philippines.
By 1989 the Sons were the only remaining OPC missionary family in Korea, with their efforts concentrated on MTI. For the next twenty years, MTI quietly prepared a generation of Korean missionaries for service around the world. As more and more graduates went to the mission field, a whole new area of ministry also opened up to the Sons, as MTI graduates would on occasion seek their advice when problems arose on the fieldand sometimes they would even arrange for the Sons to visit them on the field.
But MTI was still an orphan in the volatile Korean church scene, often operating on little more than the proverbial shoestring. Promises made to it would be broken, and on several occasions MTI would find itself unceremoniously kicked out of its facilities. From time to time, various church politicians would cast covetous eyes on the whole operation. But the Lord always protected it. Young and Mary Lou Son officially retired at the end of 2000 (Dr. Son having reached the age of seventy), but they continued to serve as adjunct missionaries for nine more years, waiting upon the Lord to raise up someone of his own choosing to carry on the work. By that time, more than 1,500 missionaries, serving in more than sixty countries around the world, had received MTI training.
In 2003 a delightful, godly couple, Youngshin and Mihyang Yoon, were identified as potential successors to take up the work of MTI. Last year, having completed his formal theological education, Youngshin Yoon was ordained to the gospel ministry. In the fall of 2008, a new facility in the seaside town of Yeosu (at the southern tip of the Korean peninsula) was offerred to MTI by Un-Pa Presbyterian Church, and MTI moved in last summer. Finally, last July, the transition of the oversight of the work of MTI from the OPC Korea Mission to a fully indigenous Presbyterian churcha process spanning more than a decadewas completed. The spiritual oversight of the work of MTI was transferred by the OPC Korea Mission to the session of the congregation (Jejadle Presbyterian Church in Seoul) where Youngshin and Mihyang have been dearly loved for several years.
And so, the chapter of direct OPC missionary involvement in South Korea has drawn to a closeeven as the Lord may be opening a door to our China Mission to the north. Please keep Youngshin and Mihyang Yoon and the ministry of MTI in your prayers, even as it may please our Lord to raise up another generation of Korean missionaries to carry the good news of Christ Jesus to the ends of the earth.
The author is general secretary of the Committee on Foreign Missions. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2010.