A Korean wave seems to be sweeping the world. You know the song “Gangnam Style” even if you’ve never walked down the main street in Gangnam Gu. The secretary general of the United Nations is Korean; the head of the World Bank is a Korean American. Many Western companies set up headquarters in Seoul so they can capture Asian markets. This is a stunning shift from the 1960s when Korea was dirt poor as a result of annexation by Japan and the devastation of the Korean conflict. Slowly the balance of socioeconomic power is shifting from West to East.
As economies in the Far East continue to grow, so also does the Korean church. Korea and China now follow the United States and India in sending the most missionaries. In fact, I am one of those missionaries sent by Korea to reach my native Wales. Consider the missionary reversal seen in the gospel partnership between Wales Evangelical School of Theology (WEST) and SaRang Community Church, Seoul. I was working in Korea when they recommended me to apply for the role of chief operating officer at WEST, a school they support financially and otherwise. SaRang’s approach to the partnership has always countered expectations. Rather than demand to send their own administration from Korea, they recommended me, a Welshman, for the leadership role.
The origin of their generosity can be traced back nearly 150 years. In 1866, Welshman Robert Jermain Thomas gave his life in order to bring the gospel to Korea. He risked everything to accomplish what the Lord had set before him. Then in 1907, the Korean peninsula enjoyed a great revival that originated in the Welsh revival of 1904. More than 100 years later, Wales shares a close family bond and benefits from spiritual repayment on behalf of the Korean church.
In light of this experience, here are five things churches in the West can learn from the Far East.
1. Gospel partnerships demonstrate unity.
We in the Western church often want to do our own thing. But SaRang has modeled unity for WEST and other churches. Unity among Christians is vital testimony for the gospel, because it illustrates the union between Christ and his church.
Gospel partnership demonstrates that we’re not in ministry to build our own empires. Our partnership with SaRang is mutually beneficial. Welsh churches supported and encouraged by SaRang and WEST are now planting in Wales, as seen with Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Neath.
2. Gospel ministry is risky.
When we’re united in Christ, we give all to follow where Jesus leads. Korean church leaders tend to expect great things from God as they ask with bold faith for big operations. They re-teach us the same lesson Robert Jermain Thomas first taught the Koreans when he blessed their nation by risking his life.
3. Learn patience.
In Korea, you see parental-type relations between old and young in work, church, and other walks of life. The younger show respect and submission, while the older return trust and benevolence. As a result, you see humility and patience in the young. If you want to get anywhere in Korea you need to respect your elders, do your time, and learn all you can. Sounds quite biblical.
4. Resist pride and learn.
We in the West need to be mindful of prejudice against our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, ensuring our proud hearts are not too stubborn to learn. Consider our situations. When Thomas died in Korea, he hadn’t won a soul, and in Wales there were churches on every corner. Compare this environment to today. According to the 2001 census, Wales claims as many as 100,000 churchgoers. More than 90,000 members belong to SaRang Community Church alone. They support 162 missionary family units. This gigantic reversal happened in only 150 years. Surely we in Wales can learn something from our friends in Korea.
5. React quickly.
Growth requires us to react quickly to unexpected developments. When China re-opened its doors to the outside world, Korean firms were the first to take advantage of 1 billion more customers. Relations between the two countries have steadily improved, and SaRang worked through official government channels to set up the Korean China Foundation and help Chinese churches in discipleship and theology.
God often gives us “gospel moments” when we can make unexpected progress. Now may be such a moment where the West can learn from the Far East. Let’s take advantage of gospel opportunities afforded by the changing geo-political landscape.