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ICC NOTE: South Korea has become a major supplier of Christian missionaries. Only behind the United States in terms of the number of missionaries produced. No one would have imagined the rise of Christianity on the Korean peninsula 200 years ago, but now when one walks around Seoul or other South Korean towns it is difficult to not come across a church or street preacher. However, only 29 percent of the population considers themselves to be Christian. The difference is the 29 percent are fervent and very outspoken. They have created the atmosphere where many would consider the nation to be primarily Christian. While there are reports of corruption among certain churches and their leaders, many hardworking pastors and Christians are working to spread the gospel in South Korea and abroad. 

04/07/2016 Korea (The Diplomat) – South Korea is awash with evangelical Christianity.

This once resolutely shamanistic and Confucian country now seems to have more churches than corner stores. From miniscule, storefront chapels to the biggest church in the world, the skyline of every major city is ablaze with neon crosses. Evangelical Christians proselyte house to house, distribute pamphlets and church-emblazoned tissue packets on street corners, and cycle through town blaring sermons and homilies through bullhorns, urging you to either accept Jesus, or be prepared for the Devil’s wrath below. It is very rare to spend more than a few days in Korea without being preached to.

“We think of Korea as the Second Jerusalem,” says Hong Su Myeon, an older volunteer at Somang Presbyterian, a megachurch in Gangnam. He says Korea is leading a wave of evangelization around the world.

At the same time, Hong says, “It’s true that [a lot of] Christianity is corrupt. But there are a lot of hidden true pastors working hard, and their passion for God is why we are so successful in Korea.”

What can be most surprising to a visitor to Korea is that only 29 percent of the population actually identifies as Christian – about three-quarters Protestant, one quarter Catholic. But their zeal is so enormous that it overshadows the 23 percent who are Buddhist, and the 46 percent who say they have no religion at all.

“It is kind of amazing” how zealous Korean Christians are, says Dr. Hwang Moon-kyung, Professor of History at the University of Southern California. “They give you the impression that South Korea is a very religious country when in fact it isn’t. But the ones who are religious tend to be very fervently religious.”

Up From Persecution

It is one of East Asia’s greatest historical riddles – how did this small, divided country go from being a place where Christianity was just a footnote – barely one percent of the population in 1900 – to one that produces more missionaries than any other country in the world, bar the U.S.

No one would have predicted Christianity’s success in Korea 200 years ago. Catholicism was first introduced in the 18th century by returning Confucian scholars from China, but they saw it more as an academic interest. It was the direct arrival of French and Chinese Catholic missionaries in the early 19th century that set off the first round of missionizing. But Korea’s rulers were having none of it.

“For its first 75 years [the Catholic church] underwent the most horrendous persecution, comparable really to the history of the early church,” says Dr. James Grayson, professor of Modern Korean Studies at the University of Sheffield. Murder, torture, and massacre were all directed at early Christians by the Joseon Kings, who saw the church’s teachings of equality before God as a direct threat to their power.

At least 8000 Catholics were killed, and many have since been canonized, giving Korea the fourth largest number of saints of any nation. In 1984, John Paul II canonized 103 all at once.

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