William Blair and Bruce Hunt.
Published by Banner of Truth Trust
This book is a companion to ‘For a Testimony’ in which Bruce Hunt recounts his experiences as a missionary in Korea during World War 2. This book is really a compound of two books, the first was printed in 1910 by the Board of Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, under the title of the Korean Pentecost and other experiences on the mission field. It is worth noting that Dr William Blair is the father of Kathy Blair, who was the wife of Bruce Hunt.
Blair, along with six others, went to Korea as missionaries in 1901. They spoke no Korean and sought to learn the language from fellow passengers during the voyage. Blair describes arriving in Korea and travelling through a largely agricultural landscape. He notes that the land was steeped in Confucianism, with a reverence for established authority and order. Korea was also the centre of the political storms of the day, after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, the Japanese had withdrawn their victorious troops into Korea. A bit like Israel in the Old Testament, Korea was often trapped in the middle of the wars between their more powerful neighbours.
The gospel went to Korea in 1832, when a German pietist called Charles Gutzlaff would visit the coast briefly and distribute Bibles and tracts. Blair notes that Gutzlaff’s visit was so brief that no recognisable result was produced. The next missionary was Rev Robert J Thomas from Wales, who went to China in 1863 as an agent of the London Missionary Society. In 1865, he boarded an American ship called the General Sherman and sailed with Bibles and tracts into the interior of Korea. In Pyong Yang, the crew of the ship offended the locals and the ship sought to flee and was grounded in some rapids just outside the city. The Koreans attacked the foreigners with clubs and rifles. Blair records, that the Koreans say the crew came out of the water with swords and pistols trying to defend themselves, all except for one man who came out with armfuls of books which he thrust into the hands of those who were clubbing him down. Thomas was killed, and the officials of the city sought to have the Bibles he had brought burnt. Yet, one of the early catechumens received by Dr Moffett in Pyong Yang in 1905 was the son of a man who had received one of those Bibles from Robert Thomas. Blair says, in Pyong Yang there are 27 Presbyterian Churches with an attendance of over 10,000 people and many other churches up and down the banks of the Tai Tong river. Indeed, where Thomas was killed was the Thomas Memorial Chapel, which had been erected by the Presbyterian Church in Korea.
The book charts the work of Blair and others at spreading the gospel from Seoul to Pyong Yang. They saw a huge outpouring of the Spirit with many many thousands brought to Christ.
In the 2nd part of the book, Bruce Hunt outlines some of the sufferings that followed for the Korean Church. He explains how many denominations would capitulate in the face of Japanese military might to the whole idea of Emperor worship. The would seek to draw a difference between ‘religious Shinto’ and ‘State Shinto’, claiming that the later was akin to laying wreaths at the tomb of the unknown soldier or saluting the flag.
In 1938, the Presbyterian Assembly compromised on the Shrine Issue and a group followed the example of the Scottish Covenanters and drew up a statement of the Bible teaching on shrine worship and the necessity of breaking from those that condoned idolatry. He recounts the sufferings and trials that followed, some killed in prison [even several generations], others tortured, starved and murdered.
His account goes beyond the narrow years of for a testimony and explain the troubles under Communism post-1945. He speaks of the Korean War and of Christians fleeing to the South. Chapter 16 has an amazing story of the witness of Rev. Sohn Yangoon and his boys, Tongin and Tongsin. The father would be imprisoned and later released by the Japanese. After WW2, he exercised a public ministry, including several schools and a leper colony. In 1948, Communist youths murder both his sons in public. This led to a local revolt and the killer of the boys being apprehended, Pastor Sohn sent his daughter to plead for the murderer’s life and offered to adopt the killer of the boys, as his own son. The colonel in charge was so impressed he turned the boy over to Rev Sohn, who adopted him and witnessed to him and would later see him enrolled in the Bible Institute in Pusan. Hunt records, that the violent death of the celebrated minister’s two sons, followed by his adopting of the killer, was a shock to the whole country. Students were emotionally affected and pledged themselves to greater consecration. In the middle of the Korean War, Rev Sohn didn’t flee from the invading North Korean forces and stayed in his leper colony. He was captured and shot. The full story has been recorded by Rev. Ahn Yongjun in a book called The Atomic Bomb of Love.
Hunt ends that the first believer in Korea was baptised in 1886, 90 years later (when he is writing) there are 2.7 million members in 1304 churches across South Korea. During this time, the country has had five wars and almost constant occupation, he talks about the many thousands that escaped South when the country was divided. Yet, it is clear that the strength of the Korean Church was originally in the North. We are now more than 50 years on from Hunt’s account and the situation in North Korean is still unclear, we should pray for the church in that land and the ongoing success of the truth in the face of persecution.