Theocracy’s Expansion in South Korea
THE first of Jehovah’s Christian missionaries, graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, located at South Lansing, New York, arrived in Seoul in August, 1949. Others were sent later. In the few months they were there they greatly helped those poverty-stricken people to gain a knowledge of man’s only hope, God’s righteous kingdom, and as a result there has been a tremendous expansion in the number of those in that country who are singing the praises of Jehovah God and Christ Jesus. The report on these results which follows was made by the Watchtower representative, Don L. Steele, and was written and mailed at Seoul on May 23, 1950, one month before the Communist armies invaded South Korea on June 25.
“Since liberation by the allies in 1945 the Korean people have tasted only bitterness, and much of this extends from the Yalta agreement between Roosevelt and Stalin that divided the country in two. The North has been sponsored by Russia; the South by the United States. Now, of course, the big political issue is the 38th parallel that separates the two. The struggling South Korean Republic is seemingly kept going only by United States aid. Fighting occurs daily over the border and tension is great. When will full-scale war begin? [This is interesting, for it shows that even though the rest of the world was shocked by the outbreak of war, it came as no surprise to Koreans.]
“To really appreciate the expansion here in the ranks of Jehovah’s witnesses you should know something about the religious, social and economic conditions of the Koreans. Religiously, about 800,000 profess to be Christians, out of the 22,000,000 population. Ten million others are Buddhists, Confucianists, etc. This leaves at least half the people professing no faith, which is a good way to describe their general outlook of hopelessness.
“In many ways Koreans are primitive. They are great followers of tradition and worshipers of creatures. Many business and professional men realize that Korea is far behind in education and economic advancement and they are trying to catch up with the times. But it seems the working class of people would rather wash clothes by beating them with a paddle, plow with oxen, and haul great loads on their heads and backs, rather than graduate to anything as modern as a washboard. They are set in their traditional ways and do not want to change, no matter how much time and energy they could save.
“Economic conditions, as poor as they were, are now made much worse by the division of Korea on the 38th parallel. South Korea has the agricultural area, while in the northern sector are located the natural resources and what little industry there is. The high cost of maintaining defense, the south against the north and vice versa, has almost bankrupted the country. The average wage is about 6,000 won a month which, at the legal exchange rate, is about $3.33. The water system here in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is inadequate, and electricity is turned on one or two hours in the evening—sometimes!
“Seoul is now swelled to twice its normal population by the flood of refugees from the Communist-controlled northern part and living conditions here are very bad. Many of these refugees are children whose parents were killed by the Communists. In downtown Seoul it is a common sight to see these poor children huddled up against the buildings trying to sleep on the sidewalks. They wear pieces of old sacks, paper or anything they find for clothing and their skin is crusty with dirt. They ‘live’ on what they get from begging.
“Food is scarce. Rice is the principal diet and usually there is no meat to go with it. Many families even have difficulty getting enough rice. Clothing is very hard to obtain. For shoes they often wear little upturned rubber slippers. Housing is wholly inadequate. Only the rich own or rent an entire house for themselves. All families are large families and it is the general practice for four or five families to live in one small house. Usually the entire family sleeps in a room about ten feet square.
“Despite their economic poverty and their slavery to tradition, the people of Korea have a great deal of respect for knowledge and an educated man is very highly regarded. Often a family of many members will all work to support one of the family while he spends his life studying. The most astounding thing is, the individual who is studying usually has no objective in life and never puts to use what he learns.
THRILLS AND JOYS OF GOSPEL-PREACHING
“Because of these frightful conditions many honest-hearted Koreans are now looking for the answer to their many problems. It is indeed a real joy to engage in preaching the good news of the Kingdom here and to show these meek ones that their only hope lies in Jehovah’s righteous new world. To see their wonderful response to the Kingdom message is a real thrill. In August, 1949, when the first two missionaries came, there were only eight persons here who were active in the Kingdom service. In April of this year, there were forty-one company publishers for the Kingdom, averaging 33.5 hours of service per publisher, seven full-time pioneer publishers and eight Gilead missionaries. At the Watchtower study the peak attendance during April was 107.
“Our first public meeting, held May 14, intended as an experiment, turned out to be an experience! No handbills or placards were used to advertise it. Only announcements at the regular company meetings and a single poster put up near the house several days before the lecture was to be given. But when time came for the lecture eager people began crowding in, filling all the rooms of the house, the hallway, the sun-porch and the stairs leading to the second floor, until the count showed there were 167 in attendance!
“One month ago we started our Theocratic ministry school. Because the textbooks are not in Korean we have the instruction talk from ‘Equipped for Every Good Work’ given in English and interpreted in Korean. If someone did not understand he asked his neighbor, and if he did not know the interpreter was asked to repeat or explain. Our hearts were full of joy as we watched their eager faces as each point new to them was brought out. They nodded to each other and marveled. ‘Moses began to write the Bible in 1513 B.C.! It has only one Author but over thirty writers! There are about 15,000 ancient manuscripts to the Bible in existence today!’ The questions on the oral review were well answered from the notes they had taken. Attendance increased from 60 at first to 96, and an hour for the school seemed too short.
“The Bible-study work here is our greatest joy. We study with doctors, lawyers, teachers, professors, soldiers, housewives, businessmen, college students (including seminary students), and many others. They are not the people to believe everything you tell them until you prove it to them. Daily we must call upon various translations, concordances, Bible dictionaries and other reference books, and we find ourselves often referring to notes made at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, as we discuss their many questions. But what a blessed privilege! And what a wonderful thrill to see many of these people in turn teaching others what they learn in these Bible studies.
“An example of their rapid progress is in the case of a young college girl. A Korean publisher called on her mother and told her about the New World. The next day the girl called on the publisher and asked many questions. Satisfied with the answers, she arranged to have a regular Bible study. She had been interested in going to school and learning languages (she speaks very good English), and other subjects, but now she came to the conclusion that all of that was a waste of time. If she was going to learn the Bible, she saw that much time would be needed and so she quit college the day after her first Bible study. Studying now for about a month, she will probably make pioneer hours in field service, going with us and helping at any studies she can. She has a keen mind and learns very rapidly and her willingness in Kingdom service will bring her many blessed privileges in the future from the hand of Jehovah.
“A professor of music in a women’s college here has been studying now with us for six months. In addition to his teaching he does concert work and has a radio program, but in spite of his busy life he finds time to translate for us, to act as interpreter at our public lectures and in the Theocratic ministry school, to engage in field service, as well as find the time for his regular Bible study. He is another of the many in Korea who are seizing hold of Theocratic privileges given them.
“Among our unique experiences are our Bible studies conducted in the public schools. All together we have eight studies each week at several high schools and in each group there are from 60 to 70 students as well as the teachers. We study an English booklet with them and have them bring Bibles and look up scriptures. Many of the students are of heathen parents and have never before come in contact with the Bible. The teachers express their appreciation for our efforts to teach them the Bible. They are impressed that we do not ride around in automobiles like other missionaries. They recognize that we really want to help the Korean people. So perhaps good seed is being sown here that some day will bring forth much fruit.”
Five weeks after making the above report Mr. Steele sent another, postmarked Kobe, Japan, in which he says:
“As I finished my public lecture in a school auditorium in Seoul, June 25, the police notified us that South Korea had been attacked and a curfew was imposed. Incidentally, interest in the Theocracy had so increased there were 336 attending this last public lecture! The following night (Monday) the South Korean defenses collapsed and Seoul was brought under siege. Tuesday morning, with Communist troops entering the city, all Americans were ordered to evacuate. In the emergency we called a hurried meeting and, after asking Jehovah’s guidance, we prayerfully discussed the situation. To remain meant capture, imprisonment and the stopping of our preaching. All missionaries, including Methodist and Catholic, are imprisoned in North Korea. Developments that followed proved it was the Lord’s will that we move.
“We had only 30 minutes to catch the last convoy leaving the city. Personal and household belongings were turned over to the local company servant, Lee Shi Chong. The city at the moment was under bombardment, and in the wild dash to the airport at Kimpo our busses were strafed. Flown to Japan, all eight of us, including six women, are at present working with Jehovah’s witnesses here in Kobe.”