Good News from Korea!
The following is a report by a Watchtower Society missionary who was in South Korea at the time of the invasion of that republic. He was later evacuated by the United States Army to Japan. Now, back in Korea, he has this encouraging report about the increase, faith and integrity of Jehovah’s witnesses in that war-torn land.
THE last time I was in Korea was in June 1950. Then there was just a handful of Jehovah’s witnesses in all Korea and only one company, located in the city of Seoul. Now after one and a half years of war and privation in which many brothers have gone hungry, suffered from exposure, lived in caves and in trees, were injured, and some were killed, the company of Jehovah’s witnesses has increased to where there are company organizations now, not only in Seoul, but in Taegu, Chonju, Kunsan, Quejon, and Pusan; also, the good news of God’s kingdom is being made known throughout all South Korea and in places where it has never before been preached.
In Pusan 25 to 30 meet regularly and 8 new ones were baptized the first week that I returned to Korea. In Taegu there are 25 meeting regularly, and 12 new ones were baptized this year. In Kunsan 20 are meeting and 13 new ones were baptized. In Chonju 20 are assembling and 5 were baptized. In Quejon 7 assemble regularly and 2 were baptized. In Seoul only a few sisters remained, but they kept on preaching, and 40 attended the meetings regularly. Last week the company servant was permitted to return to Seoul, and 56 were in attendance.
On November 17, 1951, I started to visit the above-mentioned places. I received special mail orders from the Army to visit Seoul. The brothers were surprised to see me. They hugged and kissed me and felt my legs and arms to see if I was in good health. They arranged that I stay with them in their homes. I appreciated this, because it was very cold in Seoul. The Koreans heat their homes by placing a pot of burning charcoal or by lighting a wood or coal fire under the undul, or floor. This heats the floor and the room. The Koreans eat, sleep and sit on the floor. The floor is always wiped very clean with a damp cloth. The custom is to give the guest the place right over the firebox. The foreigner, not being used to this custom, sometimes finds he has been given a literal “hot-seat”. The Korean publishers are pleased when the missionaries partake of their style of living with them. At night the floor is wiped clean and the pads and comforters are spread out to make a very warm but rather hard bed. But after a month or two your bones become accustomed to it.
That afternoon we walked through the city of Seoul to the missionary home. Almost all the big buildings, except those partially repaired by the military, are nothing but shells. The city was as quiet as the country. The only traffic was military. In the distance I could see the missionary home. The buildings all around it were completely demolished, but the missionary home was standing there; however, not without damage. It had been hit by a shell in one corner, leaving a two-foot hole in the brick wall. All windows had been blown out, the ceiling plaster was down, most of the doors had been torn off, and the wiring was removed, but the house was still repairable and usable. We were surprised to find a few tables and chairs, a refrigerator and part of the washing machine, which the Reds no doubt found too cumbersome to carry away. Everything else was gone.
SOME WERE KILLED
In front of the missionary home was a large hole. I was told that a newly baptized sister and her son, who later was baptized, had their home destroyed and they moved into the basement of the missionary home. When the Communists knew that they were going to have to evacuate the city, they rounded up all persons they considered questionable and killed them. They questioned the five persons, the sister and her son and three other members of the family, living in the basement of the missionary home, and when their answers did not appeal to them they stood the sister and her family in front of the house and shot them down. The young brother was not shot, but he fell with the others and was left for dead. The sister and other members of her family were killed instantly. The hole in front of the house was their grave until the liberation.
That evening about thirty-five of the brothers (mostly sisters) met to hear a service talk and arrangements for group witnessing the following days. The next morning 18 persons turned out for group witnessing. Many new ones were inaugurated into the preaching work. Seoul had been averaging 9 publishers since the last evacuation, but before the week was out 24 publishers had reported and the high average for the month of 29 hours per publisher had been obtained. Those sisters that had remained in Seoul had worked hard in preaching to others the message of Jehovah’s established kingdom and now they were realizing their fruitage.
While in Seoul I met Kim Kwang Je, a journalist with whom I had studied. When Seoul was captured the first time, Kim was kidnaped by the Reds and taken to North Korea. At Pyongyang he escaped and went to volunteer to the U. N. forces. (He had not up to that time made a dedication to do God’s will and had not been immersed.) The South Koreans would not believe him and accused him of being a Communist. He was sentenced to death. Before execution he got to talk to an American officer and explained to the officer that he was a Christian and that he had studied the Bible with me; also that he was studying to become one of Jehovah’s witnesses. The officer checked to see if I had been in Seoul, etc., and reasoned that Kim could not be a Red and want to be one of Jehovah’s witnesses at the same time. So he set Kim free. He is very grateful to the Watchtower Society, because he credits the Society and our Bible study with having saved his life. We have resumed our study now, and I believe he will soon dedicate himself to do God’s will and become a publisher for the Kingdom.
The last public lecture I gave here in Seoul was the one given June 25, 1950, when the South Koreans learned that their homeland had been invaded. Strangely enough, just a year and a half later I gave another public talk in this same auditorium to some 133 wounded Korean soldiers. The auditorium is now converted into a hospital. Also, many new publishers desired to be baptized. Arrangements were made to use a bathhouse early in the morning before the U. N. soldiers came. Bathhouses are for exclusive use of the American soldiers. On Saturday morning, December 29, before 8 a.m., 27 new brothers and sisters, among whom was the queen’s sister, were baptized. The brothers in Seoul have a marvelous spirit. They are not in the least discouraged. They are more determined than ever that the good news be made known in all Korea. And the facts show just that.
THE SPREAD OF THE GOOD NEWS
At Taejon I spent the night with a group of five isolated publishers. Despite difficulties due to war restrictions, at least ten persons have been meeting together each week. A young businessman and his wife who had seriously studied the truth before the war have since dedicated themselves to do God’s will and are now very active in the service in Taejon. This man is well educated and comes from a well-known family.
It was gratifying to hear how he took his stand for the truth. During the first occupation of Seoul the Communists were forcing all the young men into military service with no recourse for them to resist. Most young men fled to the hills and this brother was among them. The Communists rounded up a group one day where this brother was hiding. The Reds interviewed each one, who often grovelingly said he would work for the Communists, etc. Each one who was questioned before this brother’s turn had been taken off to one side and killed. It appeared that he was next to die. So he was determined to give as much of a witness as possible. He was asked why he was hiding in the mountain. He said that he believed in Jehovah’s promise of the new world under Christ Jesus and that at Armageddon all political governments would be destroyed, including both North and South Koreans that resisted Christ’s government, and that he would not violate God’s law for any human law which was contrary to God’s law. He told them he was not afraid to die, because he believed in the resurrection. The Red soldier in charge told him he was the first one to tell the truth. He said he did not believe like the brother but that he believed in speaking up for what he stood for, and he permitted the brother to go free. This brother later escaped to South Korea. “The truth is powerful,” he says, and his life’s objective now is to make it known to all Koreans.
A grand reunion was held at Kunsan and Chonju. The new Kunsan group is very enthusiastic. This is one place where the Kingdom work had not been done before. There are some twenty associated with the company here and thirteen were immersed in 1951. At Chonju the brothers fare a little better than some of the others. A brother owns a factory here and has been employing many of the refugee brothers. He said he always wanted someone to help preach the Kingdom good news in Chonju, and now it is being done. A small Kingdom Hall has been built. There were forty-seven at the public meeting. Until now only three persons have been reporting their preaching. When the brothers heard the reasons for reporting, one ninety-year-old sister, who was one of the first to witness in Korea, gasped, “I have been preaching but have not reported, but I sure will from now on.” A wooden bathtub out in the machine shop of the factory is where four persons were immersed during the war. My visit in Chonju was, as in all the other places where I visited on this tiny peninsula, only too short.
In December I visited the Taegu company. This company has been sort of a headquarters for the work during the dark days of the war. The company servant is an English teacher and a graduate of the Jesuit’s Sofia University of Tokyo. His conversion from Catholicism was swift and complete in 1949 and 1950. During the war he has continued in his translating work and mimeographed his translations of the study material and sent them to the other brothers, in their scattered localities for their weekly study meetings. Taegu is crowded with refugees, but not as badly as Pusan.
The last time I was in Pusan was in October 1949. The harbor was run-down, with very little activity. There were no witnesses here at that time. Now, in November 1951, Pusan harbor is virtually humming with activity. The city is jammed with refugees. Everyone here, including the government officials, lives refugee-fashion. Everywhere are thousands of little hakoban (box houses) made of crates and mud, papered inside with American newspapers. On one there is a sign which says, “Jehovah’s Witness of Kingdom Hall”—slightly backward in English, but the idea is there. Here some thirty-one of us crowded into the ten-foot-square hakoban last Sunday for the Watchtower study, which was followed by a public talk. Crowded, yes, but no one complained. The newly organized company reported a peak of fourteen publishers in November.
Many of Seoul’s refugee universities are trying to operate here. All school buildings are being used by the national government or the military, so most of the schools use tents or meet in the open sitting on boxes. The universities are operating on about ten per cent of the normal enrollment. The dean of Seoul’s Soongmyung Women’s college, with whom I study, asked me to give a lecture to the students and faculty. Their temporary college consists of three tents with crude benches, but more than a hundred persons crowded into one tent to hear the lecture. I had another surprise while here. Whom should I meet in Pusan but Professor Choi’s wife! It was a thrill to see her again. She quickly telephoned Professor Choi, who left his office and came right over to my tiny hotel room. He too had had many narrow escapes. He was once President Rhee’s secretary and the Reds were hot after him. Now he is the deputy defense minister. In spite of his high government position, Professor Choi is a very humble man and genuinely interested in the truth. He is a graduate of Oxford University and is one of the best-known translators in Korea. He is going to translate the new book for me. A while back he was the No. 2 choice as ambassador to England. I told him he would make a better ambassador for the Theocracy. He said: “You mean I should become a pioneer?” He has used his high government influence to help me on many occasions since I have returned. He and his wife helped me get settled. He lives refugee-fashion himself, as does everyone.
Before the war the peak in publishers for Korea was sixty-one, including the eight missionaries. When all the reports for December were gathered a new peak of eighty-one publishers had been reached. This increase has not come through the missionaries, but through the diligent work of the Korean publishers themselves. Their living conditions are alarmingly subnormal. They lack food, clothing and shelter.a Their spirit is marvelous. They do not think they have suffered any more than anyone else but are thankful that they, by the undeserved kindness of God, have the privilege to preach till the work is done. With them the Kingdom service comes first. They are determined to press on, come what may. It is truly a blessing to be back in my assignment and to be associated with such wonderful brothers filled with undying faith and love.
a The Watchtower Society sponsored a clothing drive in behalf of the Korean brothers, which was completed some time ago. About 4,000 pounds of warm clothing and shoes were collected and sent.
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