AS SEEN from a satellite miles above, Korea is a picturesque peninsula in northeast Asia. It lies just west of the islands of Japan and is bordered on the north by China and the Soviet Union. More than 3,000 islands dot the sea along its southern and western coast, although 2,600 are not inhabited. Korea’s size? Almost as large as Great Britain.
In a closer view, Korea changes into one of the hillier landscapes of the world, leaving about 20 percent of the land suitable for farming, with rice being the staple crop. Plains stretch along the western, northeastern, and southern coasts. Monsoons sweep across this country, first one way, then another, blowing in the cold, dry winters and hot, wet summers.
A face-to-face look reveals that most Koreans have physical characteristics similar to other Asians—broad face, straight black hair, olive-brown skin, and dark eyes. Yet, they are distinct in their culture, language, dress, and cuisine and lay claim to over 4,000 years of human history. Their language, belonging to the Altaic language family, is spoken today by over 60 million people.
Because of Korea’s strategic location, nations more powerful, such as China and Japan, have long wielded a strong influence over its people. As a defense, the Korean people isolated themselves to become what has been called the hermit kingdom. In 1910 Japan imposed colonial rule over Korea that lasted until the end of World War II, at which time the peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel between the military forces of the United States in the south and the Soviet forces in the north. In 1948, by United Nations resolution, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) was formed in the south. In the same year the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) was formed in the north. Both governments claim to represent all of Korea.
On June 25, 1950, with the invasion of the south by the north, the three-year Korean War began. This resulted in a more permanently divided land separated by a demilitarized zone running east to west just 35 miles north of the city of Seoul. The government in the north allows no place for religion, and hence it bars the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
INTEREST IN THE ORIENT
The Watch Tower Society’s first president, Charles Taze Russell, as chairman of the IBSA (International Bible Students Association) committee of seven, first visited the Orient early in 1912 “to see the conditions of the heathen,” reported The Watch Tower of December 15, 1912. “As a result of that investigation it was decided that conditions in heathendom warranted the expenditure of some of the Society’s funds in proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom there,” the account continued. “Accordingly, free literature was printed in six of the principal languages,” including Korean.
Agreeing with the committee’s findings, Brother Robert R. Hollister represented the Association in the Orient, including Korea. He arranged for the translating and printing of the book The Divine Plan of the Ages in the Korean language. It was printed in Yokohama, Japan, showing its publishing date as March 18, 1914, with the publisher as the International Bible Students Association and R. R. Hollister as representative. Brother and Sister W. J. Hollister also spent considerable time sowing seeds of Kingdom truth in Korea.
FIRST DEDICATED KOREAN
The Watch Tower of August 15, 1914, printed a fascinating letter addressed to Brother Russell, stating: “I am a stranger to you in one sense; but I came to a knowledge of Present Truth through your writings just twenty-two months ago. For some time I have been anxious to write and tell you of my special appreciation of the Truth, but circumstances did not permit until now.
“You will be interested in knowing that I am a Korean. When the first missionaries landed here (in 1885) Korea was a hermit kingdom. Since then some Koreans became identified with Christianity.
“For about eight years I drifted through the dangerous currents of what I now see was Spiritism—Satanic teaching. Now I thank God that He sent our beloved Brother R. R. Hollister here with the Glad Tidings and saved me out of these currents which were leading me to an unknown place.
“My senses were almost lost; it took about six months to have the eyes and ears of my understanding opened. Since then I have consecrated myself to the Lord and continue to praise Him.”—Signed, P. S. Kang.
Who was P. S. Kang, and how did he learn the truth?
To an IBSA convention audience in San Francisco in 1915, Brother R. R. Hollister related how he met Mr. Kang. “In Korea the Lord directed me to Kang Pom-shik* who was at first employed upon a purely business basis to do some translating,” Hollister said. “Soon he began taking a deep personal interest in the articles he was working on, and after spending some months in our office, he professed a full consecration [dedication] to the Lord. Since then he has been much used in translating, interpreting, class leading, and managing the Korean branch. I confidently anticipate the pleasure of introducing him to you at the General Assembly as a delegate from the ‘Hermit Nation.’”
MORE HELP FROM ABROAD
In 1915 Sister Fanny L. Mackenzie, a colporteur (full-time preacher) from Britain, began making periodic visits to Korea, paying her own traveling expenses. She used an IBSA letterhead to give a witness. How? By printing a message about the Kingdom in English on the front side of the letter and on the back side a translation thereof in Chinese, which could be understood by most people in the Orient.
The letter offered to leave the book The Divine Plan of the Ages on a trial basis. The branch records show she placed 281 books. Besides her diligence in this work of distributing literature, she also paid the equivalent of $15 to Brother Kang for his personal expenses. In 1949, at age 91, she turned over these records to the present Branch Committee coordinator, Don Steele, before his coming to Korea.
Brother Kang, the secretary in charge of the work in Korea, and his associates continued spreading the message, but the response was slow. Nevertheless, in 1921 they held public meeting “pilgrimages” throughout the country, and the booklet Millions Now Living Will Never Die was published in the local language and distributed. Korea now joined the list of 18 branches of the Society outside of the United States.
Having the message printed in the Korean language outside the country created many hardships. Consequently, in 1922 Brother Rutherford sent Brother Kang $2,000 (U.S.) to set up a small printery of up to seven machines. The presses churned out literature in the Korean, Chinese, and Japanese languages. Still, no great increase was seen during those years.
UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT
The Society established a branch in Japan in the fall of 1926 and appointed Junzo Akashi, a Japanese-American, as the representative to Japan, China, and Korea. In the meantime, Brother Kang, who had been in charge of the work in Korea, was employing the Society’s printery for his own use, printing worldly books. He even had the audacity to sell the printery without permission. Brother Park Min-joon replaced him in 1927.
Brother Park, a colporteur, was a faithful brother who had made long journeys on foot up and down the peninsula to hold public meetings and place literature. He met special opposition from the Protestant missionaries, but the local police, then Japanese because of Korea’s being under Japanese rule, often came to his rescue.
Since by 1931 larger quarters were needed for the office, it was moved to Brother Park’s home at 147 Key Dong in Seoul.
Brother Park knew the English language well and translated the books Reconciliation and Government, as well as others, from English into Korean. His fluency in the English language enabled him to correspond directly with the Society in New York. Apparently, however, Brother Park was not as proficient in Japanese as Akashi desired, so he was replaced in 1935. Brother Moon Tae-soon, a schoolteacher, was placed in charge of the work. Brother Moon’s diligence as a full-time field worker was to be tested in the future.
Brother Lee Shi-chong, at age 22, dedicated his life to Jehovah in 1930 and devoted himself to the colporteur service. “I was not courageous enough to preach in the city, so I acquired a bicycle and decided to preach in the provinces,” Brother Lee tells us. “I piled my baggage and literature on my bicycle, and the first place I went was to the county office in Kyŏnggi Province. I hesitated about going in, but I thought of my mission as a Kingdom ambassador, a term I had heard often from the branch manager. The result was that I placed several books with the officials, and I was very much encouraged and had confidence from then on.”
Brother Lee, who is presently serving as an elder in a Seoul congregation, traveled the length and breadth of the land, reaching into what is now North Korea and even into Manchuria. He would order literature from the Seoul office and have it sent ahead to the next village or town. This was his life for three years until 1933 when the witnessing work came under difficulty.
The records for the year 1931 show that the Kingdom proclaimers were busy. They reached 30,920 homes, spent 11,853 hours in the field, and distributed 2,753 books, 13,136 booklets, and 3,940 copies of the Golden Age magazine. In 1932 Korea held its first convention, from June 11 to 13 in Seoul, with 45 in attendance. In that same year 50,000 copies of the booklet The Kingdom, the Hope of the World were issued in Korean for free distribution. Thus, the work in Korea was expanding.
The militaristic government of Japan reacted sharply to this increased activity of Jehovah’s people. The branch overseer in Japan gave the following report, covering both Japan and Korea:
‘I left Tokyo for a trip on May 10, 1933, and received a letter by airmail at Mukden of Manchuria, on May 15th, from which I learned that all the office staff of five brethren at our branch [in Tokyo] were arrested and thrown into prison and the work in the branch was kept going by sisters. Newspapers of May 16 and 17 devoted almost whole page reports to the arrests of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
‘The police raided the Society’s offices in Tokyo and Seoul. They seized the entire stock of our publications. You will surely be glad to know that the Japanese and Korean brethren kept their faithfulness and integrity toward Jehovah and his anointed King even during the severe testings.’
The amount of literature confiscated by the police from the Society’s Seoul office on June 17, 1933, was estimated at 50,000 pieces. It was taken to the Han River in Seoul in 18 handcarts and publicly burned, reported the Seoul newspaper Tong A Ilbo. The article also said that on August 15, 1933, approximately 3,000 pieces of literature were seized and destroyed at the homes of the brothers near Pyongyang, now in North Korea. But did the police raids silence the witnessing work?
THE WORK GOES ON
Colporteur Lee Shi-chong, who was called back to Seoul because of the arrests, recollects: “The brothers quickly recovered their courage and resumed preaching with The Golden Age, the only publication not banned, and, of course, we kept holding our meetings.”
The Golden Age was used in the Korean field from 1933 to 1939 and was registered as a newspaper. Its price was two jeon, the equivalent of one cent (U.S.). Although the main supply of literature had been destroyed, many of the brothers still had some books and booklets of their own, and these were loaned and exchanged among the brothers so that people who were really interested could receive the message.
The meetings were held weekly on Sundays. The brother conducting would speak for an hour, and if some new ones were present, he would go over the fundamental teachings for them. The conductor would also explain a Watchtower article, since the others did not have a copy in which to follow along. The Watchtower was printed in booklet form and in Japanese. During the Japanese occupation, Koreans were forced to use the Japanese language and could therefore read, write, and speak it.
However, there were few qualified brothers in Seoul to conduct these meetings. Why was this the case? Because the branch overseer enrolled all he could in the colporteur work and then sent them to faraway territories. As a result, the experienced brothers were scattered about the peninsula and were unable to associate together. Any further improvement in the methods of conducting meetings would now have to await the arrival of Watch Tower missionaries, yet some time in the future.
INFLUENTIAL FAMILY FLEES “BABYLON”
With all Watch Tower literature except The Golden Age now banned, the work had to be done cautiously. Brothers had to be careful, discreet in their comings and goings. Despite there being no regular organized meetings, those who did take up the truth were courageous and determined individuals.
The Ok family are an outstanding example. They were all Seventh-Day Adventists, well educated, and economically well off and they had an outstanding reputation in the community. Ok Ji-joon’s father was an elder in the church and the principal of an Adventist school, and his wife Kim Bong-nyo* was the local school’s auditor.
“One day in 1937,” Ok Ji-joon tells us, “I happened to find a magazine, The Golden Age, in the trash can. Since I was very religious, I was interested in the religious articles in it and read them thoroughly. Some days later two men visited me and offered me more literature from the ‘Lighthouse.’ [This was the term for “Watch Tower” mistakenly translated and used by the Japanese branch overseer and hence used also in Korea.] They had me read what I later learned was a testimony card. I gladly received all the books they had. Later, on reading them I found many points that contradicted my Adventist faith. I wrote to the Tokyo address appearing on the back pages of the book and for some months kept up this doctrinal discussion by mail. The Tokyo branch would answer my questions, enclosing certain Watchtower magazines underlined in red at particular places.
“The Sariwon Adventist Church in Hwanghae Province, now in North Korea, made trouble for me because I kept on asking questions about this newfound truth. The minister tried to evade answering and haughtily said that asking such questions of the minister, especially one who was an intimate friend of my father, was disrespectful. But I thought personal relations should not interfere with Bible discussions and that he owed me an answer. My younger brother also recognized the truth and came along with me, as did my older brother. Finally we stopped attending church.
“My father opposed us. When my older brother and I closed down our prosperous farming-tool factory in order to have time for the preaching work, he was furious and put us out of the house. However, we did not give up but kept trying to persuade him with the information in The Watchtower.”
Brother Ok’s older brother, Ok Ryei-joon, next tells how their father’s eyes were opened to the truth.
“One day our Adventist minister visited us and told us that the intelligence section of the Police Bureau had ordered our church to attend the Japanese Shinto shrine to worship Japanese gods and to raise the Japanese flag at the church, salute the flag, and sing the national anthem before each service. The pastor’s own opinion was that the Adventists would have to conform or else the church would be banned and the Adventists would disappear. The minister asked the church’s headquarters about the matter, and then he visited us to tell us the answer. Their headquarters said they should obey the police order, though it would be a big trial. Our father was greatly disappointed in that decision.”
Their father wanted to know the view of the Watch Tower Society on this matter. To find out, he began to study the Bible with his sons. As a result, he recognized just how right Jehovah’s Witnesses were. The whole family—father, mother, four sons, and two daughters-in-law—stopped going to church.
“Later, in 1938, the Adventist Church sent an American missionary to our home, and he told us that their missionaries had decided to leave Korea because of the Japanese government’s oppression,” continues Ok Ryei-joon. “He also said that our family’s withdrawal from the church on account of the flag-salute problem and the worship at Shinto shrines was very commendable and encouraged us to keep strong faith in Jehovah God, even as all of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Korea do.”
When the branch overseer from Japan visited, this entire family was baptized on November 19, 1937. Today, three of these brothers serve as elders. Because of his stand on the neutrality issue, their younger brother, Ok Ung-nyun, died faithful in a Japanese prison in 1939.
A TIMELY WARNING
In December 1938, during Junzo Akashi’s last visit to Korea, he met with 30 brothers at Moon Tae-soon’s house in Seoul and warned them that they would soon be arrested. When that happens, he cautioned, do not show disrespect to the national flag or emperor. Do not compromise either, he also said. He urged all to preach as much as possible using the three booklets available, Protection, Warning, and Face the Facts.
In the new booklet Face the Facts, Akashi dwelt on one point that would adversely influence the Korean brothers. The booklet encouraged young couples to wait a “few years,” until after Armageddon, before marrying. He interpreted this to mean just two or three years, instead of an indefinite time period. Thus, the Korean brothers believed that they had just a few months left to preach, then they would suffer arrest, and while imprisoned, Armageddon would strike.
A few weeks later the newspapers began to attack the organization and referred to Brother Rutherford as a “crazy pacifist.” When Junzo Akashi’s son and another Japanese brother refused military training in January 1939, Akashi himself was summoned to the Japanese army headquarters in Tokyo to explain why. Arrests of the brothers followed—in Japan on June 21, in Taiwan on June 22, and in Korea on June 29. Many Witnesses repeatedly spent time in prisons until the end of World War II in 1945.
EARLY INTEGRITY KEEPERS
Sister Chang Soon-ok, a former Catholic who learned the truth by reading The Golden Age, tells us what developed after that last meeting in Seoul with Junzo Akashi. “Those who heard his talk went out to their assigned territory with many books,” she begins. “I went to Pusan and preached. At dawn of June 29, 1939, a policeman arrested me. Nine of us sisters were locked in the same cell with common criminals. It was hot and dirty, and it stank. We were jailed for one year before we were even brought to trial.
“In prison they forced the prisoners to worship the emperor every morning. Because we refused, they handcuffed one hand behind our back with the other hand drawn over our shoulder. Sometimes they put double handcuffs on us, and sometimes two persons were chained together, back-to-back. During that time they had to change our handcuffs to the front each time we had a meal. Finally, after seven months, they gave up and took the chains off.
“After our regular sentences were finished, four of us sisters were held in a protective custody camp in Ch’ungju as incorrigibles. One guard told the sisters that everyone in that camp was due to be executed within a few days. Then suddenly the war ended, and we were finally released on August 16, 1945. To this day I get filled with emotion when I think about all those years in prison.”
The Ok family was also among those arrested. Lee Jung-sang, the wife of the oldest brother, Ok Ryei-joon, relates their experience.
“When I was no more than a spiritual babe, baptized less than two years, the police from Seoul took my husband and his younger brother, Ok Ji-joon, off to prison,” she recalls. “At that time most of the Korean brothers and sisters were arrested and eventually were put into Sodaemun prison in Seoul. The police again confiscated all the Society’s publications—or so they thought!
“While we were still free, my sister-in-law, Kim Bong-nyo, and another sister, Kim Kyung-hui, and I went to the Society’s storeroom and took all the literature we could carry, as it was in our mind to place as much of it as we could before we ourselves were arrested. We went north to Pyongyang, and while working there, we too were arrested in November 1939 on the grounds of disturbing the peace and distributing books that were banned. We were jailed in the Tongdaemun police station and later moved to Sodaemun prison where the other sisters were. Altogether, 38 brothers and sisters were in prison at that time.”
FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH
Sister Park Ock-hi, who is presently a special pioneer at age 86 and another of those faithful ones who had been imprisoned, recalls those difficult days.
“After spending all winter in Kyŏngsang Province in southern Korea preaching the good news, we came home to Seoul in February 1939,” she says. “And my husband, Choi Sung-kyu, was immediately arrested by the police from the Tongdaemun police station in Seoul. The police charged him with refusing to worship at the Shinto shrine. During his 20 days in jail, he contracted typhoid fever, and they transferred him to a hospital. After 40 days in the hospital, he was released, only to be caught up in the arrests of the brothers that took place in June 1939.
“My husband’s brother-in-law had a position under the Japanese government, and he sent a lawyer to effect his release from prison. The lawyer told my husband that the only way he could arrange his release was for him to worship at the Shinto shrine. My husband rejected his offer on the spot and told him never to come to see him again. My husband then wrote me asking, ‘Who sent the lawyer? Keep awake! Read Romans 8:35-39.’ This letter greatly encouraged all of us on the outside, and the new ones were determined to continue to praise Jehovah.
“Later, in September 1941, I was arrested again but held for only 15 days. I was told that since my husband was being released from prison, I should bring 500 won ($250, U.S.). I borrowed the money and went to the prison. It was a dark, cold night. I found my husband lying on the ground, covered with a white sheet, more dead than alive. They had imprisoned him for two and a half years and now demanded 500 won to release him in this condition! My husband, at age 42, died eight hours later.
“I was arrested for the fourth time in September 1942 and this time ended up in Sodaemun prison in Seoul along with other imprisoned sisters. There we had to endure indescribable torture.”
The female guard would get angry with these sisters for not worshiping the Japanese emperor. It created extra work for her. For each meal she had to change their handcuffs and chains. But obviously she noticed the faithfulness of these dear sisters. Amazingly, over 20 years later she began to study the Bible, was reunited with these sisters at a district convention, and was baptized in 1970.
The brothers were interrogated time and again as the authorities sought ways to prosecute them. They were asked: “Is it true that all nations are under the influence of the Devil? Is our great Imperial Japan included? Are you an American spy? When will Armageddon come?” The brothers answered the last question by saying: “After the preaching work is done.” Next the authorities would charge: “By your preaching you are actually urging Armageddon’s coming, which means you are urging our Imperial Japan’s destruction. So you are violating the law of public order.” Many of the brothers were then arrested and thrown into prison for two to four years.
Five of the 38 imprisoned died faithful while in prison, including Moon Tae-soon, who had been taking care of the work under the Japan branch overseer.
AFTER WORLD WAR II, DISILLUSIONMENT
Junzo Akashi was responsible for the work in Korea from the time it was placed under the Japan branch in 1926. After their release in 1945, the brothers looked to him for direction. However, Akashi, who had been leading an immoral life and had compromised the truth under pressure, had left God’s organization.
The Korean brothers were disturbed, though, because they had believed his inaccurate explanation of the “few years” left before Armageddon. That small group of brothers became divided. Some, strong in faith, believed they should continue to preach; others lost their zeal.
For several years after 1939, there was no contact with Jehovah’s organization. The brothers felt abandoned. Many of them believed that what they were experiencing in Korea was happening to the entire organization around the world. They had no information that the Watch Tower Society was still operating, let alone that their brothers in other countries had held fast to their integrity during World War II or that increases were beginning to take place. With no one to take the lead and no contact with the organization, true worship in Korea slowed down almost to a complete stop.
“JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES HAVE COME ALIVE AGAIN”
How did the door to true worship swing open again? Sister Park Ock-hi explains:
“After liberation from the Japanese in 1945, although several sisters insisted it was time to wait for Armageddon in a ‘secret place,’ we did continue to hold some meetings in my house. These were not organized meetings; rather, the brother conducting would preach to us from the older publications available. This was the extent of our activity for the next few years. One of those in attendance was my nephew, Park Chong-il, a young lad of 15 years who later would become a member of the Branch Committee in Korea.
“Then, to our surprise, one day in August 1948, Brother Choi Young-won showed us an article in the American Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. It stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses were very active in the United States and elsewhere. We were delighted. We all encouraged Brother Choi to write to the Society in the United States. He did, and the Society responded immediately, sending us a parcel of literature. We joyfully filled our book bags with these booklets and went right into the house-to-house work in Seoul. We had a wonderful time! One woman even remarked, ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses have come alive again.’”
Twelve individuals comprised the first congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses on June 24, 1949.
“WELCOME, WATCH TOWER ENVOY OF HOPE”
It was not until the first of a long line of faithful missionaries arrived, numbering eventually 52 in all, that there was really a solid link with the Society’s headquarters.
After the Seoul Congregation was enrolled by the Society, arrangements were made to send trained missionaries into the country from the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. Although initially assigned to Japan, eight graduates of the 11th class of Gilead had their assignments changed to Korea. Don and Earlene Steele* were selected to go first. After reams of paperwork, visas were granted by the Republic of Korea and on August 9, 1949, they arrived in Korea.
Because of security measures at Kimpo Airport, only two brothers waited to greet the Steeles. On a fence near the runway, they strung up a banner that read, “Welcome, Watch Tower Envoy of Hope.” Neither of these brothers knew any English, but their warm smiles and friendly handshakes were everything the Steeles needed.
After the Steeles were put up in a small hotel, about ten brothers gathered with the congregation servant, Choi Young-won, who spoke English. This was the first contact in ten years with anyone representing the organization. Now the brothers could get their burning questions answered about the remaining work. So a meeting was arranged for the following evening. In his first letter to the Society, dated August 12, 1949, Brother Steele reported:
“To our amazement, forty brethren and people of good will attended. We conveyed the greetings of the brethren in the United States, talked of God’s organization at this time and then answered many of their questions. The brethren in many respects have a deep understanding and are certainly anxious to do what is to be done. Only two or three have wrong ideas, being bitter because the ‘few years’ till Armageddon mentioned in the Face the Facts booklet has stretched out this long.”
With Seoul’s population then at 1,500,000, two times greater than before World War II, finding a house for the missionaries was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. But by the end of August a fine piece of property was acquired near the center of the city. It was a well-built, Western-type brick building previously controlled by the Japanese government but now held in trust by the Korean government. The house had four bedrooms, a large living room, a dining room, and a kitchen. Now the Society could send the other six missionaries. This property not only served as a missionary home and meeting place for the Korean congregation but would in due time also serve as the branch office.
ORGANIZED MINISTRY BEGINS
With the little stock of literature available and only a few parcels coming by mail, for the next few months the 2 missionaries and 28 local brothers would lend the booklets to interested ones found in the house-to-house work and then return to pick up the literature and reuse it with others.
On January 1, 1950, four publishers who were desirous of taking up full-time service were appointed as pioneers. By February one fourth of the congregation were pioneers, seven in all, and the remaining publishers were averaging 33 hours a month. The return visit work and the home Bible study work, something they had not known before, just delighted them.
The first full month of activity for the missionaries ended with a count of 16 Bible studies. The students would come to the missionary home rather than study in their own humble homes. The problem was not in getting studies but, rather, in finding persons who were genuinely interested in the Kingdom message and not just in learning English or in associating with foreigners.
Since the missionaries were eager to have literature in the Korean language for use in the field, the Society instructed that the “Let God Be True” book be translated and published as soon as possible. Brother Choi was the only one capable of translation. However, his secular work kept him so busy that it was difficult even to keep up with translating The Watchtower for the weekly study. To lighten his load, two individuals studying with the missionaries, one an English professor and the other a bank official, were asked to assist with this work. Surprisingly, considering their limited knowledge of the truth and the organization, the translation came out well.
ORGANIZED MEETINGS STIMULATE BROTHERS
It was only after the missionaries’ arrival that an organized Watchtower Study began. After Brother Choi translated the lesson, then Brother Park Chong-il would hand-copy the whole lesson through nine sheets of onionskin paper and carbons. With 47 in attendance at that first Watchtower Study on August 14, 1949, many had to crowd around each onionskin copy to share in the meeting. Next came the first Service Meeting ever to be held in Korea.
Brother Shin Wan, who now began to reassociate with the congregation, operated a small mimeograph shop that was put to good Kingdom use. After the translation of the Watchtower lesson was made, the copy was put on a wax stencil, and the material was reproduced by the hand-roller method, providing individual copies for all in attendance at the meetings. No more handmade copies!
OTHER MISSIONARIES ARRIVE
All in the congregation eagerly awaited the arrival of the remaining missionaries. On March 12, 1950, Winfield (Scott) and Alice Counts, Grace and Gladys Gregory, Norrine Miller (now Thompson), and Florence Manso (now Janczyn) were welcomed to their new assignment with a Korean feast and warm traditional hospitality.
The new missionaries had no previous training in the language before arriving in Korea, but by May 1950 the eight missionaries had an average of 20 Bible studies each. For their talks to the congregation, interpreters were used, but the interpreters, lacking proficiency in English, were sometimes less than accurate. For example, when one missionary was encouraging the brothers in the service, the interpreter used the term “military service.”
After the first Theocratic Ministry School was organized, public meetings were also started in the spring of 1950. So many were attending, up to 162 now, that arrangements were made for a series of public talks to be held in the Chae Dong Primary School auditorium. Remarkably, the first talk, “The Destiny of Our Earth,” took place peacefully on June 25, 1950—the fateful day the Korean War began.
Brother Steele later reported: “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 the South Korean defenses collapsed and Seoul was brought under siege.”
THE KOREAN WAR
By July 1949 all the occupation forces of both the United States and the Soviet Union had been withdrawn, each leaving some men in advisory capacities. The peninsula was about to suffer one of the most destructive wars of modern times. In June 1950 when combat broke out, the South Korean army had fewer than a hundred thousand men, equipped with only small arms. The North Korean forces, however, stood at about 135,000, including a tank brigade. Hence, the North had the advantage of training and equipment, while the South was unprepared to ward off the invasion.
On June 28 the capital city of Seoul fell to the North Korean forces, who overwhelmed the South Korean army. The battle would seesaw across the 38th parallel until an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953.
The second day after the war began, the American Forces Korea Network announced that all Americans were ordered to evacuate the country. The missionaries now faced a dilemma. Should they stay and work with these faithful Korean brothers or leave? The eight missionaries met, asked Jehovah’s guidance, and discussed the tense situation. To remain meant capture and imprisonment for certain. It was unanimous—they should leave. Developments that followed showed they made the right decision.
A report from the missionaries later stated: ‘We had only 30 minutes to catch the last convoy leaving the city. Personal and household belongings were turned over to the local congregation servant. The city at the moment was under bombardment, and in the wild dash to Kimpo Airport our buses were strafed. Flown to Japan, all eight of us are at present working in Kobe.’
The congregation servant in Seoul, Brother Lee Shi-chong, also wrote that the few foreigners who stayed behind had all been taken on a “death march.”
Thus, all too soon, the eight missionaries abruptly ended their assignment in Korea, the Steeles being there just over ten months and the other six being there just over three months. But during that brief time, they had grown to love dearly their zealous Korean brothers. Once again the Korean organization would be without any direct contact with the Society. Carrying on the ministry and maintaining Christian neutrality in these new circumstances now confronted each Korean Witness individually.
FAITHFUL DESPITE HARDSHIPS
With 43 percent of Korea’s industrial facilities smashed and 33 percent of its homes destroyed, much of the population, including the brothers, now lived as refugees. Homes were devastated, personal property gone. Constant alertness meant life. Several of the brothers died, caught by the strafing from aircraft of either army. A few, including those who took refuge in the Society’s property, were shot to death in cold blood by the soldiers. However, the survivors never quit their commission to preach the Kingdom as the hope of the world. They never stopped sowing the seeds of truth.
In the first few days of the war, most of Seoul’s population was trapped in the city. The brothers knew they would be forced into the People’s Volunteer Army if they did not flee south. Brother Park Chong-il and Ok Ung-suk hid in the city until July 5 and then slipped across the Han River in an effort to reach a “safe” area south of Seoul. They passed scores of dead bodies, disabled tanks, and devastated buildings along their escape route, but the closer they got to the battle lines, the harder it was to keep out of sight of the North Korean soldiers.
As a result of U.S. General MacArthur’s Inchon landing on September 15, 1950, the city of Seoul was freed from North Korean rule, until the war pendulum would once again swing the other way. Brother Park returned to Seoul on October 1, 1950, and decided to go from house to house, interested in what the people’s response would be. He found them tense and afraid.
Although not yet baptized, Roh Pyung-il also faced problems just before the war. He was the son-in-law of Sister Kim Chu-ok, who had proved her faithfulness in prison during the Japanese occupation. During the first North Korean occupation of Seoul, he fled to the mountains to escape being forced into their army. However, the soldiers spotted smoke from his cooking fire, and he was thereupon seized. Taken to the edge of the city, he was put with a number of other young men who had been rounded up. They were questioned, one by one. Those who were unable to satisfy their interrogators were taken aside and shot. Roh thought he would be killed no matter what he said and so was determined to give a witness before that happened.
He was asked why he was avoiding the People’s Volunteer Army. “I can serve only God’s Kingdom,” he replied. “At Armageddon both sides in this political struggle will be destroyed by God, and I do not wish to be on either side. I cannot violate God’s law for any man-made law contrary to his. I am not afraid to die because I believe in the resurrection.”
His interrogator said that he was the first one who spoke the truth, but he should step aside anyway. The soldiers raised their rifles, aimed, and fired, purposely missing him. Roh fainted, only to awake shortly thereafter, surprised to be alive. His first words were: “The truth certainly is powerful!”
After two and a half months under South Korean rule, on December 24, 1950, the South Korean government ordered all Seoul’s inhabitants, except those of draft age, to evacuate the city once again.
Just 11 days later, January 4, 1951, the North Korean and Chinese soldiers reoccupied the city. Before that, though, the brothers grabbed what belongings they could carry on foot or in carts and began life as refugees again. They also took with them several cartons of the booklet The Joy of All the People that they found left in the missionary home. These were used to plant seeds of truth during this second refugee period.
The young brothers, of course, could not escape the city. Although their neutral Christian stand presented problems, it often proved to be lifesaving, as Brother Park Chong-il soon found out. After the North Korean army entered the city again, he and Cho Young-ha, a high-school teacher and a Methodist who was interested in the truth, lived quietly in a sister’s house for three and a half months.
Brother Park and his companion were in their hideaway for only a few days when the North Korean secret police came knocking on their door. The police suspected they were either spies or soldiers of the South Korean army. A police investigator examined their hands to see if they had been handling guns.
“We are Christians who cannot participate in war and so could not evacuate the city, as we would have been caught by the other side,” they told the investigator. The police ordered them not to leave the house and threatened to return the next day. As soon as the police left, Brother Park and Cho Young-ha quickly destroyed all names, addresses, and pictures of the Witnesses they had and then determined to witness to the police the next day, even though they knew that they might be imprisoned.
The next morning the policeman came again with a different investigator. Brother Park witnessed for about an hour and a half, as though giving a public talk. The men listened without interrupting and appeared interested in his message. Then, after a few questions, they abruptly left. Two days later one of them came back with still a different investigator, and Brother Park and his friend had another opportunity to give a witness. No police ever came again. They were careful, though, not to leave the house. Cho’s faith was greatly strengthened, and he came right into the truth.
The war now swung in the other direction, and by March 31, 1951, the UN forces had again reached north to the 38th parallel. Seoul once more was under UN command. Park Chong-il was now free to leave the house. He started across the city to check on the missionary home but was stopped by the UN forces. The South Korean soldiers, who were with the UN forces, became suspicious of him. And no wonder! After being indoors for more than three months, his face was pale and his hair long. Since he knew some English, Brother Park told the American soldiers that he was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and had associated with American Watch Tower missionaries and was going to check on the missionaries’ property. The soldiers believed him and let him go.
WORK FORGES AHEAD DESPITE REFUGEE CONDITION
The brothers, now refugees, settled primarily in five major cities—Taejon, Taegu, Pusan, Chonju, and Kunsan. The populations of these cities swelled to several times their normal size as people clung to any shelter—lean-tos, hillsides, caves—they could find.
Sister Kim Chi-duk, now 87 and still a pioneer, was among the first Witnesses to arrive in Taegu. Two of her sons had been killed during the war. Now, with two of her other children, she immediately began witnessing. In no time she placed all the literature she brought with her and then used the second week to make return visits.
Another refugee in Taegu, Brother Lee In-won, along with Sister Kim, held meetings with yet dozens of others. Mimeograph chapters of the books “Let God Be True” and “This Means Everlasting Life” were used for their meetings and in field service. The first congregation organized under refugee conditions was in this city of Taegu.
Brother Ok Ryei-joon and his wife, Lee Jung-sang, refugees from North Korea, relocated in Chonju. Sister Lee tells us what happened next:
“I started a Bible study with four women deacons from the Central Presbyterian Church. They did not want to use the Society’s publications, only the Bible. The clergy there considered us contemptible refugees and tried to stop us from preaching, even sending a mob out after me. These four women helped me escape the mob. Despite these efforts against me by the clergy, the women continued their Bible study. As a result, eventually 20 persons came out of that church and into the truth.”
MISSIONARY HELP RETURNS
Under continuing wartime conditions, entry into Korea was all but impossible. However, after much red tape had been unraveled, Don Steele was able to return, alone, and arrived at Pusan harbor on November 11, 1951. McArthur’s Headquarters then limited one person to each mission, and no women were permitted entry. It would be another year before Don’s wife, Earlene, could join him.
On November 17, 1951, Brother Steele was given permission by the U.S. Army to visit Seoul. He tells us what he and others found:
“That afternoon we walked through the city of Seoul to the missionary home. Almost all the big buildings were 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 still standing. It had been hit by a shell in one corner, though, leaving a two-foot hole in the brick wall. All windows had been blown out, ceiling plaster was down, most of the doors had been torn off, and the wiring had been removed.”
The same evening about 35 Witnesses, mostly sisters, met to hear Brother Steele’s service talk, and arrangements were made for field service for the following days. The next morning 18 persons showed up for group witnessing. Before the week of his visit was over, 24 publishers reported field service time. Those stalwart sisters who remained in Seoul throughout the war were now reaping the fruitage of their hard labor.
The new publishers desired to be baptized—but where? The only facilities available were bathhouses now used exclusively by the UN soldiers. Arrangements were made to baptize the new ones at the bathhouses before the UN personnel arrived for the day. So, on Saturday, December 29, 1951, before 8:00 a.m., 27 new ones were baptized, including the sister of the former queen of Korea.
Pusan was the provisional capital of the country, and it was the practical place from which to serve the brothers throughout the country. A new mimeograph machine was ordered and received through the American Military Post Office. Surprisingly, the brothers were able to get, too, one of the first typewriters with Korean characters. Another big step forward for the Witnesses in Korea!
In December 1951 and January 1952, Brother Steele was able to visit all the places where congregations and groups had been established. Imagine, before the war there was a total of only 61 publishers in the one congregation in Seoul. By the end of the 1952 service year, there was a peak of 192 publishers in five congregations and this in spite of wartime conditions and the greater number of brothers living in a refugee state.
During this time the Society also sponsored a clothing drive. Two tons of clothing and shoes arrived from the United States.
AT LAST! THE WATCHTOWER IN PRINTED FORM
September 1952 was a big month for the Witnesses—the Watchtower magazine was registered with the government, and a permit for publication was issued. At first, mimeographed copies were handwritten, but after February 1953 they were typewritten. The first editions of 16 pages numbered only about 700 copies each.
The January 1, 1954, issue of The Watchtower marked the start of printed magazines. The first printing was 2,000 copies, and then with the January 1955 issue it was increased to 20 pages and 5,000 copies. It was a monthly magazine printed by a commercial firm in Seoul. However, it became a semimonthly magazine in 1961 and grew to 24 pages with the January 1967 issue.
In order to be a legally recognized religion in the country, it became necessary for the Witnesses to form a corporation. The Watch Tower Songso Chaekja Hyuphoi of Korea was thus formed and registered with the Ministry of Education on October 30, 1952, with six directors and nine members. On February 25, 1969, by government regulation, this registry was transferred to the Ministry of Culture and Information and is the legal entity used to this day. Now, as a legal corporation, it was possible to purchase the property that the missionaries had used before the war.
“Things have been going so well in Korea, it is almost too good to be true,” stated the Society’s letter of October 18, 1952, addressed to the Korean brothers. And then on July 27, 1953, an uneasy armistice was signed, and a demilitarized zone was marked between North and South Korea. To this day no communication exists between the two Koreas or between family members separated by the demilitarized zone.
By the end of the following month, Don and Earlene Steele had returned to Pusan after attendance at the New York convention. They delighted to see the 1953 service year in Korea close with 417 publishers in 7 congregations. The Society thus directed that from September 1, 1953, the organization in Korea would cease to be under the U.S. branch and would become the Korea branch. Don Steele would be the branch servant; today he is the Branch Committee coordinator.
The Korea branch moved into the same home in Seoul used by the missionaries before the war. Only the most necessary repairs to the building were done. Water still had to be carried in, and there was little electricity to use. The missionaries chose the second floor, and the local congregation used the first floor for their meetings.
HELP FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE
Down through the years some of the thousands of U.S. military men who have served in Korea not only have shown interest in the truth but have progressed spiritually. After returning to the United States and making necessary changes in their lives, they have become active Witnesses.
Sergeant First Class Norbert Matz of the U.S. Army was an outstanding example. He desired a proper relationship with God. So he began studying the Bible with the Witnesses while stationed in the United States. He advanced quickly, so much so that when the army transferred him to Korea, he was actually able to conduct studies with Koreans. He also assisted the brothers with the Theocratic Ministry School. How? There was no Theocratic Ministry School textbook in the Korean language, so he would help them understand the material for the school through an interpreter. He also helped arrange a group baptism on June 30, 1953, and used military vehicles for transport to the baptismal site—52 were immersed. He proved to be a great help during the time the missionaries were unable to be in Seoul. Today, as Brother Matz, he serves as an elder in a congregation in the United States.
One Bible student of Norbert Matz was a young Korean army medic, Chun Young-soon. He was baptized in 1953 and shortly thereafter began his career in full-time service. As a Gilead graduate, he became a traveling overseer and the Bethel Home overseer and presently serves on the Branch Committee. In that same year of 1953, Park Chong-il faced the issue of military service for a second time. Again he set an example of Christian neutrality for these brothers, as well as others, to follow.
FIRST LARGE CONVENTION
With martial law having finally been lifted during the fall of 1953, it was now possible for Korea to have a district convention—August 6-8, 1954. Chae Dong Primary School was the site. For the first time, brothers from all over the country assembled. The estimated attendance had been set at 700, but 1,043 were on hand the first day, growing to 1,245 for the Public Meeting on Sunday. Many, remembering the dark days of World War II followed by the horrors of the Korean War, had eyes filled with tears of joy. They thought they would never see the day when so many people would be gathered to Jehovah’s side.
Outstanding at this convention was the first mass baptism. A sister’s husband who was an official in the fire department arranged to have the pool at the school filled with water after the brothers cleaned out the debris left in it from the war. That day, to the happy amazement of all, 284, or 23 percent of all who attended, were immersed. It now became evident that the branch would have a great work ahead to help all these new ones to progress spiritually.
GILEAD SENDS MORE HELP
In March 1955 the second wave of missionaries arrived in Korea—Milton and Liz Hamilton, Keith and Evelyn Kennedy, Karl Emerson, Norris Peters, Elaine Scheidt (now Ness), and Druzilla (Dru) Craig (now Youngberg). A large group of brothers met them at Yoido Airport. Back then the airport was on an isle of sand in the Han River that today is a city within a city. Although none of the new missionaries knew the language, smiles, tears of joy, and gestures said it all. Now the branch office would again be bustling with workers, since it was a combination of branch office and missionary home.
One month after the missionaries arrived, Korea’s first circuit assembly was held in April 1955. What an exciting and new experience this was for the friends! The missionaries even had parts on the program but spoke through interpreters.
PUSAN’S MISSIONARY HOME
In the fall of 1955 a missionary home was opened in the port city of Pusan, about 200 air miles south of Seoul. Pusan then had a population of about 1,100,000 and only one congregation of Witnesses. The Hamiltons, Evalyn Myung Hae Park (now Emerson), and one Korean sister set up the home.
Because of the large refugee population, accommodations in the city were at a premium, but a small place was located. It was on the second floor and had two rooms for bedrooms plus one small room for the dining room, and the hallway served as the kitchen. There was no running water and little electricity available, which made cooking, cleaning, and washing tedious chores. To make the water potable, it had to be boiled or chlorinated.
“The brothers did not have much in those days, but they were warm and friendly and had a zeal for the field service,” says Brother Hamilton.
A total of 17 missionaries have served in Pusan city, and today there are 51 congregations amidst a population of 3,500,000. The brothers there always considered it a privilege to have had a missionary home in their city.
A MILESTONE VISIT
The momentous time was here—the first official visitor from world headquarters since Brother Hollister’s day. Brother Nathan H. Knorr, then the president of the Watch Tower Society, set foot on Korean soil April 27, 1956, at Yoido Airport, where 500 of the 1,500 publishers welcomed him. Accompanying Brother Knorr were Don Adams from the Brooklyn office and Lloyd Barry (now of the Governing Body), who was being trained for zone work in the Orient.
Brother Knorr’s six-day visit set a milestone in Korean theocratic history. His first talk to the 1,330 assembled for the national convention reassured them that they were truly part of Jehovah’s worldwide organization. At this convention 303 were baptized in the chilly spring waters of the Han River. Indicating prospects for the future, a crowd of 3,473 gathered in Seoul Stadium for the public talk “Making All Mankind One Under Their Creator.”
Brother Knorr saw that now the important work in Korea was to help these new ones to advance spiritually. He laid the main responsibility for this on the shoulders of the branch members and missionaries. He also recognized that some were getting baptized too soon, without sufficient knowledge of the Scriptures. As a result, some had fallen by the wayside. So he instructed the branch members that baptisms were to be held only at circuit assemblies or larger conventions. This helped. Interested persons now studied and associated longer before baptism, which prepared them to fulfill their future responsibilities as Witnesses.
BOON TO BIBLE EDUCATION
The Bible study work took on new dimensions in 1956 with the release of the complete Korean edition of the book “Let God Be True.” To Koreans, education is one of the more important things in life, attested to by the fact that the illiteracy rate today is a mere 8 percent. The branch has never had to sponsor classes in reading and writing. This, of course, is a boon to educating people in the Bible, and the publishers have a gift for that.
Interesting also is the religious makeup of people in the country. Just about 20 percent of Korea’s 42,000,000 inhabitants are Buddhist, another 20 percent profess Christianity, and the remainder follow no particular belief. However, Shamanism is still very much in existence throughout the country, and Confucianism dominates the attitudes and values of the majority. The publishers have been alert to offer Bible education to all those religiously confused. The results? Remarkable!
The year 1956 saw 12 appointed to the special pioneer work in addition to the 11 missionaries already in the field. To this day this special pioneer force, now numbering about 400, continues to bear excellent fruitage. In times past the greater increases came from the city populations. But now with modern communication and transportation, the very smallest villages and towns where special pioneers are sent are showing fine results.
A FAMILY OF ZEALOUS WORKERS
Brother Park Young-shin, a circuit overseer, relates how his family took up true worship because of the efforts of special pioneers and the “Let God Be True” book. It started in the city of Sunch’ŏn, in the province of Chŏlla in southern Korea.
“At the time there were three special pioneers in the city, and while my mother was visiting the neighbors, she accepted the Watchtower magazine from one of them,” he begins. “My older sister and I told my mother not to accept such, as the Witnesses were ignorant heretics. However, my mother insisted that they seemed like nice people who used the Bible. At that moment, two Witness women visited us. I asked what the difference was between them and Protestants. I thought their explanation was reasonable, and I accepted the book “Let God Be True” and agreed to study the Bible with them, not to become one of them, but to increase my Bible knowledge.
“It did not take much time to see I had been taught false doctrine. It weighed on my conscience, and I finally decided to resign from the church. When I told the pastor, he said: ‘Why Jehovah’s Witnesses? If you had to change, you could have gone to the Methodist or the Holiness Church. You have chosen the wrong religion.’
“In October 1957 my mother, my older sister, and I were baptized, followed later by my father and other siblings—in all, seven children. My mother at age 73 is a regular pioneer, while my older sister has been in the special pioneer work since 1967 and has helped some 60 persons to dedication and baptism. My two older brothers are traveling overseers.”
Another national convention was arranged for January 1957 because of the first of several visits by Brother Frederick W. Franz, now president of the Society. No sooner had he emerged from the airplane than the brothers rushed him straight to the convention hall, where he surprised the audience by saying he was sorry it took him 63 years to get there. He then favored them by playing some Kingdom songs on his harmonica.
In the few days after the convention, wherever Brother Franz went, the brothers would follow, filled with Bible questions that just had to come out. On one of those days, a dinner was arranged for one o’clock in the afternoon. After everyone had enjoyed the tasty Korean meal, the brothers began their Bible questions and kept Brother Franz busy answering these until six o’clock that evening. Brother Franz did not tire out, but one of his translators did and a second one had to be used.
1958 DIVINE WILL INTERNATIONAL ASSEMBLY
When 2 more missionaries, Bradley Ness and Bill Phillips, arrived and could look after the property in Seoul, the 11 other missionaries were able to attend the international convention in New York City. In addition, 14 Korean representatives attended there. Following the convention, two brothers, Park Chong-il, who had become the first resident translator at the branch in 1956, and Kim Jang-soo and two sisters, Kim Kyung-hi and Lee Hae-young, were selected to attend Gilead.
Korea’s Divine Will convention was in October. It was held in an open-air stadium, where 2,800 delegates braved cool fall weather to attend on Sunday, and 153 were baptized.
EXPANSION IN CIRCUIT WORK
The branch has met the constant need for qualified traveling overseers in part by assigning Gilead-trained brothers to the circuit or district work. These included Norris Peters and Karl Emerson, who came to Korea in 1955. At first, as they visited the congregations, interpreters were needed until they became fluent in the language. Brother Chae Soo-wan, overseer in the Service Department and member of the Branch Committee, was an officer in the Korean army when he started studying. In 1957 he was appointed circuit overseer and he attended Gilead in 1962.
By the end of the 1958 service year, there was a peak of 2,724 publishers in the 54 congregations and many isolated groups making up the five circuits. With this increase in the field, more qualified brothers had to be found and added to those in the traveling work. Ok Ryei-joon and his wife were assigned to circuit work, as were Milton and Liz Hamilton, the first missionary couple to enter the traveling work in Korea.
For the Hamiltons this meant living with the local people and being immersed in their ways of life as contrasted with life in the missionary home. As foreigners, they had to learn the daily routine of eating and sleeping on the floor in addition to sitting on the floor while at Kingdom Hall meetings. At the time running water was scarce, and plumbing was nonexistent. Yet, it was all part of the missionary work. Today, Brother Hamilton serves on the Branch Committee and is the factory overseer.
Brother Park Ii-kyun began full-time service in 1956 and accompanied one of the missionaries in the circuit work as an interpreter. After Gilead training, he was reassigned to the branch office and now serves as a member of the Branch Committee.
After Jerry and Barbara Tylich arrived in Korea in 1966, they were assigned to a Seoul congregation and thereafter served in a circuit. Joining them in the circuit work in 1967 were Jim Tylich, Merlin Stoin, and Durand and Rachel Norbom. The Norboms are now members of the Kongdo Bethel family. Rachel remembers some of the questions she was asked when visiting congregations.
“Even as late as the early 1970’s a Western woman appearing in the countryside was a novelty, and one had to get used to some very personal questions,” she explains. “‘How old are you?’ ‘Are you married?’ ‘How many children do you have?’ and then, ‘Why don’t you have any?’ In one place a rumor spread that an American couple came to take some children to the States for adoption, and so several women came to offer their children to be taken to what they thought would be a more prosperous life.”
Others also serving today in the traveling work amid Korea’s 43 circuits are Joseph Breitfuss (from Austria), Perry and Geline Jumuad (from the Philippines), and John and Susan Wentworth (from the United States), all missionaries for the past 14 to 17 years.
CLOSE CALLS DURING RIOTS
The airplane carrying Brother Milton Henschel touched down at Kimpo International Airport on April 13, 1960. His zone visit to the branch coincided with a four-day convention that opened with 2,385 in attendance.
While the Peace-Pursuing Assembly was being held, the Korean government was trying to hold the reins on bloody riots by thousands of students. Melees broke out just up the street from the convention grounds. The convention attendance, happily, grew to over 4,000—the peak for a Public Meeting—packing out every nook and cranny of the Samil Dang auditorium.
Monday evening, the day after the convention, Brother Henschel presided at the wedding of a missionary couple, Bradley Ness and Elaine Scheidt. However, getting from the wedding site to a restaurant proved to be dangerous. Brother Henschel and several missionaries exited from the wedding place into a narrow lane. Suddenly, they were trapped between thousands of rioting students charging down one end of the street and truckloads of armed police bearing down from the other end. Brother Henschel and his associates darted across the street and into the restaurant just moments before the two sides clashed. How they escaped is amazing! Once inside the restaurant, though, peace and quiet held sway.
When five more Gilead graduates were assigned to Korea, their visa applications were denied by the Korean government, as opposers had accused the Witnesses of being revolutionaries. Don Steele was able to set up an interview with U.S. Ambassador Walter McConaughy on April 6, 1960.
The ambassador told Brother Steele that it was irony of the worst sort to accuse Jehovah’s Witnesses of being revolutionaries. He had served in an East European country and knew just how the Witnesses had been persecuted in East Germany. But he also pointed out that since Korea is a sovereign country, it has a right to grant visas to whom it wishes. However, he would try to arrange an interview for Brother Steele with the foreign minister. This was arranged for Tuesday, April 19, 1960. Since Brother Henschel, who is a director of the Society in the United States, was still in Korea, he could also speak to the minister.
Conditions in the country were deteriorating; the government could not quell the rioting. Tuesday arrived. The brothers were to meet the foreign minister downtown, which was the scene of the most intense rioting. Undaunted and not wanting to break the appointment, the brothers made their way to the Ministry.
They found the building tightly closed, with steel shutters down and sandbags all around as the occupants of the building barricaded themselves against the attack of the students. Obviously there would be no interview that day, and Brothers Henschel and Steele ran back home through side streets just as quickly as they could, sidestepping casualties along the way.
Some days later, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs notified the branch that the “cause” of the rejections “had been removed” and the visas would be granted. In June of that year, Russell and Dottie MacPhee, Delauris Webb (now Peters), Audrey Wendell (now Holmes), and Lois Dyke (now Renter) arrived to take up the missionary service. Another missionary home was set up in Kwangju.
The government of Syngman Rhee fell in the spring of 1960. Some months later, a duly elected government took control, only to be overthrown by a military coup in May 1961. Once again martial law clamped down on the whole country. Thus, even large religious meetings were banned until the new authorities had the situation under control. However, attendance at the congregation meetings suffered no decrease under these conditions.
When the restrictions were lifted, all religious organizations had to reregister with the new authorities. This was a delicate matter resulting in considerable paperwork. In due course the Watch Tower Songso Chaekja Hyuphoi of Korea was registered again with the Ministry of Education on November 25, 1961.
“EVERLASTING GOOD NEWS” ASSEMBLIES
Joy abounded when it was announced that Korea would host one of the “Everlasting Good News” Assemblies in 1963. Korea then was a developing country. Although today a million or more tourists come to Korea each year, at that time this was one of the largest tourist groups ever to visit Korea—more than 400 persons from 19 countries. Thus, every Korean Witness was interested in the arrival of the brothers from abroad.
The first plane, with 94 foreign convention delegates, arrived the morning of August 24, 1963, with Brother and Sister Knorr on board. The chief protocol officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was on hand to welcome Brother Knorr and his wife, who were then taken ahead by private car. But soon a convoy of busloads of the other delegates, escorted by special courtesy police, overtook the private car and left it far behind.
The baptism of 612 was the largest to date. Announcement that the Korean Awake! would now be semimonthly brought joy to all in attendance because since its first Korean issue of September 8, 1959, Awake! had been a monthly magazine. Attendance for the public lecture grew to 8,975, three thousand of whom were interested persons! Not to be overlooked, however, was the 12-percent increase for the year in publishers and an attendance at the Memorial of 9,893.
FIRST BRANCH EXPANSION
There was a growing need to expand the branch facilities to keep pace with the remarkable increase in publishers. After all, in less than 15 years the growth climbed from just a handful of publishers before the Korean War to well over 5,000 by the beginning of the 1964 service year. In August 1964 a start was made on constructing a three-story branch extension that would triple the existing floor space.
The Bethel family moved in on May 1, 1965. The new Kingdom Hall was a Korean first—it had chairs!
PAPERBACK BOOKS FOR THE FIELD
July 19, 1966, was another historic day. From that time forward all Society literature in the Korean language would be printed in Korea. No longer would the U.S. branch need to provide gift shipments of hardbound books.
Books were printed in one color on newsprint and bound as paperbacks because the cost of hardbound books would make them out of reach for the public. Anyway, the message was really the important thing and that would be the same. Besides, most literature manufactured in Korea at the time was also paperback. The first publication? “Things in Which It Is Impossible for God to Lie.”
The first 50,000 copies of the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, released in Korean in January 1969, lasted only a few months and had to be reprinted immediately. Brothers now put this inexpensive home Bible study instrument to good use in the field. The number of Bible studies soared! Almost all who came into the truth during that time learned the basic Bible doctrines through this publication. To date, over 2.2 million copies of this book have been printed and distributed in Korea alone! The publisher count rose from just over 8,000 at the end of 1968 to over 30,000 in 1982, when the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth was released.
The 22nd consecutive peak of publishers, a total of 10,610, was quickly followed by the “Peace on Earth” international convention in Seoul held at Chang Choong Gymnasium in October 1969. To an audience of 14,529, Brother Franz released the book Is the Bible Really the Word of God? For the first time, a publication in Korean was released simultaneously with English.
A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE
The Republic of Korea has one of the largest armed forces in the world. Universal military conscription has been in effect with no exemptions for clergy or for conscientious objectors.
On February 22, 1971, a registered letter from the government arrived at the branch. The letter accused the Witnesses of teaching people not to sing patriotic songs or vote in political elections and of deliberately encouraging evasion of military conscription. In answering these charges, the branch explained why Jehovah’s Witnesses are not anarchists and the Bible basis for subjection to the superior authorities. The branch said that Witnesses do not interfere in any government process, including voting or conscription.
Matters worsened. After learning of further developments, Brother Knorr suggested that the brothers visit the U.S. embassy. So on March 24, 1971, Brothers Steele and Hamilton met for one hour with U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, Francis T. Underhill. After a lively discussion about the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their stand on these matters, Mr. Underhill said that he would report the matter to the State Department in Washington. However, nothing further on the matter developed at that time.
So down through the years, legions of brothers—old and young—have had to brave these issues. Some could not complete their schooling or could not find work. Still others who have lived out their lives in integrity await the resurrection.
The time was approaching for the third international convention to be held in Seoul, in the summer of 1973. The “Divine Victory” convention was the largest single convention ever held in Korea—over 29,000 in attendance and 2,002 baptized.
Brother Park Ii-kyun, convention overseer for this convention, gives this report: “Because of unrest within the country, there was still an uneasiness on the part of the authorities. As a result, the police dispatched 130 plainclothesmen, and 2 of them were stationed in each of the convention departments in addition to those throughout the stadium. The police remarked that we obeyed better than college-educated people.
“When it starts to rain at sports events and other gatherings outdoors, pandemonium breaks out, with everyone making a mad dash for the exits. During one session of the convention, rain began to pour down, and the police rushed to open all the exits, but to their amazement, nobody left. Rather, all opened their umbrellas and just sat calmly and listened to the program.
“In addition, the stadium manager told me that the stadium has never been so clean, and if he could rent it to Jehovah’s Witnesses once a month, it would always be clean.”
A CAUSE FOR CONCERN
All seemed well in the spring of 1975. The Bethel family moved into their spacious new facilities, and Brother Lloyd Barry visited from Japan to give the dedication talk. The 1975 service year ended with an outstanding field report—including 8,120 baptized that year. Thus, in just three years’ time 19,600 were baptized. Well over half of the Korean Witnesses had been in the truth for less than three years.
However, the first few months of the 1976 service year began with a marked decrease in publishers and home Bible studies. This downward trend was to continue for over three years, bottoming out in a 26-percent decrease in publishers, from 32,693 in August 1975 to 24,285 in November 1978. Memorial attendance dropped too, from over 68,000 in 1975 to 49,545 in 1978. The brothers at the branch were perplexed. Would the trend be reversed?
Of course, neither they nor the Society were just letting it slide by. The Society’s letter of April 4, 1977, stated:
“We hope the brothers are careful in their teaching. Evidently some were very strong on the 1975 date, and so a good foundation was not laid. The foundation, of course, should be faith in Christ Jesus and the ransom sacrifice, and the dedication should be with understanding.”
A very candid observation indeed! Too much emphasis was placed on a date by some Bible teachers. Many newly baptized ones took up the truth on a wave of emotion. Even some elders had their hopes pinned to 1975. In addition, materialism seeped into the land as a result of the rapid economic growth in Korea, and nationalism was on the rise. The effect: apathy among the brothers.
THE ROAD BACK, LONG BUT CERTAIN
More than 24,000 Witnesses, solid in the faith, were not shaken by any date. Still, the road back to a new peak of publishers was to take eight long years and was not reached until August 1983.
Now there was no emotional leaping into the truth, and those being baptized were making a dedication with understanding. Many who had become inactive began to return, recognizing there really was no other place to go. Many learned the hard way that the truth is to be found only in one place.
FIRST ASSEMBLY HALL IN ORIENT
By the middle of the 1970’s, difficulties arose in obtaining suitable places for circuit assemblies and special events. As a solution, the brothers decided to build an Assembly Hall with their own hands. Its design and construction were simple but sufficient to make an assembly comfortable for all in attendance. Therefore, the first Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Orient was dedicated in April 1976 in Pusan, Korea. To date, Korea has seven Assembly Halls serving about 75 percent of all the publishers.
MAGAZINE PUBLISHING ADJUSTMENTS
New government regulations in 1980 forced the branch to make adjustments in publishing the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. So if an organization published two magazines, only one would be allowed to continue. In November 1980 the Awake! magazine was one of 67 periodicals canceled by the government. Every effort was made by the Korean branch to reverse the decision but to no avail.
Then, after two months, word came unexpectedly from the authorities that they would let a supplement to The Watchtower be published. Holy spirit was working! The supplement would carry the same date as The Watchtower, the first and fifteenth. This procedure is still followed.
Foreign missionaries are no longer needed to work the Korean field, since the local Korean pioneers can adequately care for this. But missionaries are still needed for training and building up the brothers spiritually. With this in mind, the Society assigned five more missionaries to Korea in the fall of 1977. Much to the surprise of the branch, they could not obtain visas. The 17 missionaries already serving in the country could remain, but no new Watch Tower missionaries would be allowed. Furthermore, those then present would not be given reentry permits if they left the country.
However, since late in 1987, the missionaries have been very appreciative of the consideration the authorities have given them to obtain reentry permits in the usual way.
In the summer of 1979, the Governing Body gave the branch permission to begin looking for a new branch location. After a one-year search, a nine-acre piece of farm and forest land was found about 42 miles south of Seoul, in Kyonggi Do, Ansung Kun, Kongdo Myun. This would place the branch in a pollution-free environment.
This expansion project was of gigantic proportions when compared to previous ones. The branch would now be taking on the work of printing magazines and also preparing for future printing of books. A glow of excitement prevailed on May 8, 1982, when the completed buildings were dedicated and Brothers Franz and Barry from world headquarters were on hand to give special talks.
Because of the help from the brothers in the United States and Japan, as well as cooperation from a local commercial printing company, the branch now has its own printery. In a very short time the pressrun of each issue of the magazines increased to almost 200,000, keeping all the machinery busy all day long.
Three years after the branch was moved to Kongdo, Brother Albert Schroeder of the Governing Body, serving as the zone overseer, dedicated an addition to the property in May 1985. The addition doubled the floor space to just under 100,000 square feet. The publishers increased from 30,000 in 1982 to over 39,600 in 1985. What growth!
Since Seoul is not only the capital of South Korea but also the center of business, it was deemed necessary to have the registered office of the corporation remain there. A fine new building containing this office for the branch, a Kingdom Hall, and sufficient storage room for a literature depot was built in Seoul and dedicated on December 20, 1986. Four members of the Bethel family live and work there.
HIGH-SPEED WEB PRESS HUMMING
Almost 600 years ago Koreans advanced printing technology by inventing the first movable metal printing type. Today, Korean Witnesses use state-of-the-art printing technology to advance Kingdom interests. With their prepress work flowing out of computer-assisted equipment and a new Mitsubishi web-offset press rolling out 500 full-color 32-page magazines per minute, they have no problem producing sufficient magazines and literature. The first idea of obtaining such a large press began in the summer of 1983 when Brother Lloyd Barry, serving as zone overseer, saw the overworked condition of the printery.
At that time the factory was filled to capacity. There was absolutely no space available to put a 130-ton press, 85 feet in length, on the floor. This meant another building, a second expansion in Kongdo in just four years. Up to this time the Korean magazines had been three months behind the English editions, so the prospect of printing magazines simultaneously with the English made all the work worth while.
Importing such a press, though, was beset with many problems. Government policy stipulated that a recommendation had to be received from the government before permission would be granted for import. This was next to impossible. However, in the summer of 1985 that restriction was lifted, and the brothers at the branch immediately obtained an import license. Within six weeks of obtaining that permit, the law changed back again, requiring a recommendation. The holy spirit had opened the way; the brothers acted quickly. Thus, in the branch today the printing press is humming so that the publishers’ hands will be kept filled with literature for use in witnessing.
To its people, Korea is known as Chosŏn, the “land of the morning calm.” Years ago the Korean brothers wondered how they would ever be able to reach all the people in their country with the Kingdom message and how many of these Jehovah would choose as his “sheep.”—Matt. 25:32.
Today only 7 percent of the territory is unassigned, and almost all of this is cared for in the summer months by publishers. Territories in the cities are often covered more than once a month. Since well over one fourth of the more than 48,000 publishers are in the regular pioneer work in addition to those in auxiliary pioneer work every month, the people of Korea know who Jehovah’s Witnesses are. Truly, Jehovah has chosen his “sheep” also among Koreans.
As one Bible writer put it: “In the morning sow your seed and until the evening do not let your hand rest; for you are not knowing where this will have success, either here or there, or whether both of them will alike be good.” Seed has been sown and the harvest has been good. The future is bright. Only Jehovah’s spirit could have made it happen here in Korea.—Eccl. 11:6.
In Korea the family name always comes first in speaking and writing.
Married women retain their previous family name.
After 36 years of faithful missionary service in Korea, Earlene Steele died in 1985, following an extended illness.
[Box/Pictures on page 193]
On May 23, 1987, a three-story addition to the branch facility in Kongdo was dedicated by Milton G. Henschel of the Governing Body. The new factory building houses a new 130-ton, four-color, web-fed offset printing press. Brother Henschel spoke to 2,060 assembled at the branch site. This is the branch’s second major addition since 1982
Original residence building dedicated in 1982
Office building; factory (cream-colored part in center); and, at right, new residence building dedicated in 1985
Factory addition, at right, dedicated in 1987
Architect’s rendering of Korea branch facility
[Map/Pictures on page 136]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Sea of Japan
[Picture on page 143]
Lee Shi-chong, a colporteur who traveled through rural areas by bicycle in the early 1930’s to spread the Kingdom message
[Picture on page 146]
Ok Ung-doo, Ok Ryei-joon, and Ok Ji-joon (left to right) faced severe trials during World War II
[Picture on page 153]
Choi Sung-kyu suffered severely unto death in 1941 because of his beliefs, but his faith was a great encouragement to his brothers
[Picture on page 157]
Missionaries and branch family in front of enlarged branch at Seoul. Addition on right was dedicated in 1975
[Picture on page 159]
Earlene and Don Steele, first Watch Tower missionaries in Korea, August 1949
[Pictures on page 175]
Brothers and sisters welcome Nathan H. Knorr, then president of the Watch Tower Society, after his plane touched down on April 27, 1956, at Yoido Airport, Korea. Accompanying him were Don Adams and Lloyd Barry
[Picture on page 178]
In January 1957 during a convention held in Seoul, Frederick W. Franz, now president of the Watch Tower Society, responds to the delegates’ welcome with a medley of Kingdom songs on his harmonica
[Pictures on page 180]
Durand and Rachel Norbom and Liz and Milton Hamilton (left to right), two missionary couples who have been in Korea for more than 20 and 33 years, respectively
[Picture on page 181]
Missionaries serving in the traveling overseer work. Left to right: Susan and John Wentworth, Geline Jumuad, Josef Breitfuss, and Perry Jumuad
[Pictures on page 183]
Kim (Phillips) Kyung-hi, Evalyn Park (Emerson), and Liz and Milton Hamilton set up missionary home in Pusan, 1955
Keith and Evelyn Kennedy, Karl Emerson, Druzilla Craig (Youngberg), Elaine Scheidt (Ness), Norris Peters, and Earlene and Don Steele on steps of shrapnel-scarred branch and missionary home in Seoul, 1957
[Picture on page 191]
These brothers on the Branch Committee have served an average of 37 years in full-time service. Front row, left to right: Chae Soo-wan, Don Steele (Branch Committee coordinator), and Chun Young-soon. Back row, left to right: Park Ii-kyun, Milton Hamilton, and Park Chong-il
[Picture on page 194]
Japanese and Korean branch personnel worked and trained together after 85-foot-long, four-color press was installed in branch addition at Kongdo in 1986