There is one missionary who changed the course of Korea. Today about one-third of South Korea’s 51 million people are Christian. Not only that, Protestants have increased faster than in any other country, doubling every decade. By 1994, there were over 35,000 churches and 50,000 pastors, making the South Korean churches one of the most vital and dynamic in the world. It also became the country that sent out the second most number of missionaries. However, Korea has not always been like this. There was a season when things looked so bleak in the eyes of the first world, not just economically but spiritually. It started to change when western missionaries began to give their lives to share the Gospel in Korea while building hospitals and schools.
The following prayer is a translation of a prayer written by Missionary Horace G. Underwood when he first arrived in Korea. He came to Korea in 1885 as the nation’s first Presbyterian missionary and later founded Yonsei University. I hope his prayer helps us find strength and hope in the face of impossibility in our lives and ministry because his vision came true though nothing seemed hopeful at the moment.
1885, 4.5 Incheon Korea.
Lord, nothing is visible at this moment.
Lord, you have planted us on this barren and poor land,
where not even a single tree can grow tall enough.
It is such a miracle that we could come to this land across the wide, wide Pacific Ocean.
Nothing is visible, though, in this land where we seem to have been dropped off by your hand.
We only see stubbornly stained darkness.
We only see Korean people chained with poverty and superstition.
They don’t even know why they are chained, what suffering is.
They distrust us and express anger to us as we tell them how to take away their suffering, which they don’t see as suffering.
The thoughts of Korean men are not visible.
The mind of this government is not visible.
We are afraid that we may not have any more opportunities to see the women commuting on Kamas (a cart carried by men).
And we do not see what to do.
Yet, Lord! We will obey.
We believe that you begin your work as we humbly obey,
And that the day will come when our spiritual eyes will see your work,
according to your Words: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see…”
We believe that we will see the future of the faith of Korea.
Although we are as if standing on a desert with bare hands,
Although we are condemned to be Western devils,
We believe that the day will come when they will rejoice with tears realizing that they are one with our spirit in Christ and that we all have one Kingdom and one Father in Heaven.
Although there is no church to worship you, no school to study,
Although this land is filled with doubt of suspicion, contempt, and disdain,
We believe that soon this land will become a land of blessing.