The Association has
had just four presidents since its foundation by Christian military men from
four nations, Germany Britain, Holland and Sweden. The first president was a
Dutchman, Baron Von Tuyll. In 1965, a British General, Sir Robert Ewbank,
took over as president until 1976 when he handed over to an American,
General Clay Buckingham. He in turn handed over in 1991 to a British
General, Sir Laurence New.
In September this year
the Association welcomes its fifth president, General Pil Sup Lee, formerly
Chairman of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff. It looks to be an
exciting development. For General Lee is a remarkable man, touched by God in
many ways during his military career, and with much to say about
Christianity and the military. One example of his devotion: on his
retirement he turned down lucrative offers of top jobs in commerce, in order
to devote the rest of his life to Christian mission.
wrote last week of the dynamic nature of
Christianity in Korea. It seems to me inevitable that we are set to see a
succession of Koreans assuming top positions in international Christian
bodies. It is a development to be welcomed.
two-and-a-half years ago I attended the Baptist World Alliance Congress here
in Melbourne, and we elected as our new president Billy Jang Hwan Kim,
pastor of the 15,000-member Central Baptist Church in Suwon, Korea.
The “Operation World”
Christian handbook reports that 10,646 Korean missionaries are serving in
156 countries. That’s more than from any country except the United States.
The Catholic Church in
Korea is as dynamic as its Protestant brothers and sisters. Around 150,000
received into the Church each year, the highest baptism rate in the
world. With a priest shortage in some Western countries, Korean priests are
even manning parishes in France and elsewhere.
Probably all this
activity would be even greater were it not that many Koreans have real
difficulties achieving fluency in foreign languages. Archaic foreign
language teaching methods at Korean schools force students to spend hours on
learning grammar and vocabulary and syntax – treating language as something
like a science - while largely neglecting listening and speaking.
Which is not to say
that all Koreans can’t master foreign languages. I recall in the early 1980s
when I was working as a journalist in Tokyo and was commissioned by the
Wall Street Journal to spend two weeks in Seoul interviewing senior
business and government leaders for a special supplement on Korea. I was
amazed at the number of high officials and their advisers who spoke fluent
English. Many possessed PhD’s from elite US universities. This was something
I had seldom then experienced when interviewing senior Japanese officials.
(One memory of that
trip: South Korea at that time was still a military dictatorship, and I
asked a senior government official about whether the dissident Kim Dae-Jung
might be allowed to return from exile in the US. “People in Korea have
hardly heard of Kim Dae Jung,” replied the official. “It’s only in the US
that he’s well-known. In Korea no-one cares about him.” Kim Dae-Jung is of
course now president of South Korea. I sometimes wonder what’s happened to
that official. Another memory of the trip is that the Wall Street Journal
removed from one of my reports the sentence: “Many Koreans wish that the
army would concentrate on defending the country, rather than running it.”)
I repeat: it seems to
me that we are set to see a succession of Koreans assuming top positions in
international Christian bodies. Who knows, we could soon also be seeing
Korean missionaries shaking up moribund Christianity by reaching out to a
new mission field – the pagan West.
August 20th, 2002