The Gospel for Busan

By Amanda Knoke   •   November 9, 2007

Located on the southern coast of Korea, the city of Busan, with 3.6 million people, is the second-largest city in the country after Seoul. Although the Church is vibrant in Busan, Christians make up only 7 or 8 percent of the population—a small number compared to the rest of Korea. But celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the outpouring of God’s Spirit at the Pyongyang revival in what is now North Korea, Christians embraced and prayed for the Busan Franklin Graham Festival Oct. 18-21 as an opportunity for God to “Do it again!”

Red neon crosses that mark many Korean churches–including Bujeon Church in downtown Busan–poke into the mid-October night sky.

At 4:45 a.m. the narrow streets of the city are lit only with dim street lamps and the light from store signs. Vendors prepare their goods for a day of selling. Pick-up trucks filled with produce line the street. Merchants criss-cross an intersection carting boxes and bags of vegetables. A motorbike zips by with a load of onions. Some early risers–or night owls–huddle around tables in plastic tents on the street side to share a meal under a hanging lightbulb. Less than a half-block away from the bustle, in the driveway of Bujeon Church, a man stands with a lighted baton motioning to vehicles where to park. By 5 o’clock, a collection of minivans has filled the lot at the entrance of the church.

Hundreds of people come to the dawn prayer service every day. On this morning, a praise team in colored t-shirts, specially commissioned for the days leading up to the Franklin Graham Festival, leads the people in singing a rousing Korean version of “Power in the Blood.” Some clap along; some raise their hands. In another song, lyrics about God’s glory filling the world have been altered to a plea for God’s glory to fill Busan.

The backs of pews are fitted with desk-like shelves to hold Bibles open. During the prayer time, members cry out to God. Many rock slightly in their earnestness. As daylight grows near, the supplicants gradually exit the sanctuary.

Outside, Bang-Chung Kwan is ready with a minivan to collect about a dozen passengers.

Kwan comes from a family who had worshipped idols, but after watching his mother and his wife give their lives to Christ, he also came to believe. Now Kwan wakes daily at 3:50 a.m. to drive one of the church’s 10 minivans used to transport people to the dawn prayer service. Kwan is quick to note that other drivers who live farther out wake much earlier for their routes.

Similar scenarios are repeated daily before dawn at churches across the city. “The prayer movement here … is something I’ve never seen before,” says BGEA Festival Director Chad Hammond. “Korean Christians pray at a level Americans would not believe. Prayer is a big part of who they are–their commitment to pray and their commitment to their church. That’s why churches right now are so strong.” He adds that all the senior pastors involved in the Franklin Graham Festival are “dawn prayer people.”

In Ages Past …
One can hardly have a conversation with a Korean Christian about the state of the Church without hearing about God’s work in the past.

Sang-Gyoo Lee, professor of church history at Kosin University in Busan, points to two important events. First, the Pyongyang revival of 1907, in what is now North Korea, provided for a Christian unity in the face of persecution during the Japanese occupation of 1910-1945. The revival also strengthened Christians to keep their faith under the military rule and inspired an evangelistic zeal among them.

Although that revival did not travel as far south as Busan because of the strong presence of other religions, Christians 100 years later are praying that in 2007 the spirit of revival will now start in Busan and travel northward to North Korea, China and the world.

A second important event in Korea’s church history, Lee explains, was Billy Graham’s 1973 Crusade in Seoul. Churches existed, of course, before the 1970s, but Lee says there was never the explosion of Christianity like there was after the 1973 Crusade. At that landmark gathering 100,000 people responded to the Gospel message–having a profound influence on the Korean Church. Namely, Lee says, the Crusade initiated an evangelical trend away from liberalism, an increase in church growth and missionary-sending, and a collaboration and unity between the churches. In short, “There was a crying out for something new.”

The eagerness for churches to work together–a rare occurrence–seems to have stuck, as evidenced by leaders like Sung-Kyu Park, pastor of Bujeon Church, who is less concerned that his church flourish than that revival would come to every church in Busan. Park says that with the downtown location of his church he feels a particular responsibility to evangelism in Busan and a great desire to see God work citywide. “I want to be a Kingdom-builder, not a castle-builder,” he says. His passion filters to his congregation: an elementary school teacher prayed that 18 colleagues would come to the Festival; a pharmacist handed out more than 1,000 invitations, and another member tried to get everyone on his apartment block to attend.

Hong-Jun Choi, executive chairman for the Franklin Graham Festival and pastor of Hosanna Church, was a young adult at the time he attended the 1973 Crusade. “What is left in my memory is Billy Graham’s passion for the Lord,” he says. “His sermon was based on the Word–and through that Crusade the revival of Korea happened. So when we heard that his son would come, we were very excited.” Hammond says that the effects of Billy Graham’s ministry in Korea gives credibility to a Franklin Graham Festival and gives Christians great expectation of what God will do now, three decades later.

Reaching Out
Unlike other areas of Korea where Christianity is the dominant faith, Busan has only 350,000 Christians, the number of members at one of the city’s Buddhist temples. Several pastors say that the idol-worshipping influence of nearby Japan–visible on a clear day across the Korea Strait–contributes to the low Christian population in the southeastern region of the country where Busan is located.

So how do Christians in Busan reach out to those of other faiths? Pastor Choi says that several of his members came from another religion and that their initial observation of a Christian family was likely significant in their conversion. Unbelievers begin to wonder why Christians are so peaceful. Why are they so happy? When hardships come to unbelieving neighbors, friends and family, he says, Christians should be ready. “They know their hope is in heaven and not on this earth. They can go through hardship with thankfulness and happiness because their Hope is in heaven.” Unbelievers see this. And, Choi says, because the Word has power and has the ability to change people just by hearing it, God can transform their lives.

Kyung-Tae Kim is one such transformed life. He describes himself as being like Saul, who was hateful of the Church. Kim was on the path to becoming a monk eight years ago, but now he helps lead prayer efforts at Sooyoungro, the largest church in Busan; he also coordinated the intercessory prayer room at the Asiad Stadium for the Festival. He gets a wistful look in his eyes when he tells how his believing sister pursued him and encouraged him to go to church with her. One Sunday he followed her from a distance into church, and a miracle happened. “God’s love overwhelmed me [when I realized] He actually loved a sinner like me. He actually came down from heaven. He set aside His glory and came to earth for someone like me.” Now Kim says that nothing in the material world means anything to him. Only Jesus. Only saving sinners.

Like other Christian leaders in his city, Kim is sensitive in his witness to those from his previous religion and would agree that “lifestyle” witnessing is key–being kind and gentle and offering hospitality. “But the essence of our hospitality,” Kim says, “must be the Word of Christ.” After he meets a monk, Kim always includes the Name of Jesus somewhere in his conversation.

“The Greatest Ingredient”
Kim has been part of a group that has met every day since 2002 to pray for the revival of Korea. And after praying for months specifically for the ministry of the Franklin Graham Festival, Kim did not actually attend, but spent the four nights with about 60 other pray-ers, kneeling in the intercessory prayer room set up at the Asiad Stadium. Why? “Hundreds of thousands of people can come together, but if Christ doesn’t come, it’s a failure,” Kim says. “The whole Festival is about God coming and having compassion on His people and doing what He wants to do.”

Reports of the magnitude of prayer that went up for the Festival were not lost on Franklin Graham. At a press conference the week of the Festival he was asked, “Of all the cities in Korea, why Busan?” Franklin replied, “Busan chose us. We were invited. … [and] we believe the greatest ingredient in accepting an invitation is looking at the prayer support of the churches.”

And as prayer was crucial in bringing the Festival to their city, it was even more crucial to Franklin as he would step up to preach. He solicited the Korean Christian pastors and leaders: “There’s one thing I ask of you. Most of you are pastors, and we know that when we stand in the pulpit it can be a lonely place; we feel the weight of God’s Word and the responsibility on our shoulders–as [my interpreter and I] stand up to preach, you pray for me, that the message would be clear and that God will honor the preaching of His Word. Pray that God would watch over and protect every word that is spoken into the microphone–that we will be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. As we give the invitation, help us pray for the lost in this city.”

Responding to the Call
Circling the inside of the Asiad Stadium between the upper and lower decks were banners that read “2007 Revival From Busan” and “Do it again!”

Each night of the Festival, footage from Billy Graham’s 1973 Crusade in Seoul was shown on screen. Franklin explained, though, how his family’s involvement with Korea predated his father’s Crusades there–how his mother went to school in Pyongyang in the early 1930s, how his aunt and uncle were missionaries to Korea and how as a child he remembers Korean meals and Korean guests coming through the home. More recently, he said, his relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse, had brought aid to North Korea. “We love the Korean people,” he said.

At the concluding service, the 5,000-voice Festival choir offered their thunderous praise with Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus, which the Tommy Coomes Band followed with a worshipful rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Then, in his final message, Franklin gave a succinct description of the redemption story. “Where did sin come from?” he posed to the tens of thousands who filled the stadium. “The first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve. God put them in a beautiful garden and they disobeyed Him. As a result, sin came into the human race. When I was born, I was born a sinner. When you were born, you were born into sin, and we are guilty–all of us.”

Franklin then surmised that many came to the stadium because they wanted hope, something to dedicate their lives to, someone to follow. “Will you follow Jesus Christ tonight?” he asked. “The Bible says in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

One person who responded to the call to accept Christ at the final Festival meeting was a Buddhist monk.

Many inquirers indicated this was the first time they had ever heard the Gospel message, including one 39-year-old woman who was in tears at the realization of God’s love for her. Later, her counselor text-messaged her, “Congratulations on now being one of God’s children.”

A 25-year-old medical student, invited to the Festival by her professor, was also a first-time hearer and had many questions. Why did God allow for the original sin? Why do we have to go through hardships? Before she heard Franklin’s message, she had wanted to take the responsibility for her own sins–she did not see how she could release them to God. Her counselor explained that only Jesus could grant forgiveness of sins, and we must accept that. The woman prayed with the counselor and asked for her telephone number to call with other questions.

Hope for Years to Come
After six of her friends responded to the invitation to commit their lives to Christ, Nuri Kim, 17, stood mid-field waiting for them. She had attended the Haeundae Beach prayer event (see sidebar) and had been thinking about revival. “My vision of revival is for people all over the world and all over Korea. I personally wanted to go to university in Seoul and not Busan,” she says. “I never thought there would be hope for Busan; I wasn’t very passionate about revival here.” But as churches focused their prayers on spiritual awakening in their city, as the Festival signs went up and Oct. 18 drew near, the city seemed alive with possibility. “[I thought] maybe Busan does have hope; maybe there is hope for revival in Busan. That’s when I began to have passion for Busan. Now I want to pray for Busan.”

The heart cry of Christians in Busan was for God, as He did in Pyongyang, to bring spiritual renewal to their city. But whatever God chooses to do with the 300,000 in attendance over the four days of the Festival and the 7,600 who made commitments to Him, the Korean Church in Busan doesn’t want to stop there.

From the intercessory prayer room at the stadium, Kyung-Tae Kim shares his vision: “We want revival in Korea to be no comparison to the 1907 revival–we want it to go beyond that. We don’t call upon God who made history in 1907 but the God who is making history from today onward. As the north and south of Israel were torn apart [in the Old Testament], North and South Korea are also torn apart. I hope that when revival happens, it will visibly bring nations together–the north and the south of Korea–and that revival doesn’t stop in Korea but will go to the ends of the earth.”

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