Busan, Korea—’Full of Expectation’

By Sang Gyoo Lee   •   August 31, 2007

That summer, in the little port city of Ham Kyung Nam Do, in what is now North Korea, both the missionaries and the Korean Christians experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This revival spirit was felt again in 1904, 1905 and 1906. But the great manifestation of the Spirit took place most resoundingly in January 1907 in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

A large group at a Bible study conference broke out in audible prayers of repentance. Individual after individual arose to confess sins openly. Missionary W.N. Blair described it as “a meeting the like of which I had never seen before. Every sin a human being can commit was publicly confessed that night. Looking up to heaven, to Jesus Whom they had betrayed, they smote themselves and cried out with bitter wailing, ‘Lord, cast us not off forever.’ Everything else was forgotten. Nothing mattered. The scorn of men, the penalty of the law, even death itself, seemed of small consequence if only God forgave.”

The work of repentance resulted not only in confession of personal sins. Those who repented looked for people whom they had financially damaged or physically injured and then compensated them for their loss and formally apologized. Similar waves of the revival spread across the city and were repeated in other cities in Korea before moving into Manchuria and China. The revival in these years contributed to the unity of the Korean Church and provided a great source of power to overcome persecution during the Japanese occupation of 1910-1945.

Many people say that the revival also happened in the city of Busan, but there the spiritual awakening was not of the same magnitude as in the north. That is why–100 years later–we are anticipating and praying for a new awakening with the Busan Franklin Graham Festival Oct. 18-21. As the revival in 1907 began in Pyongyang and spread down the peninsula, we pray that a new revival materializes in Busan and spreads back up to the north. We have great expectations that 2007 will be the “Rebirth of Busan.”

The Busan Franklin Graham Festival holds additional significance. Busan is the second-largest city in Korea and its largest port city. Historically speaking, Christian foreign missionaries first launched out in Korea from Busan. Yet in spite of this symbolic first contact with Christianity, Christians make up less than 10 percent of the city’s population. This low number makes a strong case for holding a Festival in Busan.

Buddhist influence and coastal superstitions may have slowed the spread of the Gospel in Busan. And because Busan is geographically close to Japan, Japanese indigenous religions have also penetrated the minds of many people.

Pyongyang, in the north, was unreservedly open to new ideas. Busan was quite the opposite. The ancestor worship aspect of Confucianism was stronger in the south, and its influence made the region less open to new beliefs such as the Gospel. This mindset is still prevalent in Busan.

As we look forward to the evangelistic opportunity of the Franklin Graham Festival, we look back at the great impact the 1973 Billy Graham Crusade had on the Church in Korea. In 1973 I was a university student. I went up to Seoul by train to attend the Crusade meeting and was overwhelmed by the climactic display of Christian strength.

In six cities, more than 3.5 million people attended meetings. On the last day alone, more than a million Koreans packed the Yoido Plaza in Seoul–perhaps the largest crowd ever gathered to hear an evangelistic message. More than 100,000 decisions were recorded, and many Christians recommitted themselves to Christ. The significance of that Crusade, however, was not in the enormous numbers, but in the profound influence it had upon the Korean Church.

Faction-torn churches set aside their differences to work together to reach their nation. At the time of the Crusade, the Korean Protestant population was 3 million. By 1975, the membership of the Korean church increased to 4 million and then to 7.6 million by 1980. In the late 1970s, six new churches were planted every day, and 600,000 new church members were reported every year.

The impact of the Crusade is visible in the Korean Church. One example is the Asian Center for Theological Studies and Mission, which was established to pursue evangelism and missionary work across Asia.

The evangelical movement became mainstream within Korean Christianity and in 1989 was the impetus to form the inter-denominational Christian Council of Korea. Denominational barriers were broken, and church leaders were moved to join together in witness and in organization.

Finally, the Billy Graham Crusade inspired Korean Christians to shoulder their own responsibility for evangelism and for world outreach. Until the early 1970s, fewer than 15 Korean missionaries were working around the world. But after the Crusade, the Korean Church began to participate in the task of worldwide evangelism. According to Seung Sam Kang, director of the Korea World Mission Association, now 16,600 Korean missionaries are working in 173 countries.

Leading up to the Franklin Graham Festival, the unity among leaders and ministers is remarkable. We are full of expectation and hope about how God will do His work in this generation in Busan–and in Korea.