South Korea has a long history of religious observance. Buddhism was introduced in 372 and currently has nearly 11 million adherents worshiping in tens of thousands of temples. Confucianism became the state ideology during the Joseon Dynasty which lasted from 1392 to 1910 but while listed as a religion, is more of an ethical way of thinking and living (but has had profound influence on Korean society).
Roman Catholicism came to Korea in the late 18th century following the baptism of one of the “elite” on a visit to China. Catholics faced significant persecution during the Joseon Dynasty (making Korea the 4th largest contributor of saints) but grew rapidly following the end of the Korean War and now claims over 5 million members.
Protestant Christianity came to Korea with Christian missionaries from North America in the late 19th century. Much of the appeal of the Protestant Church in Korea came from significant investment in schools and hospitals. Today, Protestants comprise about 18% of the population of South Korea, nearly 9 million members.
Combining members of Protestantism and Catholicism nets a total of nearly 15 million members or over half of the population claiming religious adherence, making Christianity the largest faith group in South Korea.
A short trip through nearly any part of Korea will reveal evidence of South Korea’s religious nature. Driving through most any town you’ll often see a steeple or gold Buddha. Here are a few pictures of some of the churches and temples I have seen in my travels:
A Buddhist Temple in Suwon.
The Buddha at a Buddhist Temple in Suwon.
The religious preference chart and some of the information in this post came from http://www.korea.net/AboutKorea/Korean-Life/Religion.
Some other information came from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/08/why-catholicism-important-korea-201481717037383818.html.
One of the side benefits of “deployment” is being able to see and experience different countries and cultures. Another “plus” for me is getting to interact with nationals who are in my denomination in another country. I had that opportunity yesterday when I was able to attend the district assembly of the Korea National District of the Church of the Nazarene at Korea Nazarene University (KNU) in Cheonan, South Korea. District assemblies are held annually by each district in the Church of the Nazarene and is presided over by one of the 6 general superintendents. This year, the presiding general superintendent for Korea was David W. Graves, who I already know from several assemblies and other services in the U.S. Dr. Graves and I have a further connection in that his father (Harold Graves) was the District Superintendent on the Southwestern Ohio District where I grew up and received my first District Minister’s License.
Attending the district assembly and experiencing the welcome and hospitality given me was an extreme honor and at the same time humbling. By the way I was treated, one would think that I was really “somebody” while I was the one being blessed and encouraged!
To drive to Cheonan, the location of KNU, would take over 2 hours, so I took the Intercity Train Express (ITX) from Yongsan Station. The public transportation in Korea is unbelievable. You can get just about anywhere in Korea in some combination of train, subway or bus, not to mention the thousands of taxis always available about anywhere you are. Depending on the station you use, you can get a Korea Train Express (KTX) from Seoul to Cheonan that takes just about 30 minutes and 20,000 won or an ITX that takes about an hour for just 9,000 won. The subway is much cheaper, but also makes a lot of stops so takes a lot longer. The subway is often better than driving, but may not be a time-saver. Once I arrived at the Cheonan Station, I was going to take a taxi to KNU but my first Korean national/Nazarene pastor friend offered to arrange for a pastor in Cheonan to pick me up at the station which saved me some time and a few thousand won.
When we arrived at KNU, I expected to be directed to the auditorium where the assembly would be taking place and grab a seat in the back, but instead I was escorted to a conference room where the district leaders and other VIPs were gathering awaiting the arrival of the General Superintendent and start of the district assembly. Once everyone had arrived, we were all led to the auditorium where I was given a seat up front as the pre-service singing had already begun.
Once I was moved to a better seat (with assembly VIPs) and given headphones to hear the interpretation, the service was underway. I’ll post most of the other pictures with brief descriptions under each one.
The KNU Cafeteria where I, as part of the GS entourage, was provided lunch.
The lunch we were given at the KNU Cafeteria. Some of it was good…some of it requires an acquired taste. The soup was yet to come but was way too hot for me to eat.
Following dinner with Dr. & Mrs. Graves, Mark Louw (the Asia-Pacific Regional Director) & his wife and daughter and several district leaders, at a really good western-style restaurant (I was really ready for a good steak!) we returned to KNU for the ordination service where 14 ministers were ordained and 1 was recognized from another denomination. Beyond the thrill of being part of a service of Nazarenes in a country so distant from mine, the joy of watching future leaders of the International Church of the Nazarene enter into the ordained ministry was great. Here are some pictures from the this night.
Old & New Friends
I think that I was a bit of a novelty at the district assembly, not only as an American but as an Army chaplain. Several people asked to have a picture taken with them and I asked a few, too. Below are some of those pictures with a bit of description (as best as I can remember).
(Sort of) Prepared Remarks
Preachers, ministers and chaplains are always ready to speak when asked to. When I’m in a situation when I think I might be called upon to bring greetings or to report, I have in mind an idea of what I might say. This day was no different. Not expecting to be asked to share, but wanting to be ready just in case (I kept being surprised all day), I had this in mind to say:
It is my honor to represent the Church of the Nazarene as a chaplain in the United States Army.
It is my privilege to serve the Army and my church in the Land of the Morning Calm.
It is my joy to be here today with fellow Nazarenes, brothers and sisters in Christ.
While we do not share a common language or culture, we share a common Savior and Lord. I am truly blessed to be with you here today.