Brief Introduction to the Ministries of Overseas Chinese Christian Church in South Korea

It does not matter what kind of nationality you belong to, or in which land you live, we can all see God’s mighty hand working everywhere. He moves and chooses different people for the purpose of spreading his gospel and establishing his Church.

As early as in the Qing Dynasty, some Chinese had already moved to South Korea from mainland China as new immigrants. Some came for business, others came to stay. Many went through great hardship and left behind pitiful stories on this foreign land within these hundred years.

In 1912, Overseas Chinese Christian Church in Seoul was established with the help of a U.S. missionary’s wife, Mrs. C. S. Derming, by a Chinese man named Daoxing Che, who came from Shandong province. During the past ninety-seven years, the church has gone through Japanese rule, turmoil of the liberation time, the Korean War, and post-war flurries and reconstruction. The Body of Christ has experienced crises and tests, chaos caused by wars, an influx of immigrants, and a great shortage of pastoral care. However, during these difficult times, the ministry of the gospel has not stopped; instead, it has successfully prospered. One church has expanded into many churches throughout South Korea, giving the overseas Chinese in all large cities the opportunity to hear the gospel.

Historical Review
The history of the Seoul church can be divided into five periods, each with a unique background. God raised up different ministers with different backgrounds to take care of his church. Moreover, church membership and ministries in these periods were also slightly different.

Characteristics of Church Ministry in the Five Periods

Time Period  Years  Background of the Age  Minister Background  Church Ministry  Ministry's Scope  Ministry's Focus 
First Period 1912-1950  Japanese rule and the liberation   Chinese ministers, with foreign missionaries   Ground-breaking and development   From Seoul as the center expanding into other cities   Overseas Chinese in Korea  
Second Period  1950-1965  Korean war and post-war reconstruction   Lay leaders, with American and Korean missionaries   Development amid turmoil   From Seoul as the center expanding into more cities   Overseas Chinese in Korea  
Third Period  1965-1978  Development Chinese ministers from Taiwan, with American and Korean missionaries   Development in stability   Seoul as the center to set up preaching stations   Overseas Chinese in Korea  
Fourth Period  1978-1990  Growth and stability   Chinese ministers born in Korea   Development in stability   Seoul as the center to support outlying churches   Overseas Chinese in Korea and Koreans  
Fifth Period  1990-2012  Mission and diversified ministries   Local-born Chinese with Korean Christians   Diversification and worldwide mission   Supporting and training   Overseas Chinese in Korea and Koreans  

From the graph above, we can see the church in different periods under ministers with different backgrounds. It moved from ground-breaking to expansion to being established, and from self-support, self-government, and self-propagation to world mission. Seoul Church, the mother church of Overseas Chinese Christian Church in South Korea, is a church which has grown up in difficult, rugged, and changing environments.

Since 1912, the Seoul church has lived through the vicissitudes of the overseas Chinese community. In prosperity and decline, the church comes under the influence directly. At first, church members were mostly native of Shandong; however, few intended to settle down, as they came mostly for business or jobs and had a quick turnover. The Korean War erupted in 1950, the Korean government was divided into north and south, and the Chinese immigrants were unable to return to China. The majority of them had to settle down in South Korea. These overseas Chinese had many opportunities to participate in post-war reconstruction, and life started to stabilize. However, their hearts remained void, giving the church a new turning point to be reconstructed, first in individual families, then in borrowed space at Pearson Memorial School.

Because there were no Chinese ministers, pastoral work was done by foreign missionaries and Korean pastors familiar with the Chinese language. Church membership kept increasing, and finally a piece of land in Seoul was bought in 1958 to construct a church building. In 1959, the new building started to be used, and the church grew in stability.

The Overseas Chinese Emigrate
Entering the 1960s, South Korea overseas Chinese emigrated again, most likely due to the tense situation between North and South Korea, the restless South Korean political situation, and the South Korean government’s policy against foreign immigrants. Because this placed the Chinese people under too many limitations, there arose another upsurge of emigration when these overseas Chinese left South Korea to go to the U.S., Taiwan, Japan, and South America.

In the 1960s, the Chinese people in South Korea numbered about fifty thousand; however, by the 1990s that number had dropped to sixteen thousand. With such reduction of the population, the church felt enormous pressures and perplexities. This greatly impacted its pastoral work and church ministries. In 1965, the church began inviting Chinese pastors from Taiwan to come to South Korea to do pastoral work. Gradually, all Chinese churches were taken over by Chinese pastors.

Chinese Youths Devoted to Full-time Ministry
The American missionary Helen McClain, who joined the church staff, had a heart for young people. She not only opened Bible study groups on Saturdays for the youth fellowship, but also taught English at the Overseas Chinese Middle School. She used the Holy Bible as the primary teaching material. In 1960, Brother Jonathan Liu, the first overseas Chinese youth devoted to full-time ministry, went to Hong Kong to study at the Alliance Bible Seminary. One after another, many overseas Chinese young devotees went to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore to study God’s word. Only a few, however, returned home to serve the Lord.

In 1978, Brother Chuanming Liu, the first Chinese minister who was born and received theological training in Korea, became the church’s senior pastor. Thereafter, more than twenty young men and women devoted themselves to theological studies and served in varies fields worldwide. Along with the upsurge of emigration, many church members left Korea, causing the church work to suffer many losses. Yet from the viewpoint of the entirety of God’s kingdom, this was merely the South Korean Chinese Christians being dispersed worldwide.

New Tide of Immigration and Diversification
In 1992, after China and South Korea established diplomatic relations, there emerged a large number of new Chinese immigrants from the mainland. People in various trades and occupations came to South Korea. According to public figures, there were 320,000 foreign laborers in South Korea—two-thirds of them from China. The next group was university students—over fifty thousand came to South Korea for advanced studies. This gave Korean churches a vision to minister to these people. There were more than two hundred Korean churches around the country which had established a Chinese department.

Chinese churches have been and are going to continue facing various challenges. For example, in the last few years membership of the Seoul Chinese Church underwent diversification gradually. The overseas Chinese are still the majority, followed by the group coming from mainland China, as well as Chinese from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the U.S., Japan, Myanmar, etc. There are also Korean brothers and sisters who have come into the church out of a love for China.

The church has become an international community that has imperceptibly made us expand our heart and turn our eyes to the world for all kinds of missionary service. 

Twenty-first Century Challenges and Equipping
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Paris was developed; at the beginning of the nineteenth century, London was thriving; and at the beginning of the twentieth century New York was prosperous.

Entering the twenty-first century, Beijing and Shanghai compare favorably with each other to rise. In Beijing, the Olympic Games were successfully held, taking the city to a turning point of further development. In 2010, Shanghai will host the World Trade Exposition, which brings about a large-scale metropolitan transformation, making Shanghai a high-tech city through the most advanced modern designs.

Already some people have said, “The twenty-first century is the Chinese century.” Looking from the demographical angle, China has the world’s largest overseas population, the most internationalized, and the most capable to adapt to new environments. Our ancestors roamed into Korea single-handedly to make a living, establishing businesses from scratch, experiencing the vicissitudes, swallowing insults, leading a very frugal life, and enduring great hardships. In the course of time, they settled down, raised their families, and consolidated their careers. A hundred years has passed. Today, along with the increase of Chinese immigrants, the Chinese Christian community has developed their ministries gradually and has grown into several congregations to become the spiritual refuge for the Chinese heart.

As the host nation for the 2002 World Cup Soccer, South Korea saw the influx of up to ten thousand Chinese, deepening the burden of the Chinese Christians in Korea for the new immigrants. Twenty-first-century Chinese Christians in Korea must face a bigger challenge to evangelize the new immigrants from mainland China. When they go back, they could bring the wonderful gospel to their family members. The success of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games has attracted the attention of the whole world, causing more people to care about gospel ministry in China.

Returning to the Native Land to Establish Homeland Churches
There is a Chinese saying: “Ten years to grow a tree, a hundred years to cultivate people.” More than ninety years ago the Overseas Chinese Christian Church was planted through a vision. Now, in our hearts, we also have a wish. We hope that as we face the approaching centennial we may take the grace bestowed upon the overseas Chinese people in Korea, and bring it back to its homeland Shandong by actually planting a church there as a living testimony for the Lord. The gospel came from Shandong many years ago. Now we long for the gospel to be brought back to Shandong. We hope this significant vision can be realized soon.

Chuanming Liu is senior pastor of the Overseas Chinese Christian Church in Seoul, South Korea.