I have been in full-time ministry for almost 60 years. Sometimes people ask what are some of the highlights from those years of ministry. Of course, there are many, including the Jesus 79′ Conference in Australia, my first trips to Minnesota, and so on. However, let me share one that was special.
MY FIRST TRIP TO KOREA
In 1979, I was invited, by Dr. Yonghi Cho, to come to Seoul, Korea, to minister in his church, the largest local church in the world, which at the time had over 800,000 people in their congregation.
It all started two years earlier when I was invited to speak at the National Assembly of God bi-annual conference in Melbourne, Australia. Dr. Cho was the main speaker, and I was one of the other speakers.
An unusual thing happened on the Sunday when all the speakers were put into various Assemblies of God churches to speak. I looked at the schedule and discovered I was to share the same service with Dr. Cho at Richmond Temple. I was to speak for 30 minutes, and then Dr. Cho would do the same. I could not help but wonder what he thought of my message. It must have been alright, though, because afterward, Dr. Cho invited me to come and minister in his church in Korea. Nothing, however, resulted from this invitation until two years later.
Dr. Cho was speaking at a conference in Adelaide, South Australia. I went to the conference, and on this occasion, Dr. Cho again invited me to come to Korea. This time a date was set. He also invited me to be on the Board of Directors of Church Growth International, which I have been blessed to be part of all these years. So, in June 1979, I headed to Korea.
I had been at the PTL Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, earlier in the year. There, I had received an unexpected word from the Lord, “You will be in China before the end of the year.” With the invitation to Korea, I thought maybe I could stop off in Hong Kong and take a short trip into China. China, at that time, was only just opening up to tourists and businessmen. On the flight to Hong Kong, I talked to a number of Australian businessmen about going into China. They all told me, “You can never do that. You have to book up months in advance.”
Nevertheless, I stopped off in Hong Kong and on the Monday went to the Chinese Embassy. I found out they had just had a cancelation on a 3-day trip into China the next week, which I would be able to take on the way back from Korea, but that is another story.
I flew up to Korea, where John Hurston and his wife took care of me. I spoke at the mid-week service on Wednesday night, at the Bible School on Thursday, at the All-Night of Prayer on Friday, went up to the Prayer Mountain on Saturday, and then at one of the great services on Sunday. At the services in the church, Dr. Cho was my interpreter.
You can’t go to Korea and Dr. Cho’s church and not be impacted by it all, and indeed I was. There were many things to observe. However, let me mention three of them.
COMMITTED TO GROW
While I was in Korea, Dr. John Hurston gave me a copy of his book “Caught in the Web,” about the cell group system they had in the church. It was something in the forward of the book that caught my attention, written by Dr. Cho himself. He wrote, “How well I remember one of our first staff meetings. With just three of us there, we made the decision that only God would set the limits as to how large Full Central Gospel Church would grow. Little was I to realize that this commitment to growth would later result in God guiding me into forming the unique and powerful cell unit system present in our church today” (J. Hurston & K. Hurston 1956).
As I reflected on this quote, I felt that I had discovered a significant key to the growth of Dr. Cho’s church. It was simply that they were committed to growing, and it is out of that commitment that a great church arose. I realized that there was a difference between being “open” to grow and being “committed” to grow. A little baby is open to growth; its growth is automatic as long as it is cared for. When that baby grows up, it will have to move from just being open to growth to being committed to growth in whatever areas of life he/she is gifted in and called to. Young people may have the potential to become a star athlete, but unless they commit themselves to growth, discipline, training, and physical development, they will never reach great heights.
I realized that the same things apply to our Christian walk. If we are to fulfill our calling as followers of Jesus, we have to be committed to growth. No wonder Paul achieved so much and left such a great legacy. He was able to testify to the Philippians to “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14, NKJV).
The place of prayer in individuals’ lives and the church in Korea was both inspirational and challenging. I had not previously observed such a commitment to prayer. At the services, it was awe-inspiring to hear the whole church speak out loudly in prayer all at the same time without inhibitions of any kind, until Dr. Cho would bring it to an end by ringing a small bell. Likewise, the trip to Prayer Mountain was equally inspiring and challenging. It was there that I met Dr. Cho’s mother-in-law, Dr. Choi, an incredible woman of God and a woman of prayer.
Dr. Choi rose above the circumstances and the poverty she initially experienced. Together with Dr. Cho, she helped start Yoido Full Gospel Church with a tent for a sanctuary. Building the church required many sacrifices and steps of persevering faith to overcome the obstacles and opposition they faced. Prayer was the key. Dr. Choi was the inspiration for Prayer Mountain, where thousands and thousands of people go to pray and seek the Lord. It was a privilege to speak at a service there with Dr. Choi. So, the inspiration and the challenge of prayer – believing, faithful, persevering prayer was there in Korea.
DR. CHO HIMSELF
I was greatly blessed to observe the life and ministry of Dr. Cho himself. I found him to be a humble, anointed servant of God, a man of faith and prayer, a strong man in the Lord. Let me share just a simple incident.
On the first occasion that I preached in the church at the Wednesday night mid-week service, with the church full, Dr. Cho was my interpreter. The story used to be told that if he didn’t like your message, he would preach something else instead. I was not sure that was true, but nonetheless, I was wondering if he was happy with what I said as I preached a message on Psalm 118:5 (NKJV) “I called on the Lord in distress; The Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.”
So, I was wondering what he thought of it all. It was then that he told me, “I liked your message. I am going to use it on my radio program tomorrow morning.” (His radio program went into China). Later on, I thought about it. He didn’t say, “Can I use your message?” He just said, “I am going to use it on my radio program.”
Here was the pastor of the largest church in the world willing to use the message of a little Methodist minister from Australia. He didn’t have to come up with his own ideas all of the time. He could and would use other’s ideas as well. It was a form of humility. We can all benefit from learning from others and using ideas and methods that others have developed.
I have been to Korea several times since that first trip and have always been greatly blessed. But that first trip was one I will never forget. It was insightful and impactful. I am forever grateful to God for the inspiration of Dr. Cho and his church that has impacted the world. He is one of God’s generals, and I am humbled and grateful to have had the opportunity to minister in the church in Seoul, Korea.
Hurston, J. W., & Hurston, K. L. (1956). Caught in the Web: The home cell unit system at Full Gospel Central Church, Seoul, Korea. Mountain Press.