The Pyongyang Revival 100 Years Later

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SEOUL, South Korea - On January 14, 1907, a group of Korean Christians and Western missionaries met in Pyongyang for a Bible study in a church on the outskirts of the city.

Halfway through, God began to move.

"They knew that the only way to survive was to depend on God," Rev. Ji Il Bang of North Korean Church said.

One by one, the men confessed their sins to each other-- sins of racial prejudice, hate, anger, and jealousy.

Bang said ,"They knew that nothing was impossible with God, and so they called on Him for forgiveness."

God answered and revival broke out. In the ensuing months, thousands repented publicly, including elders of churches and foreign missionaries serving in Korea.

"And out of that, they say, they think came the work of the Spirit that finally broke out as at Pentecost," Prof. Samuel H. Moffett, son of a missionary to Korea, said.

Thus began the Great Pyongyang Revival of 1907.

"In 1907, Pyongyang became known as the 'Jerusalem of the East,'" Bang said.

Churches sprouted up everywhere, and they grew fast.

The prayers of repentance swept across the Korean Peninsula. People walked hundreds of miles to attend revival meetings.

"In other words, the spiritual change was a repentance movement. Believers confessed their sins and were born again," Pastor Han Hum Oak, from Korean National Association of Christian Pastors, said. "They even apologized to non-believers who they were at odds with."

The revival lasted some 40 years touching all levels of society including those in political power.

Andrei Lankov is a professor of Asian history in Seoul. He said, "Pretty much every single important Korean Communist of the 40s, 30s, and 20s came from a Christian family with very few exceptions."

Even North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Il was exposed to Christianity. His grandparents were active members of a Protestant church.

"In Korea, Christianity was a religion of modernity modernization, progress, science, technology," Lankov said.

But the brutal 40-year Japanese occupation of Korea tested the faith of these believers.

According to eyewitness accounts, Christians endured a lot of persecution then but in the midst of their suffering God was moving.

"The Japanese forced us to bow to the Japanese Emperor," Bang explained. "So many of us refused and were imprisoned. Some were tortured and killed. But the more the church faced persecution, the more we grew."

By the late 1940s, some 3,000 churches were operating in Korea. Illiterate people began reading the Bible. Missionary schools and hospitals were being built.

"It was maybe the greatest success story of the Protestant missionary movement in East Asia," Lankov said.

But 100 years later, the story in Pyongyang could not be more different. Christians now are routinely tortured, raped, starved, and executed.

Lankov said, "It is one of the most repressive policies in regards to religion the world has ever seen. They are worse than Stalin. They are probably as bad as Mao and probably slightly better than Pol Pot!"

Church leaders in South Korea have declared June 25 through July 1 as a special week of prayer for North Korea. Korean Christians have held prayer rallies like this one asking God to reunite and revive their nation.

"Forgive us Lord! We confess our sins," they pray.

David Yonggi Cho, a South Korean, pastors the largest church in the world. For decades, he's been preparing teams of young pastors to be ready to share the Gospel once the doors open in the North.

Cho said, "We are praying that God will speed up the intervention in North Korea."

Cho and others are calling on the global church this week to remember those suffering for their faith and to pray that God will bring another revival in North Korea.

 *Originally aired in June 2007.

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