Lacking in faith, the preacher found his calling

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Lacking in faith, the preacher found his calling

The Reverend R.A. Hardie had failed. Thoroughly, utterly and through his own fault.

He had been sent to Korea in 1890 by the University of Toronto YMCA. After 13 years, he had accomplished almost nothing. And, he believed, it was because of his poor personal example; because of "pride, hardness of heart and lack of faith."

He was moved to admit just that, to his congregation at a prayer meeting in Wonsan in 1903. By the time he had finished speaking, tears were streaming down his face.

Then something odd happened. One after another, the parishioners made similar admissions, also in tears. They prayed together and, by morning, were filled with new conviction and joy.

The spirit had descended. The Pentecostal movement had come to Korea. Indeed, it began here. Its traditional date of origin, at an African-American church in Azuza, California, is four years later.

And Rev. Hardie, of Toronto, had found his true mission. He traveled up and down Korea during the next few years preaching the spirit. Wherever he went, people began praying all night ?openly confessing sins, speaking in tongues.

Lord William Cecil reported on an early meeting for the London Times: "A rush of power from without seemed to take hold of the meeting. ... Some [people] were springing to their feet pleading for an opportunity to relieve their consciences. ... Others were silent, but rent with agony, clenching their fists and striking their heads against the ground in the struggle to resist. ... And so it went on for several days."

Others began preaching in this vein, notably Kil Son-chu, Choi Ja-shil and Cho Yong-gi.

Cho Yong-gi, raised Buddhist, contracted tuberculosis as a teenager. Expecting that Cho would die, a Christian neighbor suggested that he pray to Jesus. Cho had not heard of Jesus, and asked who he was. "This is a children's story," he declared, once he had heard.

Yet, Jesus appeared to Cho one night and healed him. From then on, Cho preached his new faith. His first sermons, in 1958, were in a surplus U.S. Army tent in his yard. His listeners sat on rice bags; his pulpit was an upturned apple crate.

When the spirit moves, no one knows where it may go. Today, Korea is the world's fastest-growing Christian mission. Five of the world's largest congregations are in Seoul, all broadly in Hardie's Pentecostal tradition. Biggest of all is Cho Yong-gi's Youido Full Gospel Church.

According to Guinness, it has the world's largest membership. One in every 20 people in Seoul belongs ?over 700,000 souls. It has more than 250 sister churches throughout Korea and beyond, linked for services by satellite transmission. It has its own police force, directing traffic on Sundays.

Some 10,000 of its prayer groups meet weekly. Thirty-six thousand children attend Sunday school, filling a 13-story building. It runs seminaries in Los Angeles, Berlin, Kobe and Chicago. Its missionaries are in 33 countries (largest mission field: the United States). It runs its own daily newspaper, the Kukmin Ilbo. It has 171 ordained pastors. It owns its own mountain, topped by a shrine shaped like Noah's ark.

There are few greater spectacles anywhere than its Sunday service. The main hall seats 25,000, with simultaneous translations in six languages. Rev. Cho, one of the world's great speakers, is seen both at the pulpit and, larger than life, on a projection screen worthy of Radio City Music Hall in New York. Hymns are by a choir of 2,000, backed by a full orchestra. And when the speaking in tongues begins, it sounds like Niagara Falls.

God moves in mysterious ways. R.A. Hardie's failed mission now has perhaps 30 million adherents throughout the world and is still growing. Upon such failures, God has built his church.

To visit, take subway line No. 5 to Yeouinaru Station and walk west. On Sundays, just follow the crowds. Dr. Cho gives the sermon at 9 a.m.,11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

by Stephen K. Roney

Stephen Roney teaches at University College of the Cariboo, in Kamloops, British Columbia. Visit him on the Internet at
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