Well you've heard of the Yoido "Cho" Church, right? So had I. But I had no idea just how much this church had accomplished over the past few years... until visiting today.
It all started back in 1958... not really that long ago. The time was 5 years after the Korean War. 80% of all Koreans had TB. David Yonggi Cho had just graduated from seminary. His mother, later to be called the "Hallelujah Mama," believed there was something special waiting for her son and prayed as such. That's when it all began... with prayer. Cho asked God what he should and could do "for ourselves, for our family, and for the people of Korea." He felt that God was asking him to pray all the more. In fact, he began to feel as if God was wanting him to spend more and more time in prayer... until Cho could know for sure that his prayer had been =answered=. He began to pray with more and more determination... and God began to speak mightily to him.
Cho bought a used army tent for $50 from the US military. He put it up on the worst side of Seoul. There were gangs, racketeers, selfish hustlers, and others who just wanted to take advantage of everyone they could in life, at any cost. That was Cho's turf. There were many nights he would spend praying the whole night long by himself in that big tent. Finally there were one or two others, but for the most part, it was three or three and 1/2 years before the "windows opened." Cho says that they prayed for healing for a deaf person and he says the deaf person was healed. People wanted to know what had happened. The newly hearing person sent them to "the tent". Cho says the same thing happened over and over with other ailments and problems. One Friday night, Cho, his "Hallelujah Mama" and the new group of newly-healed people went to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and spent the whole night praying for a united Korea (they're still awaiting the answer to that prayer). In fact, Cho's "Hallelujah Mama" called the DMZ the "Devil's Domain". She wanted to pray on a mountain near there, so they actually purchased a mountain 10 miles south of the border where on a clear day you can hear the propaganda from the speakers at the N. Korean border.
Cho views the Bible as if it were ammunition -- but =prayer= is the gun. God began to answer those prayers, Cho says. And now, today, look at what has happened. Just 37 years after those lonely nights in the tent, the Yoido church has over 700,000 members! The primary building seats 25,000 people in one room. Another 17 overflow chapels provide seating for 20,000 via closed-circuit video. In addition, a real-time video link with a building in Japan via fiber optics provides seating (and a packed house) for 3500 more! And packed houses are what Cho is famous for... 45,000 people per service, 7 times every Sunday, 2 times every Wed., and twice on Sat... for a total of 12 services per week ----- all packed!!! In addition, after his first sermon is videotaped on Sunday, seven deacons race to their cars and drive a copy of the video across town to outlying areas where, in 70 "smaller" outlying churches, some 35,000 per Sunday view Cho via delayed video!
Through the present, there's no place to put the 36,000 children during Sunday School, so the church has purchased the building next door for US $40 million dollars! (The annual offerings run in the neighborhood of $100 million/year!) With Seoul's population of 11 million, this all goes to prove that literally 1 out of every 20 people in Seoul attend one of Cho's services each week! In addition, each =day= there are still an average of 3000 people praying at any one time up on that prayer mountain, now famous the world around. Cho himself shows up every morning in his own auditorium and just simply =prays= from 5:30-6:30am. Many from his congregation spend that hour praying with him. He =likes= to spend =3= hours/day.. and is disappointed that sometimes he can only stay there and pray 1 hour. Prayer is, according to evaluators of this movement, one of the three major reasons why the church has grown the way it has.
Another is home cell meetings. They now have 52,000 per week! Each consists of 20 minutes of Bible study (along a set curriculum they've developed over the years), then 40 minutes of specific prayer for the members of the cell. For each person present, they ask "Is there a problem to be solved, a sickness to be healed, a need to be met?" There are thousands of specialized cells... for women, for men, for doctors and other professionals, for Dads, for Moms, for all. The cells are only allowed to meet for 60 minutes and then, those present can be given 1 cookie each, 1 drink each, then they must immediately be sent on their way. This is Cho's way of making sure that the rich aren't guilty of outdoing the poor.
The church has 750 full-time pastors. Each is responsible for 7-10 home cells. Thousands more are Deacons and Deaconnesses. To qualify, you must be born again and attend at least 2 services per week of the congregation. In addition, you must attend the equivalent of 4 months in one of the churches 3 seminaries -- and the classes are tough. (One seminary is open 24 hours/day to allow for night classes.) In addition, you must pick a special ministry in the church.
150 buses bring people in each Sunday. They park on ground donated by the city of Seoul, down near the river (several blocks away). To keep people from having to cross busy streets, Cho commissioned a tunnel that allows them to disembark and travel underground directly to the churchhouse basement. Hundreds of deacons get their ministry parking cars.... and some do so for a full 12 hours on each and every Sunday of the year!!!
Each first Sunday of the month is communion Sunday. It takes 3000 women to handle the chores. 500 of them are designated just to prepare and cut the bread. They work as full-time volunteers the entire week prior to the service just to get ready. Then after communion, it takes the same 500 women another week just to clean up! They serve 45,000 people communion in under 5 minutes flat.
There are 22 "District Pastors" and any one can take over while Cho is traveling worldwide, as he often does. They meet with Cho once per week and Cho tells prospective pastors not to seek the job... unless they realize the level of commitment required.
But there is one final reason for the growth, say the researchers. In addition to the prayer and the home cells, they say that Cho's attitude itself is one of the main reasons for the church's growth. He never seeks the glory. His humility is known the world around. When the church reached 300,000 in attendance, Cho was beginning to feel overwhelmed. One night he awakened in a cold sweat, unable to sleep. He prayed with all his heart and Cho says he heard God say, "Yonggi Cho, This is not your church. It's =my= church. Let =me= do the worrying." Cho did exactly that... and has ever since.
The vast majority of the church's members tithe from their gross income (as opposed to 'net'). That's where they get the 100 million dollars. They give millions of it away. They just completed a special air lift of 40 tons of rice to Mongolia (in part, so their missionaries could continue preaching in Mongolia!). They started their own regular newspaper, the _People's Daily News_, which now has a circulation of nearly 1 million people. It provides jobs for 600 members (and Cho jokes that some of the reporters are paid better than =he= is!). Four pages each day are simply gospel message. Each paper contains a complete home/family devotion.
Cho believed the old Korean proverb that said that "if you have a pony, you take him to Chejedo [a remote island to the south famous for wild stallions and ponies]; but if you have a son, you take him to Seoul." Cho believed that the church needed to provide training for Seoul's sons and daughters who couldn't otherwise afford college. So they started Elam Welfare Town. Six huge city blocks are spread out today waiting to train thousands of less fortunate youth. They train in skills like auto mechanics, carpentry, etc., and they don't have to pay a single dime... not for tuition, not for housing, not for food. What's more, the older folks in the church who have nowhere else to live can come and volunteer at Elam -- and again, pay nothing for room and board until the day they rejoin their Heavenly father. They become surrogate grandparents for hundreds of orphans. And as soon as they graduate, businesspeople in the church snatch them up with new job offers. The college would have cost $30 million -- but it only cost a fraction of that because members of the church helped build the campus as part of their ministry.
They just don't stop. Each month, they send 3 children to the USA for heart surgery -- and they pay for it all with income from huge recycling barrels around the church building. Members bring their used paper and the income is amazing.
And they not only recycle =paper=, they recycle =members=! For example, just during the last two months of 1992 alone, the church "gave away" 20,000 of its members to start new churches in other locations of Seoul.
Cho used to pray an hour a day =just= so that Seoul would elect a Christian president. Tomorrow (Monday), the conference is going to meet in his church (the churchhouse where the President of Korea worships!).
What a change!!! 1/3 of Korea's population now claims to be Christian. What a change!
The story goes on, but you get the idea. An amazing story. An amazing church. An amazing day.
The GCOWE delegates met in the evening back at the conference. Highlights included a main session presentation by Bill Bright, Dir. of Campus Crusade. Graham Kendrick (author of "Shine, Jesus Shine!") sang a song with the GCOWE kids, and Dave Bryant led in a concert of prayer. A highlight included a testimony from a Nepali sister regarding her experience with the growth of the church in Nepal (sent to you as a separate testimony, earlier today). "John" (the piano man, here at GCOWE) did a concert on the pipe organ in the meeting hall -- the largest in pipe organ in all of Asia.
Tomorrow (Monday), we're back in plenary sessions -- but, as mentioned above -- at the church where the President of Korea attends. This is the last day of main sessions together. There are now over 120 subscribers to Brigada-pubs-GCOWENews. And they've all subscribed in just over a week's time! Thanks to all who have joined us... and for those who have sent in notes of encouragement. For example, here's a note from Alabama, USA:
I want you to know that I'm very pleased and impressed with your reports. God's power is indeed awesome! I've been seriously moved by reading what the lord's been doing this week in Seoul. As World Missions Director for Madison Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama, I will be sharing your reports with our congregation tomorrow and praying for you. God bless you and give you strength.
Lee Thomas, I-NET, Inc. NASA, Marshall Space Flight Center
[end of note from Lee]
Thanks for writing, Lee. And thanks for mobilizing your congregation to pray!!! And speaking of prayer, I'd like to ask for special prayer right now...
Today, I've been sensing a special burden for the fact that there are only four days left of this conference. I'm only one participant -- but as for this participant, I was very concerned about the fact that to me, it seemed we hadn't been told exactly what part we were all supposed to play in this giant tapestry that is supposed to be called, the AD2000 & Beyond movement. In other words, how will we honestly pull it off.... the goal of "A Church for Every People, and the Gospel for Every Person by the year 2000." I was feeling that there was no "global master plan." I was feeling as if it was being left to chance. I was asking myself, "Can it be done by Dec. 31, 2000?" I was answering, "Unless someone spells out a strategy in the next four days, I'm not sure there would be any earthly means. It would be totally in God's hands." Then it occurred to me, maybe that's exactly what the leaders of this conference want us to realize. They're hoping we'll take this goal and apply it to our own network, be it country-wide, region-wide, or wider. They're hoping we'll carry it to our 'track' -- be it "Saturation Evangelism", "Denominational Leaders", or whatever. As a result, it feels.... less "organized." (George Verwer says "Where two or three are gathered together, there you have a mess!") It feels kind of as if we're leaving something to chance. On the other hand, the AD2000 & Beyond movement's leaders are probably asking themselves, "How can we presume to forge a global plan among so many varying participants?" And you know what? They're probably right. Even if they tried... it probably would never work. Maybe the world is too complex to divide up into a mosaic of people groups and expect various parts to "claim" various segments of the tapestry. Maybe it won't feel as tidy -- but maybe it's for the best. ......... And, after all is said and done, maybe they're thinking that we toss out the bold goal that would be impossible through man's efforts -- then we all go to our knees knowing that it all depends on God. If God accomlishes it, we will celebrate. But even if He doesn't, we will still have formed a church that looks more like his prayer in John 17. And maybe that, in and of itself, is worth all the energy invested!
So, would you pray with me about these concerns. We've only got four days left.... And I just want to make sure we've done everything we need to do to prepare for the months ahead.
at GCOWE '95 in Seoul