Speaking Their Language

How can the gospel reach remote groups like the Uyghurs—a group much in the news as the Chinese government has subjected them to what the U.S. deems genocide? One answer lies in the missionary zeal of the South Korean church.

The country boasts 10 million Protestant Christians—20% of the population—and tens of thousands of churches, which have birthed an incredibly strong momentum for taking the gospel to other countries. South Korea is the world’s second largest source of Christian missionaries today. Some of these Korean missionaries have gone to China, finding work alongside Uyghur Christians there and creating a foothold for the gospel.

But in recent years, the Chinese government has forced these missionaries to return to South Korea. They came home with a love for the Uyghur people and an ability to speak their language—returning with a desire to find a Uyghur diaspora in South Korea.

Meanwhile, South Korea has been rapidly expanding its program of migrant workers. The largest share, by far, comes from China. Some of those people are Uyghur.

In total, some 2.5 million foreign workers from 96 different countries are in South Korea today. After China, they come from (in descending order) Vietnam, Thailand, the United States, Uzbekistan, Russia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Mongolia, Nepal, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Japan, Taiwan and Myanmar. These workers represent every major faith group: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.

Bilingual Pastors From Many Countries

Enter the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) of Korea, one of the newest members of the 88-country Alliance World Fellowship. Since 2018, C&MA Korea has grown from two churches to 55. Much of that growth has come from planting new churches among South Korea’s migrant communities—including the Uyghurs.

“Many of these workers have never heard the gospel,” says David Shin, general secretary of C&MA Korea. “We worked with the Alliance World Fellowship to find pastors who could speak their [different] languages. We found various bilingual pastors, and we’ve helped bring many of them to South Korea.”

“Younger people want to learn about Western-style life and education, but they find our lifestyle appealing—especially the love they sense.”

So the C&MA church in Myanmar sent someone who speaks one of the major languages from that country. The same holds true with C&MA churches in Pakistan, Laos, Nepal, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Hong Kong and other countries.

“In many countries, from China to Vietnam to Indonesia, our denomination has had five generations of missionaries serving there,” Shin says. “They are respected and have learned much over the years. Many were eager to come to Korea to help plant churches to serve our migrant workers—from their countries.

“God is using those bilingual pastors,” Shin says. “We thank God for how many people groups are here in South Korea that our global C&MA connections can help reach with the gospel. We call this our ‘in-bound ministry.’” 

Another Kind of Bilingual Ministry

At the same time, C&MA Korea’s leaders have found an opportunity to reach another group, also requiring bilingual pastors. It involves English classes, taught by people who know both Korean and English.

In many sections of South Korea, parents highly value education. In fact, one reason parents don’t send their children to church is so they have more study time. They want their children to have a better shot at being accepted into academic programs, especially at Western-style schools.

This has led to a boom in planting Western-style churches that target a student-age audience. The COVID-19 pandemic drew many Korean American pastors back to South Korea, and many of those pastors have become involved. Shin estimates that around 90% of existing Korean churches have no youth group or college students. 

“We thank God for how many people groups are here in South Korea that our global C&MA connections can help reach with the gospel. We call this our ‘in-bound ministry.’”

“We know what [Koreans] want and need,” he says. “We ask people who are bilingual to teach English classes, which will help these students get into an American-style university. As part of these classes, we not only present the gospel, but we also demonstrate it. We show them how we love Christ through our lifestyle.

“Younger people want to learn about Western-style life and education, but they find our lifestyle appealing—especially the love they sense. In response, they open their mind to Christ,” Shin says.

Too many Korean people know about Christ only as a religious set of rules, Shin explains. “We come with a missionary mindset, approaching salvation in a way that cares for the individual. We become friendly and loving. We show them servant leadership. We show them that Jesus is Savior, sanctifier, healer and coming King.”

This theology and approach is also very appealing to Korean seminary students, according to Shin. They hear reports from missionaries and also from church planters, and they want to be part of this movement to reach the next generation.

“God loves people, and God is always at work,” Shin summarizes. “It’s amazing. This is our future. We thank God for reaching the world from here in South Korea.”

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