the friend online
02 February 2007

International Edition: Comments on Friends' activities in the Republic of Korea (1960)

Transcribed from The Australian Friend, February 20, 1960

South Korea is probably one of the few countries where a graduate from a theological school can still go into a community and form a church that can become self-supporting from the start, Many graduates from the several Christian theological schools in Korea are doing just this-going into a community and, with the aid of the local people, setting up a tent or temporary shelter to conduct religious services. In a short time this is replaced by a more permanent and impressive structure. Throughout South Korea it is now rare to find a village without at least two churches. (In "the village of Won-ju I counted 16 churches while looking from a second-storey window.)

From the great number of churches one would gather that the Korean people are very religious. However, it would probably be more accurate to say that these churches are indications that the people are seeking religion. During the many years of foreign occupation and during the years of foreign and civil wars, living conditions were poor and life was uncertain. Now, in this young republic there is hope, and along with this hope there is a searching for a meaning in life that transcends daily living, People are looking not only to their own thinkers and leaders but also to foreigners for guidance.

The foreign missionaries usually bring with them money and materials from overseas, and with confidence they set up churches and formalised religions. Many graduates from Korean theological seminaries accept these examples, and with equal confidence, and sometimes with equal success, also establish comparable churches. However, there are also many Korean people who cannot correlate this type of religion with the type of life that they must live, or with their religious beliefs. For a long time the Korean people have been oppressed through the police stations and other government buildings, which are the finest buildings in the community. They feel their homes grow smaller with the comparison. Churches seem to be entering this same competition for elegance. High government: officials drive in automobiles, so do the foreign missionaries. There is now a question in the minds of. the people between a desire for the material and. a desire for the spiritual; a question as to achievement available only for a few and achievements possible for all.

The Society of Friends is known to the Koreans mainly through the example of individual Quakers who have visited Korea, and through' the example of the Friends' Service Unit at Kunsan, Korea. These examples have had a strong impression on the Korean people. Some had worked with Floyd Schmoe (a Quaker from Seattle, Washington) in the "Houses for Korea" project, and were particularly impressed by the fact that Floyd and the other foreigners with him lived in a small Korean house in a slum area and worked with their hands to build a home for people who had no home. Others had lived under similar conditions with the members of the Friends' Service Unit and had worked with them on the Kunsan Project in rehabilitating a hospital and in assisting needy people find work and establish small enterprises. They were surprised and agreeably impressed that these foreigners had come. to Korea not to preach, not to build a church, not to make a profit in business, but to work and live with the Korean people on a person-to-person basis of equality, understanding and sympathy.

Reginald Price, of the Washington D.C. meeting (also of I.C.A.), arrived in Seoul, Korea, in November, 1957, at about the same time that I did. We were asked by several Korean people to tell them about Quaker beliefs. As the number of interested persons increased, a group was formed which met at one of our homes once a week. Now, two years later, this group still continues weekly meetings in Seoul, whether or not a foreigner is present. Although the form of this meeting varies somewhat from time to time, the meeting usually starts with a Quaker silence followed by a period of study and discussion on some aspect of "Quakerism." About 50 Koreans have attended this meeting several times; however, the average attendance is from 15 to 20. Aside from my family and the family of Reginald Price, other foreigners also frequently attend. These included some employees of I.C.A. interested in Friends' activities and an occasional Quaker visiting Korea.

In 1958 the Honolulu Mot1thly Meeting accepted into membership Lee, Yoon-Gu and Miss Cha, Shin-Ai of this Seoul Meeting. Soon after this these two Friends were married (October, 1958) in Seoul with a simple ceremony similar to that of Friends. It is of particular joy to Shirley and me that Herbert Bowles participated at this wedding as he had at our wedding at his parents' home in Honolulu 9-1 years before.

Aside from the personal concerns and activities of the members of the Korean Friends' group, two committees have been functioning. The Publications Committee is translating some Quaker literature from English into Korean for multiplication and distribution. (It should be mentioned here that there is a request for this material and the distribution is made only upon request.) Also some of this is being transcribed into Korean "Braille" along with some selected Korean articles for the use of the blind. (The first publication in "Braille" has already gone to many blind groups in South Korea including the island of Che-ju.)

The Social Action Committee, which includes a blind university student and a Korean grandmother, is at present making home visits to people who are sick or who, for some reason, have need of friendship. Nearly all members of this Friends' group have joined into the activities of these two committees.

During his last visit to Korea, Herbert Bowles gave a talk to the Korean Central Theological Seminary (a non-denominational school in which I had been teaching classes in English conversation) concerning his experiences and thinking as a Quaker. After this lecture, the President of the school said to me, "I think that we are all Quakers."

Although on the surface it would seem that there are already enough, or perhaps too many, foreign religious groups and voluntary service agencies in Korea, I am of the opinion that Quaker belief and Quaker practice meet a need in Korea that is not being met by other foreign religious and service groups. There is something unique in the approach of Quakers towards religion and towards social work that appeals to a large number of Korean people. This small Friends' group in Seoul also needs the stimulation and inspiration that can be achieved through contact with overseas Friends and especially with those people who could not work with them in the manner of Floyd Schmoe and members of the Friends' Service Unit.

Arthur Red Mitchell.

The Australian Friend

February 20, 1960

We thank Kim Sungsoo (Stephen) and the Australian Friend for making this article available to us as part of the South Korea section

Arthur [Red] Mitchell


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International Edition: Comments on Friends' activities in the Republic of Korea (1960)
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