Awakening the Hermit Kingdom: Pioneer American Women Missionaries in Korea

by Katherine H. Lee Ahn

A key theme permeates this book: the power of educating women, which proved to be an irresistible social force for reformation.

William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 447 pages, 2009, $25.99.

Reviewed by Young Lee Hertig, instructor at Azusa Pacific University; southern California director of ISAAC (Institute for the Study ofAsian American Christianity) and AAWOL (Asian American Women on Leadership).

In this rare but timely hybrid perspective, Katherine H. Lee Ahn shares compelling stories of pioneer American women missionaries to Korea. The forward is by Samuel Hugh Moffett, the famous Presbyterian missionary to Korea. Awakening the Hermit Kingdom documents powerful birthing narratives of Korean Christianity and the role of women from both shores that accompanied Korean revival.

From the context of revival on the U.S. shore, from 1885 to 1907 pioneer Protestant missionary women from the U.S. (who were also the first generation of women professionals in the U.S.) sacrificially paved the way to one of the most secluded spaces—the homes of Korean women. Ahn invites the readers to travel with her to the period when Christianity in Korea took off from woman to woman.

A key theme permeates this book: the power of educating women, which proved to be an irresistible social force for reformation.

Closely tied to this was the power of the revival context in the U.S in which the women missionaries’ responded to, and which, in turn, ignited Korean revival. Pioneer missionary women’s cultural context of revival provided Korean women fuel for education. In light of this, I wonder what kind of potential the current women of higher education can fulfill in the Church today. Although many contemporary church women hold Ph.Ds, yet they find restricted gender roles in the household of God. I wonder what kind of convergence is needed to make Christianity more gender inclusive. Furthermore, the sacred values of pioneer women missionaries, indeed, counter today’s  materialistic and individualistic values. I imagine the book to be a source of inspiration to a younger generation of women who live in a highly consumerist society. For this reason, I deeply appreciate the tireless labor Ahn invested in her thorough research.  

This book has several additional benefits. First, the photos included in the book provide a peek into Korean history. Second, the fact that the book is written in English makes it readily available to the designated audience—Korean Americans desiring to learn the birthing narratives of Korean Christianity, the root of their own Christianity today. Awakening the Hermit Kingdom is a well researched, must-read book for those in seminaries, religious departments, and local Korean American churches. Readers will better understand the legacies of the pioneer women who played vital roles as cultural brokers for pioneer missionaries.

Check these titles:
Kwok Pui-Lan.1992. Chinese Women and Christianity, 1860-1927. Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press.

Robert, Dana. 2002. Gospel Bearers, Gender Barriers: Missionary Women in the Twentieth Century. Maryknoll, N. Y.: Orbis Books.


EMQ, Vol. 46, No. 3, pp. 365-366. Copyright  © 2010 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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