by Esther Cho and Walter Chung
1.5 generation Korean-American Christians and their attitudes toward missions to North Korea.
Koreans came to the United States as laborers in 1902 and the Korean-American population grew rapidly throughout the twentieth century (Kim 1997, 3). By 2000, the Korean-American population numbered 1.1 million (Barnes and Bennett 2002). Nearly seventy-four percent of them resided in nine states: California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Washington, Texas, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania (US Census Bureau 2003). Since a large number of Korean-Americans (KAs) were Protestant immigrants, the number of Korean-American churches increased dramatically from four in 1905 to over three thousand in the 1990s (Kim 1997, 7). KA churches have also been actively involved in worldwide missions. For instance, since 1988 the quadrennial Korean World Missions Conference in the United States has mobilized over three hundred KAs to become full-time missionaries. The goal of a project directed by the Korean World Mission Council for Christ (KWMC) is to recruit one thousand KA short-term missionaries, particularly among KAs who are not first-generation immigrants. This active involvement in missions may have been partly influenced by the South Korean Church because many KA churches still maintain strong ties with the Korean culture and Korea. In the past decade the South Korean Church has become the second largest overseas missionary sending church in the world, sending out over 10,600 missionaries to 156 countries worldwide (Park 2002, 111). Reaching the unreached people is now the mission focus of the South Korean Church, indicated by the large percentage of Korean missionaries working in the 10/40 Window.
Ironically, on the other side of the Korea Peninsula, over twenty million North Koreans are completely isolated from the gospel. North Korea has long been regarded as the most repressive nation where Christians are persecuted the most. Due to famines, nuclear threats and human rights violations, missions to North Korea have drawn serious attention in recent years. Christian Solidarity Worldwide has mobilized churches around the world to participate in a week of prayer for North Korea. Some Christian organizations have been reaching out to North Koreans via humanitarian aid and investment. Missionaries, many of whom are from South Korea, also have been providing help to North Korean refugees in the northeast region of China. The importance and urgency of missions to North Korea has been clearly illustrated by the World Center for North Korea Missions:
North Korea may collapse at any moment. However, the Christian Church is terribly unprepared for the evangelization of North Korea. First, very few Christians are aware of the dire conditions in North Korea. Second, very little knowledge sharing or training for North Korea missions is taking place. Third, no network is in place to coordinate a mass mobilization of missionaries and mission teams in the scenario of a sudden collapse. As a result, aberrant cults such as the Unification Church are probably more prepared and could likely have greater success in North Korea than the Christian Church. (World Center for North Korea Missions, n.d.)
We therefore conducted a survey to examine how 1.5 generation KAs perceive the needs of missions to North Korea. The 1.5 generation KAs are those who migrated to the United States when they were young and grew up under the influence of both Korean and American cultures. Due to their diverse cultural background, the general impression is that this unique group of people may be good missionary candidates.
In this study, 101 1.5 generation KA Christian adults were recruited from three large KA churches in a metropolitan city. Among the participants, fifty-six were male and forty-five were female. Their average age was twenty-six and their average number of years residing in the United States was thirteen. Most participants had a bachelors degree or above (seventy-seven percent). All participants were asked to complete a survey which included questions about the attitudes and knowledge of missions to North Korea, the means used to learn about missions/mission news and the willingness to be involved in missions to North Korea.
MISSIONS IN NORTH KOREA: THE RESULTS
Using a five-point Likert scale (1=Strongly Disagree, 5=Strongly Agree), participants were asked questions in three areas: (1) the role of KA churches in missions in North Korea, (2) the positive impact of missions to North Korea on KA churches and (3) the extent of the local church’s involvement in missions in North Korea. These results are found in Table 1 below. First, participants were asked to rate whether missions to North Korea is important to KAs, whether KA churches have the responsibility of bringing the gospel to North Korea and whether KA churches should be actively involved in missions to North Korea and mobilizing their congregations to be involved. The average score was 4.2, indicating that participants in this study believed KA churches should play an active role in missions to North Korea. Second, participants were asked to rate whether missions to North Korea can increase their exposure to Korean culture and bring spiritual growth to them as well as Korean churches. The average score was 3.9, indicating that participants believed involvement in missions to North Korea can have a positive impact to them and to KA churches. Third, participants were asked to rate whether their local churches should provide more information and should be more active in missions to North Korea. The average score was 3.8, indicating that participants believed their local KA churches should be more actively involved in missions to North Korea.
Next, participants were asked about their current knowledge of missionary ministries and situations in North Korea. As shown in Table 2, although eighty percent of participants reported that they knew about the existence of famine in the country, they were ignorant of most of the missionary ministries and situations in North Korea. Over eighty percent of participants did not know about the mission organizations, mission opportunities, conditions of North Korean churches and social welfare and health care systems of North Korea. Slightly over half of the participants indicated they knew about the existence of religious persecution.
Table 3 indicates information about North Korea that 1.5 generation KA Christians would like to learn more about. Most participants would like to know more about North Korean churches, mission organizations and mission opportunities.
Using a 5-point Likert scale (1 = Strongly Disagree, 5 = Strongly Agree), participants were asked to rate their personal sense of responsibility toward North Korea missionary work, their willingness to be involved in short-term and long-term missions and their willingness to be prayer and financial supporters for the missions. The data suggest that participants tended to be more willing to be involved in short-term missions and be prayer and financial supporters, but were unsure about the extent of their personal sense of responsibility and role in long-term missions.
A standard regression analysis was conducted to determine if a 1.5 generation KA Christian’s total willingness to be involved in missions to North Korea was predicted by his or her local church support, social support, faith maturity, age, number of years in the US, short-term mission experience, gender, educational level and marital status. Results indicated that both local church support and social support were significant positive predictors of involvement in missions to North Korea. In other words, a 1.5 generation KA Christian is more willing to be involved in missions to North Korea under the following two conditions: (1) his or her local church is actively involved in missions to North Korea, actively provides information about the culture and life in North Korea and actively provides information about mission opportunities in North Korea and (2) his or her participation in missions to North Korea receives peer as well as parental support.
The preliminary findings suggest that the following strategies may be helpful for mission organization administrators, field missionaries and local KA church leaders in mobilizing 1.5 generation KA Christians to reach out to North Korea.
Mission Organization Administrators
1. The focus of mobilization should be on assisting the 1.5 generation KA Christians to take concrete actions to engage in missions to North Korea.
2. Mission organizations should provide information via regular meetings, educational programs and seminars in local churches on both the current situation in North Korea and mission opportunities. Such information would expose 1.5 KA Christians to concrete mission needs so that they can become involved gradually. The security concern may hinder mission organizations from sharing specific mission information in North Korea. One current major detriment in missions to North Korea among 1.5 generation KA Christians is their ignorance about mission organizations, mission opportunities and situations of North Korea.
3. In coordinating mission conferences and seminars for KAs, mission organizations may need to put more emphasis on targeting local church leaders (i.e., pastors, elders and small group leaders) rather than the general congregation. Many Korean-American churches continue to maintain a hierarchical and patriarchal structure due to the tradition of Confucian ethics (Kim, Warner and Kwon 2001, 14). This may explain why most 1.5 generation KA Christians rely on their local church leaders and small groups/fellowships for mission news. Therefore, rather than conducting nationwide conferences, it may be more effective for mission organizations to hold local mission conferences so that more local pastors can be involved. All these strategies could be applied to other Asian immigrant churches such as Chinese, Japanese, Indians and South East Asians in the United States because they tend to share similar church structure.
4. A large percentage of 1.5 generation KAs are highly educated, with over seventy-seven percent of the participants holding at least a bachelors degree. Many 1.5 or second generation Asians in the United States are highly educated because their immigrant parents tend to emphasize the education of the children. Therefore, 1.5 generation KAs (and other 1.5 generation Asian minority groups) could be ideal candidates for tentmaking professions to work in closed countries like North Korea (Yamamori 1987, 56). This intellectual group also relies more on new technology for communication. The Internet, therefore, could become an effective means of reaching out to this group and be a tool of mission mobilization.
5. Based on the fact that the 1.5 generation KA Christians are more reluctant to be involved in long-term missions in North Korea, missionary organizations should work with local churches to first encourage their congregation to support the missions to North Korea prayerfully and financially. Following that, they could mobilize them to be involved in short-term missions. As the exposure to North Korea missions increases, it is likely that more 1.5 generation KA Christians will be willing to commit themselves to long-term missions.
1. Field missionaries serve an important role to inspire 1.5 generation KAs to be involved in missions to North Korea by providing or coordinating short-term mission opportunities. This kind of field experience is essential to help 1.5 generation KAs truly understand the needs of North Korea and how they can be involved with missions.
2. Because almost half of the 1.5 generation KAs turn to local church missionary reports for mission news, field missionaries could be ambassadors to provide first-hand testimonies to KA churches regarding the situations and needs of churches in North Korea. Testimonies can be done in various formats such as live and pre-recorded video presentations.
Local Church Leaders
1. Local KA church leaders need to play an active role in reaching out to North Korea in order to mobilize congregation members to be involved in missions to North Korea. Church leaders could organize regular short-term mission trips, support existing missionaries to North Korea and provide specific information on North Korea and mission opportunities to their congregation.
2. KA churches tend to be small in congregation size (Warner 2001, 44), therefore, collaboration is necessary. Not many local KA churches have enough resources to independently conduct conferences, seminars or mission programs about missions to North Korea. Collaboration among local KA churches is necessary to offer these mission programs to 1.5 KA Christians. Local churches also need to collaborate with international or national mission organizations that are already engaging in missions to North Korea.
3. Other than reaching out only to 1.5 generation KA Christians to recruit them as missionary candidates, effective mobilization should also involve reaching out to their parents and friends. Seminars, testimonies and visitations may allow family members to have a better understanding of the ministry. Peer groups should be organized to provide spiritual, emotional and material support for the missionary. Such encouragement from parents and peers would increase the willingness of 1.5 generation KA Christians to engage in missions to North Korea.
Findings of this study are to be interpreted cautiously because participants were all recruited from the same metropolitan city. A replication of this survey in other cities is strongly recommended. Nevertheless, this study confirms the necessity of careful planning in mobilizing 1.5 generation KAs to engage in missions to North Korea. In Matthew 25 Jesus said,
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me….I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did for me.
We will find many of the least of these brothers and sisters among the North Koreans.
Barnes, Jessica and Claudette Bennett. 2002. “The Asian Population 2000.” Census 2000 Brief. Retrieved November 15, 2006 from http://www.census.gov/populationj/www/cen2000/briefs.htm.
Hurh, Won Moo and Kwang Chung Kim. 1990. “Religious Participation of Korean Immigrants in the United States” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 29(1), 19-34.
Kim, Jung Ha. 1997. Bridge-Makers and Cross Bearers. Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press.
Kim, Kwang Chung, Stephen Warner and Ho-Youn Kwon. 2001. “Korean American Religion in International Perspective.” In Korean Americans and Their Religions. University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 3-24.
Park, Timothy. 2002. “A Survey of the Korean Missionary Movement.” Journal of Asian Mission, 4(1), 111-119.
US Census Bureau. 2003. Summary File 4 (SF 4). Retrieved November 15, 2006 from http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/203/SF4.html.
Warner, Stephen. 2001. “The Korean Church as Case-Model.” In Korean Americans and Their Religions. University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 25-52.
World Center for North Korea Missions (n.d.). Vision statement. Retrieved November 15, 2006 from http://www.nkmissions.com/misc.php?id=77_0_1_0_C.
Yamamori, Tetsunao. 1987. God’s New Envoys: A Bold Strategy for Penetrating “Closed Countries.” Portland, Ore.: Multnomah Press.
Esther Cho is coordinator of Philadelphia Health Management Corporation, a non-profit agency promoting social justice. She has been a short-term missionary on the border of China and North Korea. Walter Chung is associate professor at Eastern University, specializing in the areas of research, Christian counseling, multiculturalism and career development. He and his wife ministered to Chinese students and young professionals for over ten years.
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