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Korean Revivals

Wonsan Revival Movement (1903-1906)

The Korean Church was founded in 1885, the following year the first Korean was baptised and by the end of 1887 there was seven converts. Eighteen years previously in September 1866, Welshman, Rev. Robert J. Thomas soaked the land in his own blood and became known at the first Protestant missionary and martyr to Korea when he was stabbed, beaten and finally beheaded at Pyongyang.

Korea’s first revival broke out in 1903 and is known as the Wonsan Revival Movement.

In 1903, Methodist missionary, Mary Culler White and Presbyterian missionary, Louise Hoard McCully started a prayer meeting which soon spread to other missionaries. Southern Methodist, medical missionary, Dr. Robert A. Hardie (William N. Blair, missionary in Pyongyang spells his name Hardy) of Gensan, on the east coast had been asked to prepare some addresses on prayer for a little conference the missionaries proposed to hold.

In the course of his preparation, which were based on John chapter fourteen and elsewhere, the Holy Spirit began to teach him many things. Verse twelve of John fourteen speaks of those who believe in Jesus will do “greater works” than what He did. Other portions of the chapter state that we have to ask in Jesus’ name so that the Father may be glorified; Jesus talks about the Helper (the Holy Spirit) who will abide with us and that if we love God we will obey the commandments.

Jonathan Goforth, a missionary to China wrote: ‘Afterwards the Korean Christians met in conference and were very manifestly moved.’ Methodist missionaries held a joint prayer meeting in Wonsan (Won San) at which Dr. Hardie ‘confessed his inability to gain any fruits out of years of activities in the Gangwon province. The congregation witnessed Dr. Hardie’s sincere confession and fullness of the Holy Spirit’ and other missionaries and Christians present also received the Holy Spirit ‘and the fire of revival began to blaze gradually.’

Dr. Hardie said, “When the Holy Spirit came upon me, He first commanded me to confess my failure and its cause before my fellow missionaries with whom I spent most of the day during my missionary life. That was deeply painful and humiliating.” It is unclear whether Dr. Hardie confession at Wonsan was the one and the same as the missionaries conference (where he taught on prayer) or whether he confessed at one of the ten mission centres. But we do know that he confessed on at least two occasions at different locations including the Jagyo Church. At the Wonsan Methodist Church, Dr. Hardie confessed whilst fighting back the tears, “I had a strong racial prejudice against Korean people. I was not filled with the Holy Spirit.” The congregation also asked his forgiveness for hating him and there was deep confession.

For three years Dr. Hardie was invited to hold revival meetings in various areas. He was asked to speak at Gaesung Church where he wept and confessed his sin saying, “My soul has been restored, repent, confess your sins so that you may be cleansed from all your sins and become true believers before the Lord. Your faith will be renewed!” Dr. Hardie visited ten mission station centres throughout Korea and gave his prayer talks; and during 1904, 10,000 Koreans turned to God during a time of revival! It was in this year that the Japanese Russian War broke out and so Korea (especially Pyongyang) was overrun by Japanese troops passing through. The revival thus begun continued in power and spiritual results until the middle of 1906.

Professor Samuel H. Moffet of Princeton Theological Seminary (son of Samuel A. Moffet, missionary to Jangdaehyun Presbyterian Church, Pyongyang) stated that in 1906 there were at least 30,000 new converts in the Pyongyang area alone, “maybe a little larger” but also said, “30,000 baptisms don’t always mean 30,000 new Christians” and it was the revival the following year which really showed them what the gospel meant.

Pyongyang Great Revival (1907-1910)

The second Korean revival is known as the Pyongyang Great Revival (1907-1910). Pyongyang in 1907 was known as a city of wine, women and song. It was a dark city in the early twentieth century with sin abounding and it even had its own Gisaeng (Korean geisha) training school.

At the beginning of the Japanese Russian War of 1904, American missionaries were initially confined to Pyongyang by government order.

In the autumn of 1906, the threat of Russian invasion had passed, but the Japanese did not withdraw. This caused anxiety amongst Korea’s oppressed people who were constantly being fought over by Japan or China. William Newton Blair, a missionary at Pyongyang wrote: ‘With the Japanese occupation accomplished, patriotism was born in Korea.’

At the same time a number of young Korean Christian ‘big heads’ returned from America and caused problems with their personal ambition and true stories of American corruption. Also, America, following Britain’s example ‘hastened to recognise Japan’s control’ which caused an anti-American sentiment to sweep over the land.

In 1907, the Korean Church (Presbyterian) was to become independent of its American Board of Foreign Mission which had been ‘practically self-supporting for several years’ but things did not look good.

In August 1906, the Pyongyang missionaries met for a week of Bible study and prayer. They invited Dr. R. A. Hardie, (Blair spells his name Hardy) to lead them, whose public confession and repentance in Wonsan in 1903 was the beginning of the first Korean Revival (1903-1906).

Their text book for the meeting was the First Epistle of John. Blair wrote that the message became personal and living: ‘We had reached a place where we dared not go forward without God’s presence.’ The missionaries poured out their hearts before Him, and searched their own hearts whilst seeking to meet the conditions. Before the meeting had ended the Spirit showed those present that ‘the way of victory’ is the way of, ‘confession, of broken hearts and bitter tears.’

They decided to pray for ‘a great blessing’ a revival amongst their Korean Brethren and especially amongst the Pyongyang Bible-study classes for men which would take place in January 1907. They left those August meetings ‘realising as never before that nothing but the baptism of God’s Spirit in mighty power could fit us and our Korean brethren for the trying days ahead.’

They knew that the Korean Church needed to repent of hating the Japanese and needed ‘a clearer vision of all sin against God’ because many had professed Christ as their Saviour ‘without great sorrow for sin because of its familiarity.’

In September 1906, Dr. Howard Agnew Johnston, of New York, whilst in Seoul, Korea, informed a group of missionaries (and Korean Christians) about the 1905-1906 Khasi Hills Revival in India.

Jonathan Goforth wrote that because of this more than twenty missionaries from Pyongyang Presbyterian and Methodist missions resolved to meet together to pray daily for ‘greater blessings.’ Over the Christmas period the Pyongyang Christians instead of their usual social celebrations met each evening for prayer. The evening prayer ceased at the start of the Pyongyang General Class but continued at noon for those who could attend.

A Bible colporteur from Kan Kai Church (along the Yalu) of 250 believers, who was also in Seoul, heard Dr. Johnston and encouraged his church to meet for prayer at 5am through the autumn and winter of 1906-1907. For six months they prayed until the Holy Spirit ‘came as a flood.’

The Pyongyang General Class of one thousand began on the 2 January 1907, it would last for two weeks and representatives came from as far away as one hundred miles. The evening meetings began on the Saturday the sixth and 1,500 attended. Blair preached on 1 Corinthians 12:27, members of the body of Christ, and exhorted those present to get right with one another, ‘as discord in the Church was like sickness in the body.’ After the sermon ‘a number with sorrow confessed their lack of love for others, especially for the Japanese’ and ‘many testified to a new realisation of what sin was.’

The Sunday evening meeting had no life in it and they were ‘conscious that the devil had been present, apparently victorious.’ The next day the missionaries met ‘and cried out to God in earnest,’ they were ‘bound in spirit and refused to let go till He blessed’ them. As the people (and only some of the missionaries) entered the church at 7pm God’s presence was felt. After a short sermon, missionary Graham Lee led the meeting in prayer and soon, ‘the whole audience began to pray out loud together.’ It was ‘a vast harmony of sound and spirit, a mingling together of souls moved by an irresistible impulse to prayer.’

Jonathan Goforth, missionary to China, in his brief account of the revival (he visited in June 1907) wrote that Elder Keel, (also spelt Kil and later known as the Rev. Sun Joo Kil) of the Central Presbyterian Church, confessed his sin of ‘Achan’ [see Joshua 7:1, 20-21] in front of 1,500 people and thus the revival began. He had promised a dying man to look after his estate because his wife was unable to, but in the process he had taken one hundred dollars for himself. The next day he gave the money back.

Soon the prayer turned to weeping. Graham Lee wrote: ‘Man after man would rise, confess his sins, break down and weep, and then throw himself to the floor and beat the floor with his fists in perfect agony of conviction.’ The meeting went on till 2am.

Jonathan Goforth wrote: ‘Day after day the people assembled now and always it was manifest that the Refiner was in His temple.’ Writing about Elder Keel’s confession he wrote: ‘It hindered the Almighty God while it remained covered, and it glorified Him as soon as it was uncovered; and so with rare exceptions did all the confessions in Korea that year.’

On Tuesday afternoon, the whole community assembled to give thanks to God. The previous night, Elder Kang You-moon, of the Central Church confessed his hatred of Elder Kim, who was Blair’s assistant in the Pyongyang Church. Kim sat silent. At the noon prayer meeting on Tuesday they prayed for Elder Kim. In the evening meeting, Elder Kim stood behind the pulpit and confessed his hatred not only of Elder Kang, but also of Blair himself and asked for Blair’s forgiveness.

Blair began to pray, “Father, Father” and got no further. Blair wrote: ‘It seemed as if the roof was lifted from the building and the Spirit of God came down from heaven in a mighty avalanche of power upon us.’ Blair fell at Kim’s side and wept and prayed as never before. Some prostrated themselves before the Lord whilst hundreds stood with arms outstretched towards heaven. ‘The cry went over the city until the heathen were in consternation.’ The missionaries had prayed for an outpouring of the Spirit and it had come.

Blair wrote: ‘Every sin a human being can commit was publicly confessed that night. Pale and trembling with emotion, in agony of mind and body, guilty souls, standing in the white light of that judgment, saw themselves as God saw them. Their sins rose up in all their vileness, till shame and grief and self-loathing took complete possession; pride was driven out, the face of men forgotten. Looking up to heaven, to Jesus whom they had betrayed, they smote themselves and cried out with bitter wailing, “Lord, Lord, cast us not away for ever!” ’

Christians even confessed their sins to non-Christians for their past actions and attitudes which greatly affected the city. Even Japanese soldiers came under conviction! Soon Pyongyang became known as the “Jerusalem of the East.”

In Korea, every fifth day was a market day and the merchants would make more money on that day than on eight other days, but when the market fell on the Sabbath, 10,000 men and boys were found in the Sabbath school at Chung-Ju preferring to honour the Sabbath rather than make money.

Mr Swallen, who was one of more than twenty missionaries in Pyongyang said, “It paid well to have spent the several months in prayer, for when God the Holy Spirit came He accomplished more in half a day than all of us missionaries could have accomplished in half a year. In less than two months more than two thousand heathen were converted.’ By the middle of 1907 there were 30,000 converts connected with the Pyongyang Centre.

Mr Swallen, Graham Lee (who was a good singer) and William Blair were the main leaders prior to the revival, but it was Samuel Moffet and Kil Sun Mojo (this Korean rose before dawn to pray for revival) who brought them together from the missionary prayer meeting onward. During the revival, Elder Keel (who had confessed his sin of ‘Achan’) was raised up as a Korean leader. He held meetings everywhere and got the people praying.

In 1907, the Pyongyang Theological School saw seven Koreans graduate and they became the first Korean Presbytery of Korea. Bible study groups increased and there was acceleration in missionary building growth. Illiterate people, especially women learnt the Hangeul script (Korean alphabet), and the understanding that God created all men equal in His eyes led to a greater status for women. The revival also crossed the border into Yeonbyeon and Manju, China.

George McCune who personally witnessed the outpouring of the Spirit on the Korean Church reported that the movement greatly surpassed the one's in Wales and India, describing it as the most empowering presence of the Holy Spirit ever and in 1909, the Movement of Saving One Million Souls began.

The revival was still going strong in 1910 and the afterglow of revival continued for a least a few years after that date in various towns. Goforth wrote: ‘It was clear that the revival had not died down by 1910, for in October of that year 4,000 were baptised in one week [Korean Presbyterians receive a person publicly for Catechumen (catechism) after three months and then after a period of one year examine them to see if they are ready for baptism] and thousand besides sent in their names, saying they had decided to become Christians…’

In Seoul, 13,000 ‘signed cards saying they wanted to become Christians, and in September…the Methodist churches…received 3,000 by baptism.’

William Newton Blair in 1910 wrote: ‘In all Korea today there are no less than 250,000 Christians worshipping God in more than 2,000 places.’ In this year, the Old Testament was finally translated into Korean and The British and Foreign Bible Society through its Bible Colporteurs sold 666,000 books to the people of Korea, most of them single gospels! In August 1910, Korea was annexed by Japan which was the beginning of organised persecution, especially amongst the Christians. From Global Revival, Worldwide Outpourings by Mathew Backholer (2010) and is used by permission.

Korean Revival Statistics 1907-1911

• Jonathan Goforth of the North Honan Mission, China, visited Korea in 1907. He reported that directly west of the capital, Seoul, at the port of Chemulpo, opposite the harbour was an island with 17,000 inhabitants and the churches on that island during 1907 had a baptised membership of 4,247 – therefore 1 in 4 or 25% of the island population were converted. Goforth also wrote: ‘And more than half of them had been brought in that year’ which means at least 12.5% were converted in just one year.

• In 1907, Jonathan Goforth visited Shan Chun, Korea, along the railway north of Pyongyang. Missionaries had only been there for eight years, but there were 15,348 believers and no one is counted unless they attend church and contributes to its support. In the same year the Central Church hived off five country churches and no street radiating from that church had a heathen family left; all had become Christian. In 1916, Mr Foote, a Korean missionary visited the area and attended the First Church where 2,500 were in attendance. The other church on the same evening had 500 in attendance, yet the population was 3,000. Goforth, retelling this fact concluded that the entire town must have been to church.

• Jonathan Goforth wrote: ‘I heard of one place [in Korea] where [a church of] 400 one year had increased to 3,000 by the next. Every 45 minutes, day and night, since the work began in 1884 [though the Korean Church officially began in 1885], a convert has been added to the Church. Whole villages have become Christian.’

• Jonathan Goforth reported that in Korea’s capital, Seoul, during 1910, 13,000 signed cards saying they wanted to be Christians and in September, the Methodists received 3,000 by baptism.

• In 1911, Pyongyang, Korea’s third largest city, where the Korean Revival (1907-1910) first broke out there was 40,000 Koreans, *10,000 Japanese and 8,000 Christians! 1 in 5, or 20% of the Korean population were Christian. *Korea was occupied by the Japanese and Pyongyang was an important location for Japanese soldiers.

• Paget Wilkes, founder of the Japanese Evangelistic Band visited Korea in 1911. He reported that Dr. Underwood had declared that in ‘Seoul and its immediate neighbourhood, at least 10,000 Christians’ attended church on the Sabbath.

• In 1911, Paget Wilkes, wrote about the story of the Sensen Magistrate, a town in the north of Korea, where one in three of the population were Christian. When asked how things were going in his city he replied, “Go and ask the missionaries; they rule in Sensen.” Paget wrote: ‘He had but little to do. Quarrels and differences were settled before the Church, and not brought into the public courts – as St. Paul lays down in the Corinthians letters.’

Korean Revival 1950

Youth for Christ (YFC) was a slogan which sprang forth in 1936, but the movement began in 1944 in America when evangelistic Saturday night youth rallies began. YFC began in Korea when some GI’s held some evangelistic rallies. J. Edwin Orr wrote: ‘Its post-war surge of evangelism reached its cress when Robert Pierce [evangelist and UN correspondent], Robert Findley, Gil Dodds and others leaders saw a local revival break forth in the weeks before the outbreak of war in Korea. [which broke out in June 1950]’

Bob Finely wrote, “When Bob Pierce, Gill Dodds and I were invited to Korea we discovered that our Lord had brought us into the midst of revival that might well have been lifted out of the pages of the book of Acts. I saw revival in Korea. I saw more than 25,000 persons profess to accept Christ as Saviour within six weeks. I saw more than four thousand persons daily at 5am prayer meetings. I saw hundreds continue all night in prayer for days on end. I saw crowds up to 75,000 come together to hear the gospel. In such a movement of the Holy Spirit, our part was incidental. These meetings in which we participated were only a small part of the great revival in Korea. All the while there were other great meetings being held by Korean pastors and evangelists. The revival is a demonstration of the awful reality of the person of the Holy Spirit.

From Revival Fires and Awakenings - Thirty-six Visitations of the Holy Spirit by Mathew Backholer (2009) and is used by permission.

Evangelistic Campaigns and Revival – 1960-70s

From the rapid industrialisation of the 1960s onwards there was an explosion of growth amongst Evangelical churches (and other religions). The evangelical movement held campaigns under the banner of “Thirty Million to Christ” in 1965 and held “Explo 74.”

In 1972, a year before Billy Graham was to hold a multi-denominational campaign in May 1973; 1.2 million people attended the pre-gatherings across the country and out of these 16,700 got converted.

In Yoido Square, located on an island in the Han River, Seoul, 516,000 people gathered (one author states one million) for the main event on the 30 May 1973 and by this time 37,000 people had been converted. Billy Graham said, “I have visited about fifty countries for revival gatherings, but this one is the most meaningful in the Christian history. Spiritual revival is really happening everywhere in Korea.”

Explo 74 was held in Yoido Square in August 1974 and many well known speakers spoke. Under the title “Jesus Revolution-Spiritual Explosion,” 30,000 people from 90 countries joined the gathering which was organised by Campus Crusade for Christ and included programs on evangelism teaching. One evening an attendance of 1.5 million people turned up.

From the late 1970s to the early 1980s Protestants doubled in number.

In 1977, the seventieth anniversary of the Pyongyang Great Revival (1907-1910), the Korean Council of Evangelist held a national revival gathering at Yoido Square. On the first day, 800,000 attended and 300,000 prayed through the night for Korea.

Evangelistic Campaigns and Revival - 1980s

In August 1980, a cumulative total of 10.5 million people attended the four day, Here’s Life, Korea ’80 World Evangelization Crusade (HLK-’80 WEC) at the Yoido Plaza. One and a half million people made a decision for Christ Jesus during the Here’ Life campaign. On the final night, 2.7 million attended. Including the daytime meetings for six days, the accumulative attendance was 16.3 million.

Paul Yonggi Cho, was the pastor of the largest church in the world; the Yoido Full Gospel Church, Seoul, South Korea. In 1982, they saw 110,000 converts, but the church was only able to absorb 60,000 new members, the remaining 50,000 were absorbed into other evangelical churches. During 1982-1983 they saw 230,000 conversions within their church.

In 1984 his church was growing at the rate of twelve thousand new converts each month - this was not transfer growth or sheep stealing!

Korea its land and early missionaries. Go

Recommended Books:

Revival Fires and Awakenings - Thirty-six Visitations of the Holy Spirit

Global Revival, Worldwide Ourpourings

Please Note: The two books recommmended above have a total of 72 different accounts of revivals and awakenings.

Understanding Revival and Addressing the Issues it Provokes

Revival Fire, 150 Years of Revivals

How Christianity Made the Modern World

Recommended DVD:

Great Christian Revivals