A Real Church
by Rob Weingartner
Samuel A. Moffett arrived in Korea in 1890, appointed as a missionary by the Presbyterian Church. After several trips to the northern part of the country, he decided to work in Pyongyang, becoming the first Protestant missionary to take up long-term residence in inland Korea.
He faced much opposition and many difficulties. He was spat upon, shunned and, on one occasion, even was stoned by a group of young men. But he deeply felt called to the work. He remained steadfast, focusing on preaching the Gospel and founding schools.
The work progressed, year by year, and in the first graduating class of the seminary he founded, Presbyterian Theological Seminary, there were seven students. They graduated with a profound sense of gratitude and a desire to honor God. “We’re leaders of a new church, the church in Korea,” they understood. And they went on to ask a question: “What does a real church do?”
As Koreans are wont to do, they went away to a mountain on a retreat together to discern God’s leading, to read God’s Word, for a time of discerning prayer. And they decided that they would themselves send out a missionary, because that’s what real churches do; they reach out beyond themselves to share the Gospel. They exist for the sake of others. But who would go?
As one, the group turned to one of their number, a man named Rhee Gipoong, and said, “You will go!” “I’m willing to go,” he said. “But why me?” “Because you were the leader of the group that stoned Dr. Moffett!” they replied.
They sent Rhee Gipoong to begin work in China, work that continues to bear fruit to this day. Not surprisingly, he faced much the same reception that Dr. Moffatt found when he took up his work years before.
When Moffett first reached Pyongyang, there was not a single Christian to be found; by the time he retired as a missionary, there were hundreds of churches in the area. But perhaps his greater legacy is a Christian community – the church in Korea – that has become one of the greatest sending churches in the history of the Christian movement.
Dr. Moffett’s ministry, and that of his students, brings to mind Paul’s reassurance in Galatians 6:9 – “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”