I Will Awake the Dawn: An Experience of the Dawn Prayer Meeting in Korea
by Jeff Ritchie
One of the distinctive practices of the Church in Korea is an early-morning prayer service held at all churches each day of the week. Its origins lie in the practices of Korea’s primal religion, Shamanism, which was taken over by Christians and given Christian content. Its impetus as a regular spiritual discipline came in part from the time when Japan colonized the Korean peninsula, and the Korean people had no recourse except prayer for the freedom of their people. Dawn prayer meetings also were a prelude to and response out of a major spiritual awakening that took place in 1907 in Pyongyang, Korea and spread throughout the country.
While all Korean churches have early-morning prayer services, one church in particular has built a “culture” of dawn prayer meetings to the extent that churches and Christians visiting Korea want to see this phenomenon first-hand. Our group was no exception, and so on the second day of our trip we got up at 4 AM and traveled to the Myung Sung Presbyterian Church to attend the second of four early-morning prayer services.
We found ourselves among hundreds of worshipers. There were hymns, an anthem, and two people praying on behalf of the congregation before the message by the Rev. Sam Hwan Kim, founding pastor/senior pastor of the church. He preached a simple message based on Genesis 22: We should center our lives on God as we begin the day. God gives us our identity. To hear God’s voice and obey it is what gives us life, purpose, and blessing.
Afterwards the group went to a room that showed the history of the church’s commitment to early-morning prayer as a way of life for the church. Then the Rev. Kim and some of his staff treated us to breakfast and introduced the ministries of the church to our group. The Rev. Kim spoke of the church’s commitment to mission – domestic and foreign – as a way of repaying the “debt” they feel toward the missionaries who came to Korea 130 years ago and dedicated their lives to see the church founded in Korea.
He singled out one of their global missions in Ethiopia as “payment” for another “debt.” The Ethiopian government had sent soldiers to fight on behalf of South Korea in the Korean War, and the Korean people were so grateful for their solidarity in that war. At the time of the Korean War, Ethiopia was much more developed as a nation than South Korea. Now the situation is reversed, and so for 20 years the Myung Sung Church has supported an extensive medical mission in that country, building a hospital and establishing a medical school.
The Rev. Kim concluded his time with us thanking us, as representatives of the Church in the United States, once more for what our forebears had done for his country and said, “We are still ready to be your partners in God’s mission if you ask us.”
The day was just starting, but we had already been richly blessed. One of our participants, the Rev. George Pasley, wrote this poem in response to a Bible verse on the front wall of the sanctuary of Myung Sung’s sanctuary, Isaiah 56:7: "My house shall be a house of prayer for all people."
Oh Lord, teach me
Teach me to pray
Teach me to pray for all,
Friend and foe
Kin and neighbor and tourist
And brother whom I loathe
And sister I do not understand.
Teach me pray without agenda
Teach me the syllabus of your mercy
Your righteousness, not mine.
Teach me to pray without ceasing
God forgive me
God crush me
God remake me
God breathe in me.
Teach me Lord
Each day again
What it means to be
One sparrow of two
Sold for one penny
And to yearn to fly again in dance
With the other sparrow bound within my cage.
Teach me to pray
And then let us all pray
Wonder without end
Amen, amen, amen.
George R Pasley
October 6, 2016
Myung Sung Church