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Soul-searching in South Korea

"Soul-searching in South Korea" Continued...

At the group memorial hall in Ansan, I smelled incense burning, a Buddhist funeral ritual believed to eliminate unclean spirits. As I looked up at the massive rows of portraits, I counted 56 red crosses on their nameplates—at least 56 out of 250 dead students were Christians.

Jang Ki-hoon, lead pastor of Yejeon Church in Ansan, believes there are more undisclosed Christians. Three of his church members were students who perished on the Sewol, but one doesn’t have a cross on her nameplate because her father is a devout Buddhist who eventually stopped her from attending church. Her cell phone later revealed that her last words to a weeping friend was, “Hey, don’t cry. Let’s pray, let’s pray.”

In the month following the incident, Jang drove five hours to the accident site each week to comfort the families as they waited to claim their children’s bodies. He was present when one member’s body was recovered a month after the sinking, and remembers having to hold his breath from the “unspeakable” stench. Sea creatures had nibbled at the bloated face, so the parents identified their son by his clothing and shoes.

The boy’s mother, an ex-shaman-turned-Christian, wept, “Is there really a God? How can He let this happen to my child?” But the day Jang presided over the boy’s funeral, his father and his father’s relatives, previously unbelievers, all professed Christ. Later, the mother wrote a letter expressing gratitude to the church and to God. Yejeon Church now sends a specialized evangelism team to shaman houses in Ansan each Sunday.

Ever since the Sewol disaster, Jang said he’s become more fervently convicted on “the church’s responsibility to evangelize the gospel, because in this day and age, we never know what is going to happen.”

Sophia Lee
Sophia Lee

Sophia is a features reporter for WORLD Magazine. She graduated from the University of Southern California with degrees in print journalism and East Asian language and culture. She lives in Los Angeles with her cat, Shalom. Follow Sophia on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.


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