The Northern Asia-Pacific Division's International Mission Congress 2018 in Seoul, South Korea, closed its three-and-a-half days with a bang on Sabbath, August 11.
Sabbath at the Mission Congress was a day jam-packed with programs, presentations, preaching, and pageantry. Hundreds of extra seats were added to the 4,000-seat hall, and still the back was filled with rows of people standing after all the chairs were taken.
As thousands of people from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mongolia, China, the US, and many other countries streamed into the Korea International Exhibition & Convention Center outside Seoul, South Korea, they were greeted with bows and smiles from volunteers wearing yellow sashes.
They were offered printed programs for the day (in multiple languages) and bottled water. (Attendees of the whole three-day conference had already been given gifts of bags, umbrellas, water bottles, and more, branded with the logo of the Mission Conference.)
The program began at 8:30 a.m. with a Sabbath School program, introduced with congregational singing, led by the praise team and multiple choirs, and with help from the state-of-the-art sound system.
Jim Howard leads lesson study
Jim Howard, associate director at the General Conference for Sabbath School and Personal Ministries, led the lesson study. As it was impractical to divide into smaller study groups, as is typical in Adventist churches, Howard simply spoke from the front about this week’s lesson, which examined the ministry of Peter and the controversial conversion of Gentiles in the book of Acts.
Report on Korean Union Conference
Next we heard a report from the Korean Union Conference, a vibrant part of the world church, with health facilities, schools, universities, language institutes, and many churches. Korea sends many missionaries into surrounding countries and around the world.
A new project is the creation of a special account for each baby dedicated in the Adventist church in Korea. A sum of money is put into this missionary account by the church, which parents can add to over the years. When the child is a student and old enough, he will have money that can be used for participation in various missionary programs.
A special prayer was offered for the church in Korea, including a prayer for students who are fighting in the courts for the right to take certain board exams on a day other than Saturday.
Banner in the main hall
Church workers ready to enter North Korea
One of the most interesting reports of the day came next, giving us an insight into North Korea.
The Demilitarized Zone, marking the border with North Korea, is only 23.6 kilometers from the Kintex Convention Center. Korean Union Conference Sabbath School and Personal Ministries director Lee ByungJu reported that “North Korea is very near to us, but still not open to the gospel.” He said that the Korean Union Conference has been saving 1% of its tithes for the North Korean Mission. “We have been wishing and praying for reunification,” he said.
Twenty-four pastors have been trained as missionaries to be ready to enter North Korea. “Any time North Korea opens its doors they will be ready to work as missionaries,” Lee said. Thirty laypeople have also been trained, and 47 literature evangelists are ready to go. Medical workers are getting ready, and youth are being trained to work in North Korea as well. A special mission project works for any refugees from North Korea, offering help and accommodation in Seoul, if they need it.
“The most important thing is to get more interest in this program,” Lee said. “We need to be more passionate and feel sympathy for these people — not only in Korea, but all of the nations and churches in our division need to pray for this mission.”
Nine people then ascended to the stage, and were introduced as people who escaped from North Korea, and are now members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They are also ready to go back to North Korea if the doors open to help spread the gospel.
The nine defectors from North Korea
With the help of actors, a story was briefly told and dramatized about an Adventist believer in North Korea. (This story was also told to me by a Korean pastor, so I have added some of his details here.) When the Korean War began, most pastors and church leaders fled to the south. Some believers who were left were killed. This woman was only a new believer, and was not killed, but was moved to another place. There she witnessed to the people around her. So the authorities moved her to another place. Again, she witnessed to her neighbors. This was their mistake. They kept moving her, and in this way she was able to spread the Adventist message to people in many different places. (Later many of these people were killed or died in a famine in the 1990s.)
One day a friend came to tell her that her house was going to be searched the following day. So she buried her Bible under a telephone pole in the front yard. No sooner had she finished covering the Bible than some men with shovels appeared and said they were from the government and were required to move the telephone pole. She was terrified that they would find her Bible. But before they could begin work, a giant cloud appeared and it began to rain. The men said: “We cannot work today,” and they promised to return the following day.
This gave the woman time to dig up her Bible and bury it in her back yard instead.
When she was later able to dig it out of the earth, the beginning of Genesis and end of Revelation had gotten wet. She tried every night to dry the pages, but eventually had to concede that they were ruined and couldn’t be saved. So finally she took out those few pages and burned them. She put the ashes into cold water and she and her children drank them. Her son said: “Now we should not be hungry anymore.”
Later the woman was able to defect from North Korea. But that Bible was still incredibly important to her. She had risked her life for that Bible.
To the marvel of the audience, the actual Bible of the woman in North Korea was held up.
The Bible from North Korea
“We want to return this Bible to North Korea,” Korean Union President Kim SiYoung said. “We are anxiously waiting for the time when the gospel can reach the North Korean territory...We need to be wise and plan in a specific way, and this requires huge financial aid. That is why this is not only work for the conference. This is a work that needs to be done at the division level, and at the General Conference level. We need prayer and support from all over the world. This is the last territory our three angels’ message needs to enter. So on behalf of our 20,000 church members, we want to hand this Bible to General Conference President Ted Wilson. Please take this Bible and pray for our mission — specifically for the North Korean mission work.”
And at this, the Bible was handed to Ted Wilson, with people craning it to see it more closely.
Wilson said that he accepted the Bible with great humility and a heart touched by the faithfulness of God’s people for the word of God. He asked everyone to stand as he prayed for God’s work to go forward on the Korean peninsula.
Testimony from Mongolia
After a seven-member choir called the Descendents of Christ from Mongolia sang, a video presentation told the story of a woman in Mongolia who had been abused by her husband and divorced, but then found a wonderful and supportive community in the Adventist church. She told her friends and relatives, and they told their friends and relatives. “I could not sit, and do nothing — I wanted to share,” she said. Through her, a whole host of people were eventually baptized. After the video presentation, the woman herself appeared on the stage and spoke briefly.
Japanese double quartet
One of my favorite pieces of music from the whole mission congress was a double barbershop quartet of Japanese men singing a medley of gospel songs, including “Down by the Riverside.”
Testimony from SOS Missionary Group
Jang So Hee, a teen, broke down during her testimony about leaving the Presbyterian church to become an Adventist because of the SOS Missionary Group — Korean teens who are trained to do evangelism with their peers. She met some teens with SOS on the street, and they invited her to church. She was impressed by the deep connection Adventists have with the Bible. After she was baptized, Jang So Hee also became an SOS missionary and began sharing with her friends and family. But when she talked about how she is trying to reach her mother, her voice broke and she had to stop and compose herself. The thousands of people listening were completely behind her.
Divine Worship service
Sabbath School ended and transitioned immediately into the Divine Worship service. NSD Ministerial Secretary Ron Clouzet welcome everyone and asked us to practice saying “Worthy, worthy is the lamb that was slain,” in all of our own native languages, together.
“Praise to the Lord the Almighty,” the opening hymn, was accompanied by piano and organ.
I noticed a drone flying around the large hall, probably taking video footage. That is something I have never seen before!
The Korea Ladies Choir and Gracia Choir together sang “Softly and Tenderly.”
During the offering, to the sounds of a cellist playing, people put Korean won, American dollars, euros, Japanese yen and more into the baskets handed around the cavernous hall.
NSD Secretary Yutake Inada introduced General Conference President Ted Wilson as the main speaker of the day. Two children wearing traditional Korean dress presented Wilson and his wife Nancy with flower bouquets.
“What a wonderful thing it is that we are an international church,” Wilson began. He mentioned many of the different ministries represented at the mission congress, including the medical missionaries, the translators for the deaf, the GAiN conference, and the children’s ministry. He also remarked about a food carving ministry, which has a booth here, and was displaying a watermelon with a carving of Ted Wilson on its front.
Ted Wilson in a watermelon
The Ted Wilson on the watermelon is clean shaven, but the Ted Wilson speaking this Sabbath has a beard.
Let me explain that my beard is because we are going to have our Annual Council this year in Battle Creek, Michigan, Wilson said. “It’s where our church has its formative beginning. We are going to look back in order to move forward....We have nothing to fear for the future unless we forget where God has led. So some of us will dress in costumes that look like the the 19th century, and some of us will have beards.”
Wilson went on to speak about mission and successes the church is having around the world in spreading the gospel.
Lunch and early afternoon activities
Immediately following the church service, thousands of people poured into the adjacent hall for a buffet lunch. The organization was exemplary. Meal tickets were scanned and people were directed to an area where six different lines took diners past long tables holding plates, chopsticks, spoons, and large platters of Korean vegetarian food, beginning with rice and ending with seaweed — with many choices in between.
When those lines started getting long, people were directed to the other side of the hall, where six more lines began.
Hundreds of round tables, each seating 10 people, filled the hall. At the edges, workers helped you to scrape your plates and leave your chopsticks and spoons in clearly labelled containers.
After sustenance, some people went to a baptism right outside the convention center. Others attended testimonies in seminar rooms. Some went to a special lecture by Mark Finley about evangelism in their own churches. Many strolled among the booths. I met some very friendly people, including Paul Park at the Compass booth, a ministry aimed at young people, and Mayette Kim, a Filipino girl married to a Korean man, at a church booth.
The Compass ministry
Mayette Kim and her husband
I also visited the GC’s Global Mission booth, the booth for the ministry for North Korean refugees, Sahmyook Foods, Sahymyoook University (one of the largest Adventist universities in the world, not far from the convention center), a calligraphy ministry, a bicycle ministry, a food carving ministry (after Ted Wilson mentioned his face in a watermelon, I had to see it), the Chinese Union Mission booth, the booth of the Seven Light Deaf Church in Seoul, the Yeosu Sanitarium and Hospital in Korea, and many more.
The main afternoon programming began at 3pm with the mission musical “Caleb,” presented by Sulammi. The musical traced the story of Joshua and Caleb, wandering in the wilderness with Moses after leaving Egypt and before reaching the promised land. Caleb was chosen as one of the scouts to spy out the land of Canaan. Only he and Joshua advised that the Hebrews move immediately to take the land — the other scouts reported on the strong people who lived there in fortified cities. Much later, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Joshua permitted him to be one of the first to enter the land. His faith was rewarded. The message was all about courage in the face of adversity, and being willing to go where God leads, no matter what.
The two women who played Joshua and Caleb both had phenomenal voices. The songs they sang were powerful.
The choreography was simple, yet strong.
The words of the musical were broadcast on the large screens in multiple languages, so we could all read along with what was being said.
The performance was memorable — I don’t know when I have seen a musical based on the Bible like this. The staging and music and costumes and lighting were all very professional. The music itself was excellent.
Immediately following the musical, the closing ceremony began.
Red scarves with the NSD mission congress logo (like fans might have at a football match), were handed out to everyone in the hall, and many people were also given little electric lights that could be held aloft when the lights were dimmed.
A short sermon by NSD President SiYoung Kim followed on from the message of the music. Caleb looked up and instead of seeing the mountain, he saw God, Kim said. We can also conquer Hebron in our mission fields. We must just fix our eyes on God instead of on difficulties.
Kim spoke in Korean, but the translators in the five different booths at the back of the hall continually translated all of the proceedings into English, Japanese, Mongolian, and Chinese.
After further testimonies, banners with the names of five big cities in the Northern Asia-Pacific Division were lifted in the back of the hall and carried up to the front, representing mission in these cities. The 604 medical missionaries who have just been commissioned during this mission congress were asked to come to the front. Then the Pioneer Mission Movement missionaries also joined them in the front of the hall, followed by youth from the 1000 Missionary Movement. Continental missionaries and interdivision missionaries were also invited to stand, and finally anyone who has ever served as a missionary.
Everyone in the hall together sang “We Have This Hope” (Wayne Hooper’s song that has served as the theme song at a number of General Conference sessions since 1962).
In a long prayer, Ted Wilson charged the missionaries to “Go forward in the name of Jesus.”
People held up their red scarves and waved their lights.
The 2018 NSD International Mission Congress was announced officially closed. A loud boom followed the announcement, smoke machines puffed out clouds, and streamers and confetti rained down from above.
As everyone began to slowly file out of the hall, a slideshow of images from the last few days at the mission congress played on the big screens.
This was undoubtedly one of the most high-tech spectacles I have had the privilege to witness. I do think that the technology enhanced the mission, rather than distracted from it, and that the Korean hosts of the NSD Mission Congress are to be congratulated on an inspiring event. There were opportunities for networking and fellowshipping, for learning about different ministries, for being inspired by messages of mission, and for being exhilarated by wonderful music and talented musicians.
I was disappointed that while there were people of all ages and genders on the platform, there was a disproportionate number of men, and all of the main speakers from the General Conference were older men (mostly American, except GT Ng from Singapore and Gary Krause from Australia). It’s time to hand over the torch!
As Elder Wilson said: “What a wonderful thing it is that we are an international church!”
Alita Byrd is attending GAiN and the Mission Congress in Seoul, South Korea, and reporting for Spectrum. Read her GAiN Day 1 report here, Day 2 report here, Day 3 report here, her first report on the Mission Congress here, and her second report here. Photo credits: Alita Byrd
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