The forgotten founding father of World Imaginative and prescient | Christianity at the moment
S.A few years ago, I was sitting on the top floor of the nine-story World Vision office building on Yeouido Island in Seoul, South Korea. It was only a few blocks from the National Assembly and was overshadowed by towering skyscrapers in the country's main political and financial district. The property was elite. The building that was appropriate for a humanitarian nonprofit was not. I interviewed a number of Korean executives over a bottle of orange juice, surrounded by sturdy 1970s vintage furniture.
I had traveled to Korea to research the origins of World Vision, one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world. I was expecting to confirm the accepted narrative of a dynamic evangelist named Bob Pierce, who was negated by the sight of Marxist atrocities in Seoul in 1950. Pierce worked with the U.S. Army to create schools, orphanages, and churches that helped lift Korea out of the devastation of war to capitalist heights. The myth of founding World Vision – an altruistic American evangelical organization born in the fearful ferment of the Cold War – has stood for well over half a century.
When I spoke to Jong-Sam Park, the recently retired President of World Vision Korea, he pulled me out of this conventional narrative. The respected, silver-haired manager asked my ongoing questions about Bob Pierce, but he wanted to talk a lot more about a Korean pastor I had never heard of. Kyung-Chik Han had helped Park during the Korean War when he was a homeless refugee child covered only by a straw mat while sleeping on the streets of Seoul.
I listened impatiently and hoped to be able to return to my questions about American missionaries. But when I tried to get him back, he got upset. Han, he explained, was also a founder of World Vision. "World Vision Korea?" I tried to clarify. "No, the whole thing," he replied.
After thinking, Park's claim matched the evidence I had previously overlooked. I had seen several photos of Pierce and Han on stage together, usually with a caption describing Han as Pierce's "interpreter". In fact, many archive sources from the early 1950s described the two men performing together, most often in Seoul. Han may have interpreted Pierce's sermons for his parishioners into Korean, but Han also spoke in his own voice as pastor of the largest Presbyterian church in the world – and as the architect of hundreds of humanitarian initiatives that became the foundation of World Vision.
When Pierce became a legend, a friend of Presidents around the world and a recognized founder of World Vision, Han was led off the stage and disappeared from American consciousness.
There were also references to Hans' contributions in America. On a cold November evening in Chicago Orchestra Hall in 1954, where Han had previously performed on stage, the irrepressible Pierce honored his colleague's evangelistic and humanitarian trust. Han, he said, expertly distributed rice and the gospel to "war-weary" Koreans. At that moment, a terrible time in the Cold War when it looked as if the United States and the Soviet Union could destroy each other with nuclear weapons, Pierce announced hope for Asia, also because of Han's work on the Korean Peninsula. Pierce called him "a man of God, full of the Holy Spirit, the true soul winner". But Pierce didn't put all his hope in Han – or in God. He praised American bombers over Seoul and promised to do his part. "I don't expect to die in hospital sheets, I expect to die through the hand of a communist."
Pierce ended his sermon with a combination of sales pitch and altar call:
As I pray tonight that there will be someone who will answer the call and give your heart to God to fill you with the Holy Spirit and break your heart. . . . I have 600 children waiting for adoption this month. Your pictures have already been taken, and your names (could) be submitted within ten days if you write on this envelope: "I will adopt a child" and make a covenant with God that you send ten dollars a month for a year.
The ushers collected the commitments with factual efficiency, crowded out the crowd and brought in a new one. Then Pierce held the presentation again.
The money raised in Chicago went to a brand new organization called World Vision. Like Billy Graham and growing evangelical institutions like Youth for Christ and Christianity today in the 1950s, World Vision had a strong commitment to spiritual revival and a strong opposition to communism. What made it different was the emphasis on humanitarian aid. But this was also attractive for many American Christians who pushed World Vision to the fore. The ministry grew from 240 sponsorships for children in 1954 to 1 million in 1990 and 3.5 million in 2015.
Today, World Vision is the 19th largest charity in the United States to receive several million dollars in private donations from the United States government and millions of small donations from individuals. The American arm has annual sales of more than $ 1 billion. World Vision International, the global umbrella organization, has total sales of $ 2.75 billion.
But 65 years ago, in the orchestra hall, the idea that World Vision was the idea of two men began to fade away. When Pierce became a legend, a friend of Presidents around the world and a recognized founder of World Vision, Han was led off the stage and disappeared from American consciousness.
An American story
Pierce moved to Southern California in the 1930s, along with many other Americans who were devastated by the Great Depression. Dramatically converted to faith, he overcame an unstable childhood and a rocky marriage and began to preach salvation with the passion of a man who had experienced it radically. His charisma led him in the fast lane through the emerging evangelical world of the sun belt of the Baptists, Nazarenes and the Christian and missionary alliance in Southern California. After serving as a youth leader and pastor in several churches, Pierce became an evangelist at Youth for Christ.
Pierre's first international trips to China in the late 1940s fueled his anti-communist beliefs. After making 17,852 “Choices for Christ” on an amazingly successful evangelism tour, he saw the Red Army destroy hospitals, schools, and mission buildings. Chinese pastors – new friends of the American evangelist – were murdered. Pierce, sometimes only miles from the front, barely escaped before Mao Zedong conquered mainland China. The specter of communism had turned into a terrible spectacle.
After China lost, Pierce had her sights on Korea. A visit in early 1950, however, intensified his alarm. The Russian armed forces were above the 38th parallel, and North Korea occurred only a few weeks after Pierre returned to the United States. The attack that triggered the Korean War immediately devoured Seoul and pushed the South Koreans to the south coast. By September 1950, communists owned more than 90 percent of the Korean peninsula.
However, a bold intervention by General Douglas MacArthur in Incheon in November led to the recapture of Seoul. Indeed, the U.S. and United Nations forces advanced north to Yalu on the Korean-Chinese border. Then the sheet turned again. The sudden onset of China's communist forces reversed progress and, according to Pierre's description, left Seoul again as a "bleeding, battered city". And the war went on and on and on until 1953, when an armistice established a demilitarized zone on the same line where hostilities had started three years earlier.
In Korea and China, Pierce's work emerged as an existential answer to communism. Pierce maintained a rapid pace during these years of military action. At first he watched helplessly from his home base in the United States and started raising money for one of the first hot fronts of the Cold War. At a conference in Winona Lake, Indiana in 1950, Pierce shared dramatic stories about Christian martyrdom when he asked for generous gifts. Billy Graham, speaking after Pierce, said to the crowd: "I was planning to buy a Bel Air Chevy, but instead I am giving Bob Pierce the money for the Koreans."
On the spiritual front, Pierce continued an evangelistic offensive. In the middle of the war, he persuaded 25,000 Korean civilians, Korean soldiers, and American soldiers to "turn from the darkness of paganism and unbelief to the glorious light of the gospel." South Korean President Syngman Rhee, a Christian, praised Pierce's success. Pierce reported in a newsletter that Rhee believed, "Youth for Christ's kind of evangelism will help hold back the flood of atheism that flows through the Far East."
If Pierce's combination of wanderlust and resuscitation was not uncommon, his reaction to the suffering was. Although evangelicals had long built hospitals and schools around the world, the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the 1920s had at least rhetorically moved evangelicals away from work that smelled of the social gospel. However, Pierce's encounter with physical suffering and poverty in China and Korea prompted him to re-examine theological and rhetorical humanitarian efforts.
Pierce's humanity was awakened by a personal encounter that became the myth of the foundation of World Vision. He met a young Chinese girl named White Jade who was beaten and rejected by her father after she converted to Christianity. White Jade was practically an orphan and had no place to go. A local missionary was unable to take care of another orphan. Pierce gave the missionary and White Jade all of his remaining money – five dollars – and then pledged the same amount every month.
Among other things, this encounter moved Pierce so much that he wrote a sentence on the inside of his Bible: "Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God." This became the mantra of World Vision and brought the sponsorship program for children forth. American evangelicals could sponsor a Korean orphan for $ 10 a month to help with food, clothing, education, and religious education. Funding for "my orphanages," as Pierce called them, rose from $ 57,000 to over $ 450,000 between 1954 and 1956. In the late 1960s, World Vision had become a humanitarian giant known to even non-religious Americans. As historian David King has shown, he “put together the dichotomy between evangelism and social action that had torn the Protestant missionary apart”. Pierce seemed to be the force of nature that set her in motion.
This is the official story of World Vision. But there is another story from Korea itself that defends itself against a triumphalist American story and shows Korean Christians who influence the Americans.
A Korean story
Han's rise to fame was even less likely than Pierce's. Han was born into a Confucian family in 1902 and grew up in a small, poverty-stricken village 25 miles north of Pyongyang. The area revived in the years around Hans' birth, and his family, along with many others, converted to Christianity. It's hard to imagine today, but before Pyongyang became the capital of atheistic North Korea, it was the spiritual capital for all of Christian Asia.
Han himself was a very impressive young man. Church leaders, who noticed his gracious personality, exceptional intelligence, hardworking work ethic, and vital faith, quickly recognized his potential. Benefactors sent him to study at Princeton Theological Seminary with the well-known theologian J. Gresham Mach. Compelled by Machen's intellect and theology, but unaffected by his combative fundamentalism, Han occupied a middle theological space characterized by gentle and ecumenical conservatism.
These qualities served Han during his first Korean pastorate in Sinuiju, a large city on the border with China. When Pierce's social concern was based on the intense emotional reaction of a privileged American's shock to foreign poverty, Han was rooted in the persistent shepherding of a suffering herd. His 13 years in the far north of Korea was a productive, if worrying, time as his community dealt with profound social problems. The increasing Japanese imperialism restricted Christian activities. His church suffered from a difficult economy and there was little political freedom. Once, after torturing Han, the Japanese authorities forced him to bow to a Shinto shrine, an act he regretted for the rest of his life. In the midst of these difficulties, he nevertheless oversaw the construction of a church building, an orphanage and a nursing home. Han became an important voice in religious and civil affairs.
Han's popularity became most evident when Japan surrendered to the Allied forces at the end of World War II. Han was tapped by the Governor General of Japan to monitor security during the transition. He founded the Sinuiju Self-Government Association, which organized young men in police work. But Han's amusement about the fall of Japan gave way to despair. American rule in northern Korea did not come about as he expected. Instead, a north-south border was set at the 38th parallel, along with Soviet supervision of Sinuiju. The communists immediately went through and subjected millions of land confiscations, tortures and executions. When an arrest warrant was issued, Han disguised himself as an ordinary refugee. He managed to cross the border into South Korea, which was still leaking at the end of 1945.
Han's leadership flourished in Seoul. The conditions in Seoul were as bad as in Sinuiju. Han was driven to despair when he walked between beggars, homeless and prostitutes. "I cannot control my heart," he mourned in a sermon entitled "A Gospel of the Homeless." "I can't raise my head, so it became my habit to bend my head and walk." He immediately began to secure tents, organize refugees in cooperatives, assign work assignments and set up schools. In December 1945, he led the first meetings of 27 refugees in Young Nak Presbyterian, who were referred to as the "Refugee Church" because of their predominant affiliation with displaced North Koreans. Within six months, the church called for 1,000 members. In two years there were 4,300.
For four years, these refugees held worship services in tents. Then, through Hans Connections in the United States, Young Nak raised $ 20,000 in refugees used for materials to build a giant Gothic stone structure by hand. Meanwhile, Han continued his humanitarian work. In 1947, he started half a dozen new projects, including several orphanages, a widow's home, more schools, and a funeral home. In 1948, he campaigned for North Korean refugees to be given voting rights. "To help the poor and the weak, be the first," Han said.
Another tragedy occurred on June 25, 1950. Just a few weeks after Young Nak completed his church building, North Korea came into being. The number of poor and weak multiplied when both sides committed atrocities. A church leader was executed at the gate by Young Nak for refusing entry to the invasive forces who wanted to use the church as an armory. Reports of 3,000 Christian pastors drowned by communist forces in Han were distributed. Almost the entire peninsula was destroyed within a few months.
Han's humanitarian work accelerated in chaos. The day after the war started, he founded the Korean Christian National Relief Society. He also headed the Christian Union's Emergency Committee for War. He negotiated with General MacArthur about US Army tents and distributed them in refugee camps. The fact that Han served as a South Korean delegate to the United Nations in March 1951 underlines his status as a consummate insider who brokered high-level humanitarian affairs. Han was a bureaucratic force of nature when he led dozens of Korean organizations.
Observers who tried to explain his organizational genius found that he was a humble leader, whose calm charisma gave his colleagues "inspiration and encouragement" to follow his example. Others called Han a master mediator who, through gentle persuasion, was able to achieve consensus. He was also brutally efficient and stubbornly working to get the best results. One viewer joked that Han was acting like a sensible businessman, "even though he claimed to be just an old servant of God."
Bob Pierce's "rescue" of Korean Christians – and the way his relationship with Han, the "exotic interpreter" – is portrayed by the West – looks more to the West than to the East. Before Pierce ever entered Korea, the cornerstone for building World Vision had been laid. Han, a respected churchman who speaks fluent English, has already coordinated relief work and networking with contacts around the world.
American evangelicals have never told it this way, but it might be correct to say that Han discovered Pierce as well as Pierce Han. It was Han who, at the advice of an American missionary, invited Pierce to speak at the Young Nak Church in early 1950. When Han quickly realized that Pierce could contribute to the humanitarian projects he founded, he was the evangelist's host the night he arrived in Seoul. Pierce reported that he preached to 1,500 community members "huddled together in a large mosaic of human flesh," and Han followed this new relationship almost immediately by inviting Pierce to preach at a major outdoor revival in Seoul.
Sometimes the interpreter is much more than an interpreter.
When the war broke out just a few weeks later, Han Pierce kept up to date on the conditions. At the end of 1950, they met again in Busan, South Korea, and held a series of pastor conferences together. At the closing event, Pierce was the keynote speaker and he paid for the entire conference. Han certainly interpreted for Pierce how the Americans continually found, but that didn't mean that he was the subordinate in the relationship. Han organized everything.
This collaboration became a model for the two humanists. Pierce directed fundraising and outreach, and Han oversaw the World Vision infant ministries. Most of them were operational before Pierce entered the scene. Under Hans's influence, their partnership increasingly took the form of social help, a job that became the core of World Vision's global activities.
Pierce joined an existing humanitarian network that Han had built. Before World Vision there was the Young Nak Church; in front of Young Nak Church there was Sinijui; Before Sinijui there was a Christian family outside of Pyongyang. World Vision genealogy is deeply Korean.
Over the years, however, Hans Rolle has declined in the original myth of World Vision. A 1960 report by author Richard Gehman mentioned Han briefly as part of a Korean delegation welcoming Pierce to Seoul Airport. Western groups were credited for working in the orphanage. A 1972 tribute described Han as a pious saint and "a gentle, dedicated pastor" who built several orphanages and schools for refugees, but it was not recognized that World Vision originated directly from Han's activities before and during the Korean War. In 1983 Franklin Graham repeated the longstanding statement that a "good interpreter, Dr. Hahn (sic) translated" Pierce's message "into understandable Korean".
Man of visionIn a biography written by Marilee Pierce Dunker, Pierce's daughter, it was recognized that Pierce "was committed to the Tabitha Widows & # 39; Home sponsored by Yung (sic) Nak Presbyterian Church," but stated, " And behind every part of it was a man's compassion, energy, and vision; For most people, World Vision was Bob Pierce. "
Despite Han's continued commitment to both World Vision International and World Vision Korea, evidence of his legacy was overwhelmed by a triumphalist narrative of Western evangelical social action.
Pierce himself did not want to hide Hans' contributions. World Vision's earliest literature contained descriptions of Han – and even glowing tributes to it. In his first essay, The Untold Korea Story, Pierce praised Hans courage, piety and skill to serve his people. "From the chaos of the past," wrote Pierce, "this man of God built a future for his people." In an interview with CT, Dunker said that her father would "be the first to say": "I had the vision, but I didn't." I was a fundraiser. I was the communicator. The local people did it. "
Han didn't seem to annoy Pierce as a rising star either. In fact, Han flew from Seoul to Los Angeles to preach at his colleague's funeral in 1978, where he said, "The people of Korea can never forget him because he was the best known gospel preacher and overseas social worker during the korean time war. . . . God be praised for him. "But Han's qualifying sentence" from abroad "also testifies that Pierce was never the only founder. Koreans have consistently portrayed World Vision as a collaborative company co-founded by Pierce and Han. Pierce, Park, the former president of World Vision Korea, says, “was a master with a script. Koreans made 90 percent of it. “World Vision may have been founded in the United States, but a battered North Korean pastor actually built it in the slums of Seoul.
In a TED lecture entitled "The Danger of a Single Story", Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie describes how a dominant narrative can stereotype and ultimately disempower other actors. Many American Christians who understandably seek to anchor the piety and progress of one of their own heroes have done just that. The result was a single, final story that emphasized a strong, benevolent America and a needy, desperate Korea. American money and technical expertise have helped South Korea to get out of total devastation. Pierce was an important part of it. But the other story is that there was already a thriving Christianity that was probably more alive than the American version, which taught Americans the value of fervent prayer, social aid, and development work. Sometimes the interpreter is much more than an interpreter.
Transnational collaborations such as that between Han and Pierce are increasing as faith moves in confusing directions in this new century. Today, more than two thirds of the world's Christians live outside of North America and Europe. And demographers predict that the United States will become a majority minority nation at some point in the 2040s.
Many American organizations, from Compassion International to InterVarsity to the National Association of Evangelicals, anticipate the new realities and open up Christians who look more like the majority world to leadership positions. But it is also important to recognize that the design of religious institutions by colored people is not just a present and future reality. It is something that has been happening all the time. It is time for mission agencies and humanitarian organizations to explore their past in search of their own Kyung-Chik Hans. Who are the men and women who are lost to historical memory or hidden all the time and who have built Christian institutions around the world?
For World Vision, who named Edgar Sandoval the first non-white American CEO in 2018, internationalized his governance in the 1970s, and had a diverse constituency for half a century, this should be a natural step. Including Han in his founding narrative would fit much better into what World Vision already is: a deeply international and multi-ethnic organization.
There is evidence that the narrative is indeed already changing. Forty years after writing her father's biography, Dunker says she's writing her next book. It will show Han's story along with those of other churches and individuals who have laid the foundation for World Vision to become the global powerhouse it is today.
David R. Swartz is an associate professor of history at Asbury University. He is the author of Looking West: American Evangelicals in the Age of World Christianity (Oxford University Press, April 2020).
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