Burning Bush and Chigge — The Presbyterian Church in Canada and The Korean Christian Church in Japan

Robert K. Anderson, a former missionary to the Korean Christian Church in Japan, is the author of the forthcoming book, Kimchi and Maple Leaves Under the Rising Sun. The Andersons are retired, and live in East York, Ontario.
Just as the Burning Bush is the symbol of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, the "chigge", a kind of A-frame to carry a load on one's back, is the symbol of the Korean servant.

It was nearly seventy-five years ago that the Presbyterian Church in Canada became involved with Korean Christians in Japan. Our link with Koreans, of course, goes back a long way before that. Until 1925, the Canadian Presbyterian mission in Korea was engaged in a program of evangelical outreach, education and medical work. Following Church Union, the field was assigned to the United Church of Canada, and three PCC missionaries: F. G. Vesey, D.W. MacDonald and Luther L. Young returned home.

But in the providence of God, a door opened for service among Koreans in Japan. The Federal Council of Churches and Missions in Korea had long felt concern for the many Koreans emigrating to Japan, among whom were new converts to the faith. Some congregations had sent Korean missionaries to Japanese cities where Koreans were concentrated. The work was spotty and unorganized. With so much coming and going, some sort of framework was needed.

As the Council discussed the need, a name came up: a Presbyterian missionary who was experienced in Korean ways and fluent in Korean. It was Luther L. Young. The PCC was contacted and, after some negotiation, agreed to assign Luther Young to work in Japan under the Federal Council — now the Korean National Council of Churches (KNCC). On October 3, 1927, Luther and Miriam Young arrived in Kobe, and the work was begun.

It was no small assignment, as some of the churches were widely scattered, and had been operating independently for over ten years. The KNCC provided general guidelines, and sent Young forth with their blessing.

The first few years showed rapid progress. Luther Young was officially under the KNCC, but was supported by The Presbyterian Church in Canada. Correspondence and reports for the first years showed encouraging results. The original congregations were gathered into a kind of network, new churches were planted, kindergartens and nursery schools were established in major centres, and conferences for Bible study and leadership training were provided on a local and regional basis.

Luther and Miriam Young were not the only ones in the mission, of course. During the years 1928-34, others were sent to join them, and formed a strong team of workers. Among them were Miss Ella Anderson, Malcolm MacKay, Miss Gladys Murphy (later Mrs. Malcolm MacKay), Miss Ethel MacDonald, and Miss Jean MacLean (later Mrs. Paul Rumball), and of course his wife, Miriam. These were added at various times from 1930 to 1934.

As the work grew, it soon became clear that a more orderly structure was needed. The KNCC was still the organization officially in charge. But with emerging leadership among the Koreans in Japan, it was seemed better to have the decision-making centre there, not in Korea. The KNCC was consulted, and in 1933 Dr. Charles Allen Clark, an American Presbyterian missionary, was sent over to help work out the details. A draft constitution was carefully prepared, taking into account the doctrine and government of the original sponsoring Churches . This was submitted to the KNCC, then to the two major members of its body, the Presbyterian and Methodist missions.

In Korea, the Methodist mission approved it immediately, but the Presbyterian mission demurred, and required that it be sent back for re-consideration. This would mean a delay of at least a year before it could be approved.

When the Korean leaders in Japan heard that their draft had been rejected, they took matters into their own hands. They declared their constitution valid, and formed what was to be known as the "Chosen Christian Church" with three presbyteries and a general assembly. (Chosen was the Japanese name for Korea in the Japanese Empire.) In reporting this to the Mission Board in Canada, Luther Young made it clear that this church was not the adjunct of any church or mission, but an independent church with fraternal ties to other churches and missions. The word "independent" was rather loosely chosen, as they still received personnel and financial support from both Korea and Canada.

This new church continued to flourish. Luther Young was elected Moderator of the first General Assembly, and new congregations were constantly being formed. During the next few years churches were opened in all parts of "Japan Proper" — from Kyushu in the south to Karafuto in the north. Staffing was organized with the help of the KNCC and its members.

It was too good to last. Imperial Japan was now beginning to flex her political, economic and military muscles — a process which was to continue until the outbreak of the Pacific War. Foreigners, and the "foreign" religion became targets for abuse. Both Korean and Japanese Christians suffered under the pressure of the government. Finally the government passed a "Religious Bodies Law" in 1939. Supposedly its purpose was to simplify the process of registering religious organizations. Actually, it was a step towards the control of all religions in Japan — even of Buddhism — and the elevation of Shinto, the national religion of Japan. The law required all churches to register, small denominations uniting with larger ones. The Korean Church was also required to use the "National Language," i.e., Japanese, in all its meetings, including worship.

Luther Young and the Korean leaders met with leaders of the Presbyterian Church of Japan and worked out a scheme of union, in which the Korean churches could still preserve their identity. Doctrinally they were not far apart. But before this could be finalized, the government intervened and required the union of all Protestant churches into one. The Canadian Presbyterian missionaries found it more and more difficult to work, as their presence drew attention to the double "foreignness" of the Korean churches. Then, on the eve of the outbreak of war, all missionaries were advised to return to Canada.

It looked like the end of the Korean Church in Japan. Some congregations disappeared, others fared poorly without Korean leadership, despite the often sacrificial ministry of Japanese pastors. Many Korean pastors were imprisoned, or sent to work in munitions factories. Thousands of Koreans were drafted to fill positions left empty by the exodus of Japanese workers to the military.

When the war finally ended, Koreans by the thousands returned to their homeland. Many who left were Christians — whole congregations, along with their pastors. For a while, there seemed to be no future for the Korean church in Japan.

The story was not over yet, however. During the war there had been a kind of "underground" Korean church, which now emerged. There still remained three pastors and some evangelists to gather up the pieces. In 1948, in response to an appeal from the Koreans in Japan, the PCC sent out a team of visitors consisting of J. Alan Munro from the Board of Missions, and Laura K. Pelton from the WMS (WD), to assess the damage and see what the future would hold. They met with the Korean church leaders and remnant church members and learned that, immediately after the war, the Koreans had withdrawn from the enforced union, and "re-organized" as The Korean Christian Church in Japan, or KCCJ. Despite the decimated congregations and the damage to church buildings, they found a church that was re-gathering its strength, and anxious to press on. Leaders such as Yoon Tai Oh, who had trained in a Japanese seminary and was ordained in Korea, Rev. Yunbok Chun, a Japanese who had been a missionary in Korea, Rev. Cheh and evangelist Myong Jung Park in Osaka, and also a number of eager and enthusiastic seminary students were some of the signs of hope.

The Canadian team was urged to ask the PCC to continue to support the Korean Christians in Japan, and to send back the "missionaries," particularly Luther Young. The missionaries would be working under the Korean organization, but they were needed to bring stability and encouragement to the greatly reduced number of Christians. Word was sent back to Canada, the Youngs were contacted, and within the year Luther Young, now seventy-four, was back on the scene. Shortly after, Paul and Jean (MacLean) Rumball and others followed.

It was clear from the outset that the re-constituted "Canadian Mission" stood in a new relationship to the re-organized KCCJ. All executive power was now in the hands of the KCCJ administration. For a short time there was some tension as the ways of operating were worked out. The mission suffered a blow when, early in the following year, Luther Young passed away, and Miriam Young returned to live with her daughter in the USA. Questions of policy and finance were handled by the Rumballs, and there were often differences of opinion. However, when E. H. "Ted" Johnson became Overseas Secretary of the Board of Missions, closer ties were established. The PCC and the KCCJ were recognized as "sister churches" rather than "sending" and "receiving" churches. It is this relationship which remains to this day. A "scholarship" program was begun, to enable Korean leaders to receive post-graduate training in Canada in the areas of theology and administration. Out of this several young leaders emerged, who were to guide the church through the next phase of its life.

A final chapter in the story of the Burning Bush and Chigge was written in 1968-69 during the celebration of the Sixtieth Anniversary of Christian Witness among Koreans in Japan. At that time Rev. Malcolm Ransom, Secretary for Mission Education in the Board office, spent a sabbatical year in Japan, and was assigned to a team ministry in Osaka. When he reported on his experience, he pointed to critical areas in the KCCJ requiring attention. He called attention to the inward-looking attitude of the KCCJ, its top-heavy organization, its neglect of the younger Koreans in the churches. It was the first time that anyone in such a position in the Board of Missions had spent that length of time as an observer-participant in its ministry, and his report fell like a bombshell.

According to the General Secretary, Dr. In Ha Lee, the report came as a shock, and called forth some soul-searching. Was the KCCJ there simply for Christians, or was their mission to the whole Korean minority people, the remnants of an often-enforced immigration, without citizenship and under the control of an oppressive Japanese society? There was much self-examination, and as a result the church hammered out a "Mission Policy" in which a new approach to mission was clearly set forth.

A new "Church to Church" agreement was also written, and accepted by both Korean and PCC General Assemblies. In it the shape of the KCCJ was re-defined, and the former Canadian Presbyterian Mission absorbed into a department of the KCCJ. The agreement made official what had really been in place for some time, that is to say, "missionaries" were now "fraternal workers," made members of the various Church courts, and given job descriptions drawn up by the KCCJ. Canada still provided financial support, but funds were now channelled through the treasurer of the KCCJ.

That is the situation as it continues today. There are still "missionaries" or "fraternal workers" with the KCCJ — Jack and Clarabeth McIntosh, for instance, soon to retire after nearly forty years — but all decisions concerning the work of the KCCJ are in the hands of the Korean leadership.

As in any living church, there are still within the KCCJ areas of tension, and diversity of theological points of view. There are those who prefer to concentrate on the local congregation, and those who see a wider horizon. There are bound to be crises in the future as there were in the past. And when they come, the PCC will be beside the KCCJ as brothers and sisters in Christ, with one goal in mind: the proclamation of the gospel, and healing of a suffering world.