Concerns are growing over the fanatical Christian missionaries seeking out international students to convert them to the Christian faith. Many internationals have had their personal religious preferences and personal spaces violated by this relentless hounding, and though this is something that should be addressed quickly, we should take a step back and see the underlying causes and look beyond the surface.
Christianity in Korea grew in the 19th century when Protestant missionaries, mostly American, came to the troubled country to help the lower class stand against the tyranny of the traditional nobility and the Japanese imperialists. They provided aid in the form of hospitals and schools, sympathy in the form of Bible written in Hangul, and support for Korean liberation. After the liberation in 1945 and the oncoming industrial development, Christianity grew exponentially as major industrial, political, and social developments had many Christian backers, elevating Christianity as a sort of benevolent savior. Christian demographics grew from 2% of the population in 1945 to 30% in 2014. Churches started popping everywhere and were inflating in size with notable examples such as the Yoido Full Gospel Church, the world’s largest Christian congregation.
But from this growth lies the fundamental issues behind the fanatic missionaries. When churches grew, so did people’s egos. There was an increase in the pursuit of materialistic success and pastors were beginning to becoming more strict with retaining believers. The signs were there; David Yonggi Cho, the founder of Yoido Church, was found guilty in 2014 for tax evasion. A large number of Christians called Canaan Congregants are leaving their churches, being disillusioned by their pastors preaching nonsensical and overemotional sermons and forcing their congregation into religious intolerance. Churches are still under the high of rapid Christian growth, but with more and more Christians leaving, they become more and more aggressive with their recruiting to fuel their addiction. Thus, during the peak of the influx of foreigners in Korea, these internationals are now caught up in this mess. Christian missionaries are now being condemned by the ever increasing number of foreigners for souring their experience and image of Korea.
The problem I find with this situation is that we keep looking it at the surface. The aggressive missionaries are only a part of the issue; the more fundamental flaws are with the churches themselves. The Canaan Congregants, many Christians still attending churches, and most pastors don’t want to be generalized along with the bad apples. I know personally many Christians friends, peers, and clergy, and they don’t let their religion put them in a state of tunnel vision. They believe in Christianity because they genuinely believe that it’s a good way of life and aren’t seeking to inflate their numbers.
What is needed is a reformation of the Christian ecosystem. Churches should be less numerous, more cohesive, and more open. One shouldn’t have to sustain a church off quantity but by quality. If you can give a person an establishment that gives hope, a caring community, and a reason to believe, then they will donate. Churches should be founded upon faith (shocking I know) rather than force or emotional fervor. Missionaries have and always will be a fundamental part of the Christian faith. There are thousands of Koreans who go to other countries, including those hostile to Christianity, and risk their travel privileges at best, and their lives at worst to spread their beliefs. We shouldn’t hinder this approach, we should change the execution. Instead of missionaries always approaching, they should encourage others to come to them.
Issues of ideology and faith are incredibly difficult to approach. There is no single cause nor single solution for this whole mess and it’s hard to get a unanimous consensus most of the time. Yet, the issue with this Christian aggression should still be viewed, analyzed, and solved in its true entirety. Of course there should be an effort to keep internationals from being pestered, but we should also consider the Christians