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INTERVIEW26th Pentecostal World Conference to mark turning point for Korean churches

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Yoido Full Gospel Church Senior Pastor Lee Young-hoon speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at the church's office in Yeongdeungpo District, Seoul, Sept. 23. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
Yoido Full Gospel Church Senior Pastor Lee Young-hoon speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at the church's office in Yeongdeungpo District, Seoul, Sept. 23. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Thousands of Christian believers to hold prayer rally for peace on Korean Peninsula

By Park Han-sol

In the eyes of Yoido Full Gospel Church Senior Pastor Lee Young-hoon, the upcoming Pentecostal World Conference (PWC) marks a new turning point for Protestant churches in Korea.

Thousands of representatives and congregants of Pentecostal denominations from over 150 countries around the globe ― known as the Pentecostal World Fellowship ― will flock to Seoul from Oct. 12 to 14 for the 26th PWC, organized by the largest Protestant church in South Korea.

This year is the third time for the triennial event, which has been held since 1947, to take place in Seoul, after 1973 and 1998.

"It's the first large-scale international spiritual celebration that will be attended by church representatives from all four corners of the world since the outbreak of the coronavirus. The event will, hopefully, signal the beginning of the post-COVID-19 future," the pastor told The Korea Times in a recent interview at the church's office in Yeongdeungpo District, Seoul.

An official poster for the 26th Pentecostal World Conference that will be hosted in Seoul from Oct. 12 to 14 at the Yoido Full Gospel Church and the Pyeonghwa Nuri Park in Paju, Gyeonggi Province / Courtesy of Yoido Full Gospel Church
An official poster for the 26th Pentecostal World Conference that will be hosted in Seoul from Oct. 12 to 14 at the Yoido Full Gospel Church and the Pyeonghwa Nuri Park in Paju, Gyeonggi Province / Courtesy of Yoido Full Gospel Church
Themed "Pentecostal Revival in the Next Generation," it will be a spiritual assembly centering on the role and future of Pentecostalism ― and Protestant Christianity as a whole ― at a time when general interest in organized religion is dwindling as the pandemic continues to test people's faith, according to Lee.

"We should no longer be solely concerned with our current generations, but focus on and nurture the next. Through this year's PWC, we aim to pass on the spiritual legacy and blessing so that the succeeding generation can carry on the mission," he said.

Lee noted that the present-day Korea's Protestant Christian circle is in a state of crisis, with many churches experiencing sharp decreases in their membership.

"Throughout the years, the country's Christian circle has experienced a series of religious divisions and power struggles. Some lost their essence as they began focusing more on their outward appearances and transforming into the 'Kingdom of Man' rather than the 'Kingdom of God,'" he said, without shying away from voicing criticism.

COVID-19 has further exacerbated the situation as the public's overall distrust of some Protestant churches grew, followed by clusters of church-related infections in 2020 and some religious institutions' initial failure to comply with the government's virus response measures.

To rebuild public trust, he said, it is time to recall the fundamental role played by churches in serving the poor and downtrodden.

"When churches were established two millennia ago, their mission was two-pronged ― first, to aid the poor and vulnerable, and second, to preach the Gospel. Nowadays, the house of God in Korea is so focused on its second evangelical mission that it began to forget its primary role, thus losing touch with reality."

Ahead of Christmas last year, the Yoido Full Gospel Church delivered boxes of basic living necessities worth 400 million won to some 800 low-income households residing in
Ahead of Christmas last year, the Yoido Full Gospel Church delivered boxes of basic living necessities worth 400 million won to some 800 low-income households residing in "jjokbangchon," or shanty towns packed with tiny rooms barely big enough for one person, in the central Seoul area. Courtesy of Yoido Full Gospel Church

During the pandemic, the Yoido Full Gospel Church has made it its goal to lend a helping hand to those who have been hit hardest by the outbreak of the virus ― small business owners, families with multiple children, child-headed households, recipients of basic livelihood security subsidies and, most recently, victims of severe flood damage.

"In the case of small business owners, we helped those who were in blind spots when it came to the government's pandemic-related subsidies," Lee explained. "For example, the government's monetary aid was given out to those who have tax records, meaning the people who earn over 3 million won ($2,100) a month. Then, what about those with far less monthly earnings?"

Accordingly, the megachurch distributed cash handouts worth a total of 10.6 billion won ($7.4 million) at the beginning of this year, and again, 5 billion won for low-income households ahead of the Chuseok holiday.

A large number of Pentecostal believers will soon gather in Seoul to rebuild their faith and recall their religious missions. The pastor expressed hope that the 26th PWC can serve as a critical point that suggests a new direction for Protestant churches here.

"Through our Pentecostal movement, we will once again remind ourselves how to become one and serve society and work toward bringing social salvation. I believe the conference can thus help the stagnant Korean churches take a new leap," he said.

The opening ceremony of the 24th Pentecostal World Conference held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from Sept. 7 to 10 in 2016 / Courtesy of Pentecostal World Fellowship
The opening ceremony of the 24th Pentecostal World Conference held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from Sept. 7 to 10 in 2016 / Courtesy of Pentecostal World Fellowship

He added that the climax of Seoul's hosting of the PWC will be marked by the "DMZ Crusade" on Oct. 14. Some 20,000 believers ― including 5,000 Pentecostal church officials worldwide and other Korean congregants ― will convene at the Pyeonghwa Nuri Park in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, located just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), for the large-scale prayer rally.

"It will be a place to pray together for the restoration of peace on the Korean Peninsula," Lee said. "In recent months, the news of the Russia-Ukraine war has placed everyone in distress. It is time to remind the world of the state of Korea's division once again, which was the result of an equally tumultuous war, and the country's need to achieve peaceful reunification."

The Yoido Full Gospel Church has been engaging with North Korea in a humanitarian way for years. Most evidently, the megachurch has been spearheading a project to establish an eight-story cardiac hospital in the heart of Pyongyang since December 2007.

The hospital's construction has remained on hold since the sinking of the South Korean military vessel, the Cheonan, by the North in the West Sea in March 2010 which soured the two Koreas' relations but is expected to resume once the North's border opens again, according to Lee.

While the 26th PWC will be held in-person at the Yoido Full Gospel Church and the Pyeonghwa Nuri Park, all events taking place throughout the three-day conference, from plenary sessions to workshops and forums, will also be livestreamed on YouTube ― for the first time in the PWC's history ― and will offer multilingual interpretation.

Senior Pastor Lee Young-hoon smiles during an interview with The Korea Times at the church's office in Yeongdeungpo District, Seoul, Sept. 23. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
Senior Pastor Lee Young-hoon smiles during an interview with The Korea Times at the church's office in Yeongdeungpo District, Seoul, Sept. 23. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
Park Han-sol hansolp@koreatimes.co.kr


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