The Great Revival in Pyongyang 1907

Pyongyang Great Revival (1907-1910) – Korea


From 150 Years of Revival by Mathew Backholer
The first Protestant missionary to Korea was a Welshman, the Rev. Robert Jermain Thomas. He arrived in Korea in 1866 where he sold classical Chinese Bibles (which could be read by Koreans, Japanese and Chinese) and risked decapitation if caught. Korea, known as the Hermit Kingdom was still a closed land to foreigners…On the 2 September 1866, Rev. Robert Jermain Thomas was martyred on the river bank (alongside all the crew of the merchant-marine schooner that he was travelling on) outside of Pyongyang, (the present capital of North Korea) and the centre where the 1907 revival broke out.

…In 1886, the first Protestant Korean was baptised and by 1887 there was seven Korean converts. Korea saw its first revival in 1903 and it was known as the Wonsan Revival Movement and both the Presbyterians and Methodists reaped large harvests as they were united to exalt Jesus Christ. In 1904, there was 10,000 converts in Pyongyang and by the middle of 1906, after 30,000 new converts in that year alone, the revival had waned and died out.

Pyongyang, Korea, in 1907 was known as a city of wine, women and song. It was a dark city in the early twentieth century with sin abounding. It even had its own Gisaeng (Korean geisha) training school. It was in this city that Korea’s second revival began in January 1907 after months of persistent prayer, 50,000 people were converted in that one year and Korea was set ablaze – it was known as the Pyongyang Great Revival (1907-1910).

Missionary, John McCune in a letter wrote: ‘…The work of the Holy Spirit here at the Jangdaehyun Church where revival first broke out would far surpass what we have read about the great revival in Wales and India…’

…In September 1906, Dr. Howard Agnew Johnston, of New York, whilst in Seoul, informed a group of missionaries and Korean Christians about the Khasi Hills Revival, (1905-1906) in India. Jonathan Goforth, a missionary to China and Manchuria wrote that because of this more than twenty missionaries from Pyongyang Presbyterian and Methodist missions resolved to meet together to pray daily for ‘greater blessings.’ Over the Christmas period the Pyongyang Christians met each evening for prayer, instead of their usual festive celebrations. The evening prayer ceased at the start of the Pyongyang General Class but continued at noon for those who could attend.

A Bible colporteur from Kan Kai Church along the Yalu River, of 250 believers was also in Seoul. He heard Dr. Johnston and encouraged his church to meet for prayer at 5am through the autumn and winter of 1906-1907. For six months they prayed until the Holy Spirit came as a flood.

…Jonathan Goforth, missionary to China and Manchuria on his tour of the country in June 1907 said, “Those missionaries seemed to carry us right up to the throne of God. The Korean movement was of incalculable significance in my life, because it showed me at first hand the boundless possibilities of the revival method. Korea made me feel, as it did many others, that this was God’s plan for setting the world aflame.” Jonathan Goforth went on to have a powerful ministry and saw revival in China and Manchuria during 1907-1909 and again in 1915 in various cities.

…South of Pyongyang, Jonathan Goforth passed through Songdo, the ancient Korean capital. In 1907 the revival had added 500 to the Church, but during a month of special meetings in 1910, 2,500 were added to the Church because of the incredible fields which were white unto harvest (John 4:35).

Jonathan Goforth wrote: ‘When we visited Seoul in 1907, every church was crowded. A missionary said that on a six weeks tour he had baptised 500 and recorded 700 catechumens, and that his five out-stations, in one year, had increased to twenty-five. During 1910 there were 13,000 people in Seoul who signed cards saying they wanted to become Christians, and in September of that year the Methodist churches of the city received 3,000 by baptism.

‘Directly west of the capital, at the port of Chemulpo, the Methodist Mission, in 1907, had a church with 800 members. Opposite the harbour was an island with 17,000 inhabitants. The churches on the island had a baptised membership of 4,247, and more than half of them had been brought in that year. The Christians were praying that soon the whole island would become the Lord’s.’

…In 1910, the British and Foreign Bible Society through its Bible Colporteurs sold the immense total of 666,000 books to the people of Korea, most of them single gospels! A Church at Sang Sim Li, which had birthed sixteen other churches in the district, in connection with the ‘Million Movement’ (the aim of which was to win one million souls for the Lord) were believing for four hundred new converts; their share of the million, and so stepped out in faith and enlarged their church from 36ft. sq. to 225 ft. sq.!

…Paget Wilkes, founder of the Japanese Evangelistic Band visited Korea in March 1911. In his journal he wrote about the story of the Sensen Magistrate, a town in the north, where one in three of the population were Christian. When asked how things were going in his city he replied, “Go and ask the missionaries; they rule in Sensen.” Paget wrote: ‘He had but little to do. Quarrels and differences were settled before the Church, and not brought into the public courts – as St. Paul lays down in the Corinthians letters.’

Paget Wilkes wrote that on the 26 March 1911 he ‘spent a pleasant evening with Dr. Underwood, one of the oldest missionaries in Korea’ who said, “Twenty-four years ago I came to Korea and there was not one protestant Christian. Today there are 200,000, i.e. one to every fifty of the population…”

150 Years of Revival by Mathew Backholer

4 thoughts on “The Great Revival in Pyongyang 1907

  1. This is amazing. I just kind of assumed that the Christian conversions largely took place after the American presence in Korea. I had no idea missionaries were so successful over a hundred years ago! And Korea was a hermit kingdom at that time too? When did they start opening their ports?

    • I know. We were surprised as well that there was so much spiritual activity so early in the 20th century. It appears that in the late 1800s there were some brave foreigners who gave their lives for the advancement of the gospel in that area. Those sacrifices seemed to enable a further advancement of the gospel in Korea. I find it fascinating that the major revival happened in Pyongyang, now the capital of one the most oppressive countries on the face of the earth. Often though, there is a preparation for difficult times to come, such as in this case, the occupation by Japan in 1910 and then following that, the split of the Korean peninsula. Korea really does stand out in it’s Christian heritage, and it’s painful past, amongst the East Asian countries. Their most famous folk song, Arirang, is filled with so much hurt and pain. They have been victorious over many hardships.

      My friend says that the Japanese occupation forced Korea out of it’s hermit status. So some good things came out of Japan’s presence in Korea even though it was a very painful time and the hurt continues to today. Many of my students had a very out there dislike for Japan. They didn’t like it when we said we liked Japan, but it’s kind of like sibling rivalries. They are envious of each other. Whereas Korea kind of looks up to China as their bigger brother, Japan is seen in a different light.

      This wasn’t a very short answer to your comment. I think they opened their ports kicking and screaming out of necessity, but it’s sure changed now.

      I appreciate your asking these questions and commenting on this post. We find this history very exciting and intriguing. I’m glad you thought it was interesting as well.

      • Wow, you sure know a lot. Thanks for the detailed answer!
        Funny how Korea sees China as a big brother. Surely China occupied Korea at some stage? And with the communism vs capitalism thing I wouldn’t have expected South Korea to be so warm with China. But maybe because China is such an economic juggernaut it makes sense that it fills the older sibling role. Australia’s just signed a trade agreement with China so I think I can understand that.
        Unless it’s like the Europeans’ respect for the ancient Romans – even though they were brutal, the Romans were largely remembered for their construction and spreading christianity. It’s just what people remember I guess.
        I find history exciting too although I haven’t included it in posts yet. I drafted one but then scrapped it because I was finding it difficult to make it exciting in a way other people will read it. I shall try again, using your posts as a guide!

      • It’s great to share our ideas about history! I’m glad to find another fellow lover of history. I know what you mean about the dryness of it. That is challenge and I find it overwhelming as to what and how to share it. The best thing is that I learn so much in putting together these posts.
        You’re right about China and Korea. Not to say they don’t get pissed at China when they try to steal their history or flex their muscle with them. From what I can gather of the history China has mostly played an ally role in fighting off Japanese invasions. China would love to get their hands on South Korea, but that’s not going to happen at least in the foreseeable future.
        Anyway, cheers to you! Look forward to seeing some history posts from you:-) Thanks again for your thoughtful replies and comments!

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