Christians, Ebola, and the Beginnings of Revival

koreanchurchRegarding the origins of the Great Revival in Korea at the turn of the 20th century, during a massive outbreak of cholera, a historian writes:

“At the same time an epidemic of cholera in Seoul brought reports of the indefatigable toil of the Christian missionaries for the sick and dying there, how they performed duties from which the bravest Koreans often shrank, exposing themselves without stint, and saving hundreds of lives.  ‘All these recoveries made no little stir in the city.  Proclamations were posted on the walls telling the people there was no need for them to die when they might go to the Christian hospitals and live.  People who watched the missionaries working over the sick night after night reportedly said to each other, “How these foreigners love us!  Would we do as much for one of our own kin as they do for strangers?”

When Horace Underwood was seen hurrying along the road in the twilight, some of the Koreans remarked, “There goes the Jesus man: he works all day and all night with the sick without resting.”

“Why does he do it?” said another.

“Because he loves us,” was the reply.'”

-Palmer, Korea and Christianity, 1967, citing Moffett, The Christians of Korea, 1962.


To the Power of One

I found an interesting piece of trivia about the church at which I pastor, Glenkirk Church. Apparently, back in 1965, the church was meeting in a little chapel at another location, and the day came when the congregation had grown too large for the little chapel. The pastor at that time named the need to build a bigger sanctuary on that lot. Apparently the congregation was divided on this. I wasn’t there, so I can only guess how the conversations went.

“It’s too expensive! Why would we spend so much money on ourselves?”

“Why do we need to grow anymore? The church is fine the way it is!”

I know these kinds of questions came up, because as it was told to me by one of the old-timers who remembers, “It passed by one vote.”

One vote!

Just one person enough to move that congregation forward. I don’t know who that person was (or technically, who that 51% was), but I owe a debt of thanks. Without them, we wouldn’t be here. The church wouldn’t have grown. It wouldn’t have gone through a later move to an even larger campus on which it could keep growing. Children wouldn’t have received Christian education. People wouldn’t have been sent into full time missions. Countless people would not have become Christians at Glenkirk. Hundreds of thousands of dollars would not have been spent on missions with the poor.

To that one person who voted “yes” – thank you so much!

Because of you, there are three children of Glenkirk who are now in full time ministry in Muslim countries. There is one who is a youth pastor on an island in the Atlantic. There is one family who became Christians at Glenkirk and are now rebuilding an orphanage in Haiti that fell down in the 2010 earthquake. One is a chaplain at Fuller Seminary. Without you, my two children, along with many others, wouldn’t have been baptized at Glenkirk. And now each week, we gather as a family, young and old, to sing to a good God, as we have since that 1965 vote.

Thank you so much! Without you, I wouldn’t pass each week through the shadow of this cross and remember the One who said “yes” to God’s call for the sake of we who would come after him. Whoever you are – well done!


The Glenkirk Cross
The Glenkirk Cross (Photo courtesy of S. Vance)

ECO’s National Synod, January 2013

I’m just returning from the national gathering of The Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO), a new Reformed denomination.  ECO has been in formal existence for a year, has taken in 28 churches, is in the process of receiving another 48 churches, and has over 75 more churches in conversation with them. The Synod met over three days in Orlando, Florida.  There were around 1,200 people in attendance.


There seemed to be three key themes of the conference: leadership, church planting, and mission.  There is a palpable energy to the group.  They are entrepreneurs looking to promote the gospel and replicate their ministries, particularly in a culture where the number of people who call Jesus “Lord” is declining.  They wanted to talk about Syria and human trafficking.  They wanted to talk about collegial ministries with a flexible infrastructure that allows the local church to powerfully impact its community.  Notably absent was discussion of human sexuality, which doesn’t seem to be a defining issue for ECO.

Though ECO has had a number of conferences and formal presbytery meetings, this was the test drive for their performance as a national body.  The infrastructure had all been put into place some time ago: a core statement of theology, a polity, a medical plan, a retirement plan, a governing board, moderators, stated clerks, PJCs, committees to oversee ministers, committees to oversee ordination, and the like.  But this was the test to see if it would function as a working assembly.  Among other things, the Synod gathered to affirm an ordination process and its Ordination Manual and to make plans for church planting.  It discussed minor revisions to its polity.  The Presbytery of the West interviewed and passed its first candidate for ordination.  It was a careful blend of church administration and ministry training.  ECO successfully executed its business as a national body.

Two things were, I think, notable.  First, it wasn’t primarily a business meeting.  The meetings at which business was conducted had the feel of necessity punctuated with moments of enthusiasm.  But the conference itself hosted a powerful and dynamic worship team alongside notable speakers like Jim Mellado of the Willow Creek Association, Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission, and Leighton and Kevin Ford.  There was more celebration than deliberation.  There were several dozen breakout seminars to equip and train leaders in a number of areas, including strategic planning and change management, issues concerning missions outside the US, discussions of Reformed confessions, effective use of technology, Korean church ministries, and more.  Secondly, there wasn’t a spirit of debate in the room.  I asked someone on staff with the PCUSA how this compared to General Assembly.  He said, “There’s no politicking.”

Earlier in the week, the day before I left for the conference, I listened to a retired PCUSA seminary professor compare the leaders of ECO to racists and sexists, saying something to the effect that Jesus was bleeding because people were leaving the denomination.  What I saw at the Synod gathering was Jesus in action.  This is a movement that is going to lead lost people to Jesus, plant churches, and bring justice to a lost world.  In a word, I think I just went to my first mission conference.  And if Jesus was doing anything, he was dancing.