The story of the Universalist Korean mission is little discussed, surely because the Japan mission, on which it was institutionally dependent, is also little discussed and because there is no evidence that has come to light that it survived the Second World War. I’m hoping to add to the record, and follow up on the article I posted two years ago.
I was at the Library of Congress yesterday and scanned minutes and reports from the 1937 General Convention. This is from the section called International Church Extension. I’ve added links to outside resources for context.
Universalist General Convention. Universalist biennial reports and directory. Boston, Mass. : Universalist General Convention. (1938), p. 83-86.
Under the leadership of Mr. [Ryonki] Jio [or, Cho in the financial reports], graduate of Doshisha Theological Seminary, work was begun in Korea in 1929. Mr. Jio with another student from the seminary had done summer evangelistic work the two previous years. As he traveled all over the country he investigated possible centers for his future work. His final decision was in favor of Taikyu (Daigu—Korean pronunciation), a city the size of Rochester, New York.
In April, 1929, after his graduation from Doshisha, Mr. Jio rented a house and began his work. It was thought at first that no Sunday school could be conducted in such narrow quarters but on April 7th some 57 children came and three men and four women volunteered to help in teaching. What has come to be a very significant work was thus humbly begun.
There is a church building, and a pastor’s house on a small plot of land down a narrow alley building leading from one of the many wide streets in Taikyu. The buildings and land are being bought on the installment plan, with payments each month for something over two more years. The “church building” is an adapted ex-wrestling hall, now in quite bad condition, with uprights weakening and sinking to such an extent that the windows, which open horizontally, are immovable now, with the exception of one half of one window. A new building—one could almost say, a building—is needed badly, but the group is attempting this year a complete renovation with the limited resources these poverty-stricken people can manage to scrape together.
Here are all the usual meetings and some unusual ones —not only Church and Sunday School—but many other meetings throughout the week.
Mr. Jio has lived through some hard experiences since the start of 1929—experiences that would have embittered most men—but he has had his dream and has worked towards its realization steadily. To tabulate such activities as frequent preaching, Sunday School direction, prayer meetings, boys’ club work, Bible classes, does not begin to give one an idea of the work done. Mr. Jiu is fast becoming one of the best-known citizens of Taikyu.
In August of 1936, several months after his graduation from the Taikyu Government Medical School, Dr. Pak, who had for several years served as Sunday School superintendent, in cooperation with Mr. Jio and in the name of the church opened a medical-services-at-cost enterprise in a makeshift “attic” section of the “church building,” divided into a small laboratory, a small waiting room, and a somewhat larger consultation and treatment room, the whole comprising a space of about ten by fifteen feet. (Their original plan to build up the enterprise on a cooperative “shares” basis was prohibited by the police authorities.) For over a year Dr. Pak worked without salary patiently building the work. In August of ‘37, however, he resigned to take up a private practice in Manchukuo among Koreans there. Another young doctor was procured on a salary basis, and the work is going forward with steadily increasing numbers of patients daily and an ever-widening scope of influence in the city. In some months the average number of patients served has been as high as 40 to 50 daily. Last autumn, in answer to the need of an in-patient department for slight operation cases such as for trachoma, which is very wide-spread in Korea. Mr. Jio turned his house over to this work and took up a rented dwelling some twenty minutes’ walk from the “church.”
Handicapped by extremely limited equipment this “church and hospital” enterprise goes forward steadily.
Mrs. Onjun Pak, the first Korean to be trained at the Blackmer Home, has started a Sewing School for Women and Girls in connection with Mr. Jio’s work. Very little equipment was available, but it is hoped that interested groups in America may be able to contribute towards the purchase of a few machines and some necessary supplies. Until that time Mrs. Pak is carrying on with what is at hand and is making a real contribution to the people she serves. A portion of the International Friendship Offering received in Universalist Church Schools in November, 1937, has been a sign for this work of Mrs. Pak.
A church was soon started at Wulchon, some six miles from Taikyu, but owing to the persecution by another sect, it had to be suspended. But this misfortune has not followed another enterprise in Wulchon.
Some years ago people in the immediate vicinity of this small town faced a desperate unemployment situation. Mr. Jio resolved to do something about it. With his church group as a nucleus and on borrowed money, he purchased materials and begin a fibre-slipper manufacture, his own special service being the finding of markets for the goods manufactured goods during the long cold season when the ground cannot be worked. Today the Guild thus started has spread beyond this first group, gives employment to over eighteen hundred and manufactures over two hundred thousand pairs of slippers a year, selling some as far afield as Chicago and points farther east. This industry has become second in importance—after silk—in the district which Taikyu is the center.
A dozen miles beyond Wulchon is Kumpo, a small rural village of two hundred or more. Here, after some evangelistic meetings, a church of thirty odd members was formed. But it as was the case in Wulchon, was forced to suspend activities due to persecution from another sect.
After Dr. Cary’s address of the Buffalo convention in 1931, Rev. G. H. Leining and Rev. Ellsworth C. Reamon conducted a swift impromptu campaign for funds which resulted in enough to purchase a farm of some one hundred and sixteen thousand tsubo (a tsubo is 36 square feet) or over 98 acres—a very large farm for the Orient. Upwards of fifty families rent and work this farm, which has extensive rice cultivation possibilities as well as being in a good position for fruit. In the summer of ‘34 a great flood swept down and buried large portions of the farm under six feet of water, but it was reconditioned—at considerable expense (with money borrowed of the government on very easy terms). What was necessary was done and the slow process of making the land valuable by annually putting all returns back from it back into it was taken up again. More fruit trees are planted, more poplars about the edges to hold off sand and future floods. In August of 1936 an even worst flood came, wrecking property throughout the southern part of Korea. Once again the work of reconditioning was taken up but it was too expensive to do it as completely as was desirable. Nevertheless, more planting of fruit trees and protective poplars, which are pruned short, was done. A goodly number of the thousands of trees planted before the ‘36 flood, lived through it.
In the nearby town, Mr. Jio holds occasional meetings whenever an opportunity presents itself.
Mr. Jio maintains a constant communication with liberal groups of Koreans in Japan proper, especially among theological students to keep him exceedingly busy every time he visits Tokyo and Kyoto, where his alma mater, Doshisha, is.
He sees great opportunity for influence through a liberal magazine, but is compelled for lack of funds to postpone any independent action of this nature, submitting articles for publication in other magazines whenever opportunity permits.
Mr. Jio and the work he and his people undertake is financially aided by the General Convention and in constant affiliation with the General Convention representatives and the Japan Council.