April 21 – Joo Ki Chul & Son Yang-won

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Joo Ki Chul & Son Yang-won, martyrs                                         

In 1905 Japan annexed Korea as a first step as a first step in establishing a Japanese Empire in Asia. As time went by, the Japanese insisted that all Koreans should engage in acts of allegiance to the empire. This included in participating in rites in which they were required to engage in acts of obeisance at the Shinto shrines erected in each centre across the country. Many Korean Christians and most missionaries interpreted these acts of obeisance as worship of the Japanese Sun-god, and therefore as a breach of the First Commandment. They therefore resisted either passively or actively the Japanese demands. Co-incidentally this pressure from the Japanese attracted many Korean nationalists to the Christian Church.

Joo Ki Chul  was born in Changwon in 1897, and grew up and learned the Gospel from the Australian missionaries who worked in the South-eastern province of the country. He became a Christian and was later trained and ordained as a Minister of the Gospel in the Presbyterian Church of Korea. He served in two major churches in the Province, and became an outspoken critic of the Japanese demand that all people do obeisance at the Shinto shrines. He was then called in 1937 to a large church in Pyong Yang, where his outspoken refusal to comply with the Japanese demands came under closer scrutiny. Over the next decade, Joo Ki Chul was imprisoned four times, the last time never to be released. He was tortured and abused, and finally died a martyr to his faith, in 1944. He could have compromised. He chose to follow his Lord, who had also refused to compromise.

Many other Korean Christians suffered imprisonment or death at the hands of the Japanese imperial authorities, or suffered in other ways in order to keep their worshipping communities together.

Five years after liberation from the Japanese in 1945, the North Korean army invaded the South. Many more leading Christians were murdered by the North Korean forces, or their sympathizers in the South, simply because they were Christians.

Of these, perhaps the best known was another Presbyterian Minister, Rev Son Yang-won. He had spent time in the Kwangju prison under the Japanese, inspired by the story of Rev Joo Ki Chul. He also wished for martyrdom but was released from prison at the end of the Japanese War, and became the pastor of the large leprosarium at Soonchun. Before the outbreak of the Korean War there were very active insurgents in the region. A group of them carried out murder and mayhem among the local Christian leaders. Two of those whom they murdered were sons of Pastor Son. Having been denied martyrdom himself, Pastor Son adopted the young man who had played the key role in the murder of his sons, rescued him from the hands of the anti-communist authorities bent on executing him, and raised him as his own son.

by John Brown