February 5 – Joseph Henry Davies & missionaries in Korea & Japan

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.


Joseph Henry Davies & missionaries in Korea & Japan, Christian pioneers

Rev Joseph Henry Davies and his sister, Mary, arrived in Korea in October 1889, the first of over 130 Australians to serve there as missionaries of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, and the Uniting Church in Australia. Henry Davies was raised in a Brethren family and as an adult found his spiritual home in the Anglican Church in Caulfield and the Presbyterian Church in Toorak.

He founded the Caulfield Grammar School, but was sent as a missionary to Korea by the Presbyterian Church, after undertaking some theological education in Scotland.

The ship took him first to Busan, arriving there on 2 October, but he continued on to Seoul, where he studied the Korean language for five months. Presbyterian missionaries from the United States had already arrived in Korea four years earlier, and they and Davies together decided that they should divide responsibility for mission work in the country, and should form one united Presbyterian Church of Korea. The Australians were allocated the South-eastern province as the area for their missionary activity. In March 1990 Davies set out on foot for Busan, distributing Christian literature as he went. He arrived in Busan on 4 April 1890, having contracted small-pox and pneumonia on the way. In spite of medical care provided by a local Japanese doctor, Davies died on 5 April 1890.

His death awakened a strong commitment in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria to accept responsibility for the evangelization of the province, and five new missionaries – one ordained minister and his wife, and three single women – were sent out the following year. Thus began 124  years of missionary activity in which more than 130 Australians have served, and two couples continue to undertake service in the spirit of Christ in North Korea,

Missionaries established schools in major centres throughout the province – including the first schools in the province in which girls were allowed to study. They established modern hospitals and clinics in major centres. They preached the Gospel, established churches and trained lay leaders for them. They also participated in the national institutions – Dr Gelsen Engel taught in the theological college in Pyong Yang from its establishment in 1900 until 1937. Others have taught in this theological college since it moved to Seoul following liberation from the Japanese in 1945. Rev J. Noble Mackenzie developed a major hospital, church and residential village for sufferers from Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) and led it for 30 years. Rev Charles McLaren established the first psychiatric medicine program in the country. Dr Helen and Sister Cath Mackenzie established the Il Sin Hospital to serve women and infants during and following the Korean War.

When the missionaries were forced to leave Korea at the beginning of the Korean War, several women developed ministries among Japanese people, and Korean residents of Japan, while they waited for permission to return to Korea. For more than a century, Australian men and women laboured side by side with Korean colleagues in serving the most marginalized, sometimes exploited people in the country, in the spirit of Christ.

Christian people in the province in which most of the Australians have worked have erected a beautiful memorial in the mountains behind Masan to the seven missionaries and some of the Korean martyrs from the province who gave their lives in the service of the Gospel in Korea.

Rev John Brown