In 2007 I had a privilege to attend the first GCF at Limuru, Kenya. I was assigned to a group of 30 people sharing their faith journeys, which profoundly affected me in my outlook of other Christians. I have been so busy all my life with my own community that I haven’t had opportunities to sit with people from much diverse background, and listen to so many faith journeys at one sitting. I still vividly remember one Catholic priest in my group, who was President and theology professor at a Catholic University. He shared his struggles and conflict as a theologian. He had no peace and no joy in his life-long studies, but rather doubts, confusion and conflicts. Only a few years ago he said he had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. He became a new man. Until then mass and communion have been a mere ritual for him and his life has been dry. But since that experience he is now excited with anticipation on every Sunday and when he receive bread and wine, sometimes tears flow on his face. Jesus is real to him, not just as a subject of Christology. He has a transformed life.
As I was listening to him, tears welled in my eyes as well, because I understood exactly what he was talking about. He is a Catholic priest, a Catholic theologian and president of a Catholic University. But what he had experienced was identical to mine as an evangelical minister, an evangelical theologian and president of an evangelical university. In Christ he was my brother. We both met Christ in a personal way. We had the same Father, the same Jesus and the same Holy Spirit. We belong to the same family. That small group sharing opened my eyes to a new spiritual reality. I was surprised to discover that we were spiritually already one and gave me a sheer joy to know it. It was not a theological agreement, nor our backgrounds, nor our churches, nor our outfits. Our stories centered primarily around One Person Jesus Christ. An Italian minister heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ at a tent meeting on the street and trusted Christ as his personal savior. Eventually he was called to serve the Lord and he was sitting there next to me. The central core of their spiritual transformation was the same to all that everyone understood the gospel and trusted Jesus Christ the Son of God for their salvation. He was the answer for Christian unity. If we draw a circle around Him, many are included. But if we draw a circle around ourselves, many will be left out.
I was born in a Christian family in North Korea in 1939 during the time of the Japanese military occupation and severe persecution of Christians in Korea. I grew up in my childhood watching my pastor and elders imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese police because they refused to worship the Japanese Shinto god. Rev. Joo Kichul, my faithful pastor was tortured to death at the end of his seven years of imprisonment only half a year prior to the Japanese surrender in August, 1945, the end of World War II. Under his strong leadership our congregation did not go to the Shinto shrine to worship, when practically all of the Korean churches, Catholics and Protestants, Buddhists and Confucians and the entire people of Korea knelt before the Japanese god. Following the Japanese surrender, Korea was forcibly divided into North and South by the Russians and the Americans against the will of the people, which divided condition still remains until today. In our church one senior pastor died as a martyr during the 36 years of the Japanese occupation, while during the short five-year rule of the Communists between 1945 and 1950 before the war. six of our other church leaders were killed, three pastors and three elders. The communists were worse than the Japanese.
During those years Christian students were subjected to all types of corporal and mental punishment, simply because they went to church on Sundays. Schools were ordered by the government to force Christian students to give up their faith. Teachers slapped the Christian children on their faces, hit them with sticks, bamboo rules on their palms, sometimes with an iron tube on their calves, threatened them to expel from school, verbal abuses, detained them late at school, had them to stand in the corridors with their hands up, and ostracized them in front of the whole class, while their peers sneering at them, sometimes their classmates mob linching them. Christian students were defenseless. After three years of such physical and mental persecution, a pastor’s son and I were only two left still faithful to the Lord and church and endured through. All other Christian students gave up, for it was too much suffering for them to endure. My church and my mother in particular were great support and encouragement for me to remain faithful to the end, till the Korean War broke out in 1950, when we didn’t have to go to school. My mother told me to leave home for to South Korea during the war, where there is freedom, which I did as an 11 year old boy. I and my family have been separated between North and South Korea. I grew up like an orphan. But the Lord has been faithful to my life.
I stand here this morning before this august body of Christian leaders from all over the world and from all traditions, as a retired minister, a retired professor of systematic theology, a mission mobilizer, currently serving as President of Torch Trinity Graduate University, chairman of Asia Evangelical Alliance and World Evangelical Alliance and above all as a humble servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have known the eternal love of God for me in Jesus Christ. I have seriously sought to obey the Lord Jesus Christ in all things, particularly His Great Commission and his prayer in John 17 for Christian unity. My life has been a long process of metamorphosis. While I was listening to the faith journeys of the participants, I was startled to discover that in spite of the differences among the participants, we all shared a common faith in the Lord. The spiritual experience was the same. We were after all brothers and sisters in Christ. I became keenly aware of oneness and that I have a great family in Christ in every tradition, in every denomination, and in every church and in every country. I am only a member of a huge family. What is the minimum requirement for us to be siblings in a family? Receiving life from parents! What is the minimum requirement to be members of God’s family? Receiving eternal life from the same Father through Christ by believing in His Son. One may be healthy, while another may be handicapped. One may be more handsome than the other. One may be richer and another may be poorer, better educated than the other. These are not the requirements. If we are born of the same father, we are his children. We may be Catholics, Protestants, evangelicals, Charismatic/Pentecostals. But we share the same heavenly Father. We are born of God, when we put our trust in Jesus Christ as our savior and the Lord. So we belong to one another. Therefore, no one can deny our oneness and separate us from one another and the love of God that is in Jesus Christ. This is given. We worship the same God. The Apostle Paul exhorted us in his Epistle to the Ephesians,
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:1-7). Amen, Amen!
Rev. Dr. Sang-Bok David, ThD, DD, Dlitt
Chairman, World Evangelical Alliance
President, Torch Trinity Graduate University, Korea
Pastor Emeritus, Hallelujah Community Church, Korea