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Help for North Korea

How South Korean believers are praying and acting to help their neighbors to the north.
SEOUL, South Korea — Every Friday evening the massive auditorium of Yoido Full Gospel Church (YFGC) in Seoul, South Korea — the world’s largest church — begins to fill with parishioners. The faithful gather en masse for an overnight prayer meeting which usually lasts from 9 p.m. until 4 a.m. the following day.

“Many people believe that such Friday overnight prayer meetings have been one of the main reasons for the rapid growth of YFGC,” says Younghoon Lee, senior pastor of YFGC and general superintendent of the Assemblies of God of Korea.

One of the primary topics of prayer has been for the reclusive nation of North Korea. For many in South Korea, it’s personal, as they have friends and family they have remained separated from for decades.

About an hour north, thousands gather to pray multiple times daily at the Osanri Prayer Mountain, just miles away from the North Korean border. The facility can accommodate 20,000 simultaneously. Loud, fervent prayers can be heard echoing off the hills.

Many YFGC members will fast and pray for days, even weeks, on end for their neighbors north of the 38th Parallel.

George O. Wood, chairman of the World AG Fellowship, notes, “For Younghoon Lee and the people of Yoido, prayer has never been a substitute for action. In fact, it seems their heart for prayer has led them to do proportionately more for the hurting.”

The church dedicates a full third of its annual budget to missions and compassion ministries. YFGC maintains one of Asia’s largest welfare communities for children, elderly, and those facing extreme poverty and health issues.

As it relates to North Korea, YFGC also places action to their faith.

Nearly a decade ago David Yonggi Cho, founder of YFGC, announced a project to build a massive seven-story cardiac hospital along Pyongyang's Daedong River. The $22 million project would provide North Koreans critical cardiac care with state of the art equipment in the 260-bed facility.

In 2008, 23 trucks trekked across the contentious demilitarized zone (DMZ) into North Korea with equipment and heavy machinery.

Cho proposed name of the clinic to be Pyongyang Gospel Heart Hospital — a name eventually rejected by the North Korean government. The approved name became the Rev. Cho Yonggi Heart Hospital.

As progress on the facility moved steadily along for months, it was suddenly halted in 2010.

“Although the construction of Cho Yonggi Heart Hospital has been suspended since the year of 2010,” says Lee, “I am confident that it will be of great help for North Koreans suffering from heart conditions upon its completion.”

YFGC has remained undeterred in their mission to show compassion. Last year, they coordinated a fund where 55,000 churches in South Korea will contribute one percent of their annual budgets. When opportunity arises, the funds will be used to restore churches, schools, and hospitals.

Another pair of initiatives aims at building 200 clinics and planting 2.5 billion trees in North Korea.

Urging those in the U.S. Assemblies of God to pray, Lee recalls the massive destruction in the fallout of the Korean War. “When there were fewer than 10 Korean Pentecostal churches and less than 500 church members,” Lee says, “the Assemblies of God (USA) lent their strong support to establish the Korean denomination of the Assemblies of God, and thus helped Korean Pentecostal churches to grow.”

Mark Forrester

Mark Forrester is the senior director of Public Relations and Communications for the General Council of the Assemblies of God. He is a graduate of Lee University and the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He is general editor of Trending Up: Social Media Strategies for Today's Church. Mark and his wife, Janine, have two children and live in Springfield, Missouri.