In this Voice of the Martyrs guest blog series, Pastor Kim Sung Chul tells the intriguing story of Lee Su Jung, the man responsible for bringing Christianity to Korea–and the man who was martyred because of it. (Lee Su Jung is the man in white in the front row)
Lee Su Jung was born in Ok-gwa, which is part of Jeolla Province. He took a high public office in the Korean government. There was a military coup d’état in 1882 called the Imo Incident, which started when the old-fashioned soldiers didn’t get paid for over 13 months. During this military turmoil, Lee Su Jung saved the life of the Last Empress, by changing her clothes and disguising her as a court lady. He carried her in a covered sedan chair out of the palace to Choong-ju, to a safer town in the south.
After the turmoil, Lee Su Jung was rewarded suitably for his achievements. King Go Jong endowed him with the title of the General Seollyak, which was a high-ranked position in the Korean government. When King Go Jong wanted to make his wish come true, Lee Su Jung requested that the King send him to Japan in order to look around and to learn its advanced civilization as a nonofficial member of the Second Tour Group to Japan. He was eager to be a driving force for development in his homeland. Prior to Korea, Japan opened itself to Western civilization and achieved its rapid development through the Yushin reformation.
An Jong Su was a member of the First Tour Group to Japan. He brought back many books on agriculture and wrote the first modern book on agriculture, called Nong-Jeong-Shin-Pyeon (A New Agriculture Book). When he heard that Lee Su Jung was leaving for Japan, he gave a precious piece of advice to his close friend. He told him to visit Dr. Tsuda Sen, who was a specialist in agriculture. The science of agriculture was cutting edge technology at the time. In September 1882, Lee Su Jung sailed to Japan on a merchant ship called the Maiji-Maru. When he met the Japanese famous scholar in agriculture, Dr. Tsuda Sen presented him with a Chinese Bible.
Dr. Tsuda Sen originally went to Washington in 1867 as an officer of the Japanese feudal government, with other officials in order to purchase military ships from the United States. He was amazed at how highly developed America was. After a long consideration about the source of the driving power, Dr. Tsuda concluded that it came from Christianity. Then he sent his own daughter Tsuda Umeko at the age of eight to study in the States. Ten years later, his daughter was baptized by Pastor O. Perinchief on Easter at the Old Swiss Church. Attending his daughter’s baptism, Dr. Tsuda made up his mind to be a Christian. He became a good and faithful one. These are his words when he presented the Bible to Lee Su Jung:
The light of Confucius is partial and could not shine to the dark places. However, the light of Jesus is like the sun and shines on every nook and cranny in Japan, the whole world, and the earth from this end to that.
 YoonTae Oh, The History of the Korean Christianity, Vol. 4: Lee SuJung, The Forerunner, (Seoul: Publisher Hyesun, 1983), p. 59.
What effect did Dr. Tsuda’s words have on the life of Lee Su Jung? Would Lee Su Jung dare to open the pages of this Bible? Read Lee Su Jung: A Man of Macedonia for Korea, Part 3 here Wednesday to find out.
About the Author
The Rev. Kim Sung Chul
CEO, ITC Inspirational Theatre Company
Former Professor, Theatre Department, Seoul Institute of the Arts
Former Guest Professor, English Department, Yonsei University