Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, Voice of the Martyrs Korea President, authors this special 8-part series on Kim Kyo Shin, one of the greatest martyrs in Korean Christian history whose voice needs to be heard today more than ever, by Korea and the world.
If crying out in morning prayer was the symbol of the Korean church, rising early to wash himself in cold water in solitude and staying up late to study the Bible was the symbol of the Christianity of Kim Kyo Shin. As Pyung Goo No, who later gathered all 158 issues of Sungsuh Chosun and bound them into the 7 volume collected works of KKS, wrote “He published Sungsuh Chosun for the faith of countrymen in a unique way; rather than accepting rituals and sermons in established churches, he hoped people to digest Christianity by studying the Bible through the soul of Koreans. He advocated that we ought to chill our emotional ardor in our head with cold water to have belief properly” (Kim 2012, 180).
This self-study method was not simply the creation of Kim Kyo Shin. It was actually the indigenous practice which had characterized Korean Christianity before Western missionaries arrived:
Christianity in Korea was begun by Korean Confucian literati rather than foreign missionaries. The tradition of Confucianism is that Confucianists read classics, discuss what they read, and conduct research. The classics provide all they wish to know and what is needed for them to achieve their goals… Historically, from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries during the formative stage of Roman Catholicism in Korea, Korean Confucian Catholics researched and understood the Bible for themselves similarly, rather than by passively learning from foreign missionaries. In the same way, even during the early stages of the introduction of Protestantism, [Non Church Movement] members, influenced as they were by Confucianism, did not feel the necessity to receive help from foreign missionaries in studying, understanding, and practicing the teachings of the Bible. For understanding and teaching, the Bible alone was sufficient, and they were confident that they could know what the Bible teaches, without outside help (Hwang, 2012, 175).
To Kim Kyo Shin, Christianity was not a ritual to be enacted but a path to be studied, mastered, and lived out under the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus he taught it the same way such a subject would be studied in a Confucian academy, only instead of “reading, memorizing, and interpreting Confucian texts,” he taught his students how to read, memorize, and interpret the Bible for themselves (Hwang, 2012, 28). In many ways, he taught the Bible the same way he taught other subjects in his day job as a grade teacher (Kim, 2012, 2). He saw the public school classroom rather than the church building as the most important place to model and live out the Christian life.
Being a grade school teacher might sound less devout than pastoring or less revolutionary than the activity of some nationalists, but the Japanese regarded Kim Kyo Shin as a danger to national security because of his simple acts of faithfulness to Christ and Chosun in the classroom. For example, he continued to use his Korean name as well as the Korean names for his students in roll call. He taught in the Korean language, and contrary to colonial policy his geography lessons were about Korean, not Japanese, geography. He refused to bow to the Japanese emperor in the morning exercises. He also taught lessons from the Korean Bible. Ultimately he was forced to resign in 1940 after 12 years of teaching (Kim, 2012, 2). Two years later he was imprisoned by the Japanese for an article in his magazine, spending a year in prison while his 300 subscribers were detained by the police for ten days or more (Hwang, 2012, 100).
Barred from teaching after his release from prison, he continued to teach—this time at the Heung-nam Nitrogen Chemical Co. One of his college alumni from Japan hired him to oversee the plant’s 5,000 Korean laborers and to improve their working conditions. In addition to taking care of the laborers’ physical needs, Kim Kyo Shin also taught Korean classes to the laborers. Though the Japanese government objected, Kim Kyo Shin’s alumni friend and plant manager stood up for him and insisted that the classes were necessary for worker safety and productivity (Kim, 2012, 168).
Ultimately, living out his faith cost Kim Kyo Shin his life—not at the hands of the government but at the hands of a contagious disease. In April 1945, three months before the end of the war, Kim Kyo Shin contracted typhoid as a result of personally caring for infected workers. He died at age 44, his body cremated before proper tribute could be arranged (Hwang, 2012, 89), which may be in keeping with what he would have preferred.
Next in Part VII of this special series on Kim Kyo Shin: Missionary To Chosun
Hwang, S.C. 2012. A theological analysis of the Non-Church Movement in Korea with a special reference to the formation of its spirituality. Birmingham, UK: University of Birmingham.
Kim, J.C. 2012. Recollection of Kyo-Shin Kim. BibleKorea.net. Accessed November 30, 2015 at http://www.biblekorea.net/articles/Recollection_of_Kyo-shin_Kim.doc.