South Koreans have a township mission
South-east Asian country has 20 000 evangelists in 175 countries, twice as many as 10 years ago
EYES closed and head bowed, pastor Cheong In Taek raises his hands and asks the congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ in Green Park informal settlement to pray for him and his wife, Cheong Young Suk.
The Cheongs are South Korean missionaries, and the pastor is asking the 40 churchgoers to bless their upcoming visit to the Eastern Cape.
“In the Eastern Cape, like here, there are lots of people in the church,” says the pastor.
“Please pray for us,” he says, as churchgoers whisper prayers in Xhosa and Afrikaans.
The Wednesday evening church service is held in a small church built of corrugated steel sheets in the informal settle- ment on the edge of Driftsands Nature Reserve.
Balancing his English Bible on a Xhosa Bible on his left hand, Cheong – a slight man in a plain blue jacket and black pants – warns the community against the allure of alcohol and earthly pleasures.
“You must not see the luxury world, you must see the Lord Jesus Christ,” he says, standing in front of a wall hanging depicting Jesus praying. “Christians are people who keep their treasure in the storeroom of the kingdom of God.
“Be the kind of person that an evil spirit cannot attack,” he says, gesticulating to drive home the point. “Green Park community, you must take away your old life.”
Most of the congregation are women, holding Bibles in English, Afrikaans or Xhosa. They sit on plastic chairs listening attentively to the pastor’s sermon, delivered in heavily accented English.
At the back of the church, mothers cradle and try to shush crying babies. Outside, in a churchyard enclosed by a rickety fence, the sound of children playing can be heard.
Pastor Cheong, 52, who was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in South Korea, has lived and spread the word of God in South Africa since September 2003.
“Now I am not denominational, I belong to Jesus Christ,” he says.
The small church is one of the largest buildings in Green Park, a community of 500 shacks between Mfuleni and Delft. The church’s neat windows, bright curtains and roof supported by wooden crossbeams make it one of the community’s most comfortable buildings.
Its raised wooden floor means it stays dry, in contrast to shacks in the settlement’s low- lying areas which are nearly always damp due to the waterlogged ground.
When the service ends, Cheong Young Suk, 47, steps outside and reverses her small bakkie to the church door.
Community members help her carry plastic bags of fresh fruit, bread and sandwiches to the church. As a parishioner marks off names in a ledger, members of the congregation come forward to collect their share. Some start to tuck in while seated in the church.
When all the food has been handed out, the Cheongs’ busy themselves for another service.
Pastor Cheong is speaking again in 15 minutes in nearby Mfuleni, where he and his wife will distribute food parcels.
The service finished, some members make their way to the shack of community leader Raymond Mtati, where a meeting is planned. Earlier this week Mtati, walked 30km on crutches in 18 hours from Green Park to the office of Mayor Patricia de Lille to hand over a request for better housing.
Drying in the sun outside his shack are painted cardboard coffins Mtati plans to use for a symbolic “burial of councillors” he says have for- gotten about the needs of the community.
South Africa attracts more South Korean missionaries than any other African country, according to research by Oh Kyung Hwan for a doctoral thesis at the University of Pretoria.
In 2006, there were 79 South Korean missionary families and 16 “single” missionaries in the country, most from Presbyterian and Methodist congregations and dedicated “mission organisations” in Korea. The first Korean missionaries arrived in the mid-1980s.
The Korea Research Institute of Missions said earlier this year there were 19 798 “official” South Korean missionaries in 175 countries. Ten years ago there were half as many.
‘THAT’S THE WAY’: Pastor Cheong In Taek preaches during a church service in Green Park informal settlement this week.