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From Jan. 15 to 26, President Philip Ryken toured South Korea with professor of choral music and director of performance studies Mary Hopper in order to expand Wheaton’s network in East Asia.
Ryken was scheduled to preach and speak more than 20 times at churches, universities and high schools over the duration of his trip, sometimes at demanding hours.
“The trip was grueling,” Ryken said in an interview with The Record.
Ryken and Hopper were invited by the Far Eastern Broadcasting Company, a well-known and widely listened-to radio broadcasting station in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, which, according to Hopper, extends to North Korea and China, two hard-to-reach nations.
While Ryken and Hopper were in South Korea, Billy Kim hosted them. Kim, the chairman of FEBC, holds an honorary degree from Wheaton College, and was the pastor of Suwon Central Baptist Church. He even translated for Billy Graham during Graham’s famous 1973 Seoul Crusade.
Two of the destinations on the South Korea trip were Handong Global University and Baekseok University. Both universities are private Christian institutions that have formed relationships with American Christian universities like Taylor University, The King’s College, Trinity Christian College and Calvin College.
Wheaton seems poised to create affiliations with these universities as well, but has not detailed any plans yet.
Ryken said, “We’re working towards healthy student and faculty exchange with these universities, but we’re not at the point of any specific next steps.”
Those next steps are anticipated to be taken by dean of Global and Experiential Learning Laura Montgomery.
“It was great in this visit to be able to tell people that Laura Montgomery will be in Korea in several months,” Ryken said. “Her focus on her next visit will be our growing partnerships with Handong University and Baekseok University.”
The president’s reason for reaching out to these Korean universities lies in his global outlook, consistent with the college’s strategic priorities.
“I think that we haven’t been very intentional about presenting the mission and vision of Wheaton College in person in Asia,” Ryken said. “The last time a Wheaton College president was in Korea was in the 1980s. It’s been a long, long time and we wanted to mobilize.”
Since the 1980s, Christianity has grown rapidly in the region, resulting in the birth of hundreds of Christian institutions, including Handong and Baekseok. A Pew research poll found that in 2010, “roughly three-in-ten South Koreans were Christian, including members of the world’s largest Pentecostal church, Yoido Full Gospel Church.”
Incidentally, Ryken and Hopper were fortunate enough to meet David Yonggi Cho, the pastor at YFGC, which is the largest pentecostal church in the world.
At Korean churches like YFGC, Hopper noted a marked difference in the focus of worship services.
“The churches are huge,” Hopper said. “I’d say that I was impressed with prayer. They take prayer very seriously. One morning we were at a 6:20 a.m. prayer service … and there were 1,000 people there. The next Friday night, we were at a 9 p.m. prayer service that people were going to pray at all night. They take that very seriously, and that’s something different than in the US. The church is thriving and active, especially in the north part of the country.”
Ryken noted, “I think there are a lot of things that are really encouraging about the Korean church. Certainly one is their ongoing commitment to prayer, which I think continues to really mark the discipleship of Korean Christians, and a tremendous passion for global missions. With the United States, Korea is the largest sending nation for missionaries in the world, and the churches that we visited were all passionate not just about missions in general, but very committed to their own missionaries. One church we visited was building 100 guest rooms for their missionaries to stay when they are back in Korea on furlough.”
Among the various plans drawn up along the course of the trip was one proposal for Hopper to send a choir to South Korea for a national tour in 2017.
“I was trying to make some contacts with the church musicians and through my choral contacts,” Hopper said. “That’s one of the things I was planting seeds for.”
The recent trip to South Korea sparked Ryken’s interest in pursuing further connections with Asian institutions. He plans for his next major international trip to “be a trip to Asia that visits more countries” in order to substantiate Wheaton’s network in Asia.