The Korean Missionary Movement: Dynamics and Trends, 1988–2013

Written by Steve Sang-Cheol Moon Reviewed By Tabor Laughlin

Steve Moon has been a researcher with the Korea Research Institute for Mission (KRIM) since 1990 and has served as its executive director since 1998. After receiving a doctorate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, he is now a World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission associate and contributing editor of the International Bulletin of Mission Research.

The Korean Missionary Movement is a collection of Moon’s previously written articles and book chapters concerning the Korean mission movement. The book covers topics such as the Korean church’s explosive growth, eventual plateauing, finances, missionary kids, leadership, a hostage incident, contextualization, ministering to Muslims, partnership, accountability, and missionary families. Each chapter offers extensive statistics as well as practical analysis of those statistics.

The Korean mission movement is the largest majority world mission movement in the world. The number of Korean missionaries has increased dramatically, particularly between 1980 and 2013. For instance, there were 100 missionaries in 1980, 1,000 in 1989, 10,000 in 2002, and 20,000 in 2013 (p. 8). The purpose of Moon’s book is to examine the Korean mission movement in greater detail. Moon not only focuses on the successes of the Korean mission movement; he also looks at its low points, weaknesses, and challenges.

Moon explains the various kinds of ministries by which Korean missionaries serve (p. 38). He identifies the locations where Korean missionaries serve (pp. 4–5). Moon recounts how the Korean mission movement was born out of a large spiritual revival in Korea in the 1960s and 1970s (pp. 6–7). Korea’s economic development aided the mushrooming of the Korean mission movement. Korean churches had more money and thus were able to send more missionaries (pp. 6–7).

Moon is a meticulous researcher. He has gathered his data on Korean missions over multiple decades, doing research projects for the KRIM at least every other year from 1990 to the present (p. xviii). The KRIM includes in their “missionary” count only those who belong to mission agencies and reach non-Koreans outside of Korea (p. xviii). Moon receives his data from Korean mission agencies who send him their agency’s information annually or every other year. The data is gathered through questionnaire surveys, interviews, and “direct observation” (p. xxii). The KRIM research team is rigorous to confirm the reliability of the statistics from the mission agencies (p. xxii).

Moon at present is the primary expert of the Korean mission movement. His research over the years has assisted Korean mission leaders in better understanding their own mission agencies and how to improve their effectiveness and fruitfulness. Chapter 9 illustrates the practical importance of Moon’s research. The entire chapter concerns Korean missionary kids (MKs), of which there are over 18,000 Korean MKs. These Korean MKs have unique situations and challenges that merit research and are important to the Korean mission movement. Mission agencies and researchers around the world would do well to follow Moon’s example.

The one drawback of this book is that it is a collection of articles written over a twenty-year period. Consequently, some material inevitably will be outdated or irrelevant. Nevertheless, many of the principles that Moon highlight are still pertinent today. The majority of the book’s chapters were written in the last five or ten years and are apropos for the present-day situation.

The Korean Missionary Movement is certainly the most thorough and best-researched book on Korean missions and about any particular majority world mission movement. Because Korea is the largest and best studied majority world mission movement, this book could help other majority world mission leaders around the world. The Korean movement is not without weakness and error; yet, its exponential growth in a comparatively short period is noteworthy. Having begun in the 1970s, the movement has been continued for almost fifty years. At present, the Korean mission movement has over 20,000 missionaries serving all over the world. The next largest majority world mission movement is that of COMIBAM in Latin America with approximately 10,000 missionaries, less than half the missionaries in the Korean mission movement. This book can benefit anyone interested in the study of majority world missions or the Korean mission movement specifically.

Tabor Laughlin

Tabor Laughlin
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Deerfield, Illinois, USA

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