▲ The first Protestant church on Jeju Island, above, and Lee Ki Poong and his family, below. Photos from “Jeju’s 70 Years of Protestantism,” by Kang Moon Ho and Moon Tae Sun.
Christianity had been on the shores of Jeju in the form of Catholicism for more than 100 years before Protestantism arrived. During those years, the Catholics had gone through at least two persecutions that left a lasting stain on the consciousness of Jeju residents. The anti-Christian sentiment was strong in 1908 when Rev. Lee Ki Poong landed on Jeju as the first protestant on the island.
“Until Lee came to Jeju Island,” said Rev. Lee Jeong Hoon, a Presbyterian pastor on Jeju, “no one wanted to come here. Firstly, Jeju was so isolated and secondly, Jeju had a strong shamanistic religion which made it hard to convert people to Protestantism. And also the island was infamous for having very poor soil.”
Lee Ki Poong had studied theology in Pyongyang, North Korea, Lee Jeong Hoon said, and was one of seven graduates who were then dispersed throughout the country. The reason for Lee Ki Poong’s departure for Jeju is a matter of debate. One theory claims he volunteered for missionary work on the island; the other states that while Lee Ki Poong’s other graduating alumni had connections with churches where they were inevitably sent, Lee Ki Poong was poor and lacked the ability to choose where he would be stationed.
When Lee Ki Poong eventually arrived on Jeju he landed amid a time of strong animosity towards all forms of Christianity. The Lee Jae Su uprising, when Jeju citizens’ revolted against unfair taxation and consequently also against Catholics who were predominately the tax collectors, was seven years prior and had created a negative sentiment towards “Western religions.” This, compounded by the strong Shamanistic culture of Jeju, specifically in the form of ancestor worship, which the Protestant church was vehemently against due to the first commandment, prevented Lee Ki Poong from converting anyone for several years, Lee Jeong Hoon said.
“The biggest obstacle [for the growth of Protestantism],” Lee Jeong Hoon said, “was the Protestants’ refusal to celebrate the ancestor ritual, as for Jeju Islanders ancestor worship is very important. The Catholics accepted the ritual, but the Protestants refused this culture. If anyone refuses this ritual in Jeju they are disowned by their family.”
“It was his wife, Yun Ham Ae,” Lee Jeong Hoon said, “who won the hearts of the Jeju people,” through her work as a midwife and her kindness to the locals that helped Lee Ki Poong with his early missionary work.
By the 1930’s, Lee Ki Poong, with the assistance of several missionaries, had established 17 Protestant churches on Jeju and converted an unknown number of people.
Over the next two decades there were two major instances that affected the spread of Protestantism on the island. The first was the April 3 massacre in 1948 which resulted in the deaths of approximately 30,000 people and an unknown amount of property damage. The second was the Korean War of the 1950s.
Lee Jeong Hoon wrote in a series of articles on the arrival of Protestantism on Jeju Island that, during the April 3 massacre, several Protestants were killed and that “107 houses of church members were burnt down, along with five churches.”
According to him, the Korean War had the opposite effect to that of the April 3 massacre. The war displaced hundreds of thousands of people and “the churches in the north severely suffered from the oppression of the communist regime, sacrificing a number of martyrs. With the out-break of the Korean War, the churches in the North fled to the South.”
“There were many refugees that came to Jeju Island and many of them were already Protestants,” Lee Jeong Hoon said.
The influx of Protestant refugees had a positive effect for the religion on the island. There was instantly a much larger Protestant population and more and more churches were being constructed.
Unlike the Catholic church that reigns under the unifying power of the Vatican, Protestantism is more divided with several sects, such as Presbyterian, Methodist and United Church, of varying degrees of conservatism.
Lee Jeong Hoon said that many of the more conservative Protestant sects on the island originated from North Korea, specifically from Pyongyang, and fled to Jeju during the Korean War. Lee Ki Poong, though trained in theology in Pyongyang, was raised in Ham Gyung, the other major Protestant city in North Korea, which had the reputation for being the more liberal of the two.
According to Lee Jeong Hoon, the more modest Protestant churches on Jeju Island originate from the early Lee’s hard work and preach his favored ideology to this day.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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