Camp registration always has a nervous energy. It’s a feeling of excitement mixed with fear. Registration for Mission 101 this past August had the same energy, as more than 100 members of Calgary’s Hanwoori Korean Church gathered at Kamp Kiwanis just west of Calgary.
As the weekend’s worship band—clad in fluorescent staff T-shirts—began the two-day missions conference with a lively Korean song, Gyoojun Lee, the director of Wycliffe’s Korean Ministries, sat off to the side writing some last-minute notes.
When the crowd began to clap to the up-tempo beat, Lee quickly stood up and joined the attentive group in worship. Minutes later, it was Gyoojun’s turn to take the stage. Looking studious with light-rimmed glasses and a blue dress shirt, he got straight to business. That is, after he filled the room with laughter by telling a joke in Korean, the language used for the entire conference.
Wycliffe Canada’s Korean Ministries have been providing Missions 101 to Korean-speaking churches since 2008. Churches partnering with Wycliffe asked that a missions training program be created so they could be transformed into congregations that emphasize missions.
“Within the time parameter [of Missions 101], we try to convey the core of what missions is, with a holistic approach,” says Gyoojun, who is based in Toronto.
After the group understands the big picture of world missions, the importance of Bible translation becomes evident.
“The course itself emphasizes a lot about Bible translation ministries because it’s a really good strategic way to finish the [missions] task,” he explains. “If we don’t have the Bible, there is no source to teach and train, and be able to correct and disciple believers.
“So, the Bible is the basis of all the other missions work.”
Path To Canada
Gyoojun was hesitant to become a missionary when he and his wife Jinsook and their two boys moved to Langley, B.C., in 2000.
They came to study at the Canada Institute of Linguistics (CanIL), a training partner of Wycliffe. His hope was that being exposed to a proper exegesis of Scripture from the original languages would help him become a better preacher in his native Korea, where he was a pastor to a rural community in the Taebaek Mountains.
He had no plans of joining Wycliffe. However, that changed quickly.
“From the very first week at CanIL, God just touched my heart,” he says. “I knew we needed to go out and preach the gospel to all nations, but I thought my calling was pastoral ministries in Korea only. That’s how I limited my ministry boundary.”
With a difficult decision to make, Gyoojun turned to an important mentor for advice: a Korean Wycliffe staff member back in Korea named Min-Young Jung.
“You just overcame all those language and cultural barriers coming to Canada—just to study and live here, right?” asked Jung who is currently associate director of Wycliffe Global Alliance (the international umbrella agency of which Wycliffe Canada is a member). “Why not be a Wycliffe missionary to benefit other cultures?”
Gyoojun followed his mentors’ advice. However, instead of becoming a translator, he chose to create a ministry for Korean diaspora churches in Canada.
“I saw the needs of this mobilization ministry,” Gyoojun explains. “Wycliffe Canada was also looking for ethnic workers who can connect ethnic churches to Wycliffe and its Bible translation ministries.”
In the following years, he created a ministry that runs several programs aimed at recruiting Korean-Canadians to serve with Wycliffe overseas and connect churches with the mission field.
These two must go together in Korean congregations, explains Gyoojun.
“For Korean churches, it’s very group or community-oriented. So, without having a good relationship with the local churches, it’s very hard to recruit people because they [are viewed as only] belonging there.”
Who is the Ideal Missionary?
Gyoojun believes Korean-Canadians are fantastic missionary candidates because they already have experience adapting to a new culture.
“Korean-Canadians have already gone through that process,” he says. “Wherever they go around the world, they find it far easier than someone with experience in only one culture.”
Although Korean-Canadians may be ideal candidates, it’s still a long process for interested candidates to become Wycliffe missionaries. Those interested are often as young as high school students and sometimes after years of communication, and a verbal commitment, the person decides not to join.
“Sometimes we have felt like, wow, these guys are fully ready to go. Then they just take off,” he explains. “We get so excited to see the result as soon as possible, but it takes longer than expected.”
In that long process, however, Gyoojun’s original calling as a pastor comes into play. Potential recruits are people with whom Gyoonjun can pastor and build relationships. When a teenager talks to him about their wild future dreams, Gyoojun listens, not because one day the teen may become a Bible translator, but first because he is loved by Christ.
“In this kind of secularized society, how can we mobilize people to sacrifice all other things and then go to the field for 10 years or 20 years to translate the Bible? It’s impossible, right? Who could do that?”
It would be impossible if God didn’t call people to the work of Bible translation, he explains, before referring to Matthew 9: 37-38 (NIV): “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Gyoojun’s belief that each person has a calling in life isn’t based solely on his belief in Scripture. It’s also rooted in his experience as a child growing up in Korea.
One day when he was a child squirming in his church pew, God and His Word gripped his attention and allowed him to concentrate.
Gyoojun says he looked up at the pastor at the pulpit and suddenly he could focus. As the pastor read from the Word of God, his attention was no longer jumbled.
Years later, after accepting the Lord and being convinced the Lord had called him to pastoral ministry, Gyoojun learned that his mom had made a vow to God when he was just a baby that she would commit him to the Lord.
“When I was really young, there were four or five times I almost died,” he says. Finally his mom took Gyoojun to a pastor. When he prayed for the youngster, he asked his mom if she would commit him to God and to becoming a pastor if he survived.
Amazed that God had saved Gyoojun’s life, his mom dedicated him to the Lord’s service.
It’s with this calling that Gyoojun seeks those called to Wycliffe among Korean-Canadians.