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Korean president seen as man of faith

SEOUL, South Korea (BP)–Some say it is a new day in South Korea. After a landslide election in November, Myung-Bak Lee was sworn into office on Feb. 19. In defeating Dong-Young Chung of the liberal United Democratic Party, Lee provided the conservative Grand National Party with its first presidential election win in 10 years.

This has been good news for many of South Korea’s Christian leaders since Lee also is a member of the 70,000-member Somang Presbyterian Church in Seoul. One of the president’s chief advocates is Billy Kim, president of South Korea’s Far East Broadcasting Company and pastor of Suwon Central Baptist Church from 1960-2004. Kim, a former Baptist World Alliance president regarded as one of the world’s most influential Christian leaders, first earned international attention when he served as an interpreter for the 1973 Billy Graham crusade.

Kim and Lee’s friendship dates back many years. Kim, who attended Lee’s inauguration, described Lee as a man of strong faith and a faithful member of Somang Presbyterian Church. Lee has served as an elder — and has helped direct traffic to ease parking congestion before and after the Seoul mega-church’s services.

Continuing his close relationship with Lee, Kim met with Lee on March 29 in the Blue House, the residence of South Korea’s president. Kim spent more than an hour and a half with the president and his wife Kim Yoon. They prayed together and discussed both the tensions with North Korea and the upcoming summit meeting with President Bush, which was held April 18-19 in Washington.

Kim said he believes Lee’s faith will have a positive impact on the challenges he faces in his new office, one of the greatest of which is the tenuous relationship with North Korea. Lee’s initial stance is that more reciprocity is needed from North Korea in exchange for the concessions and aid provided by South Korea. Lee’s position has escalated tensions between the two countries during the initial phase of his tenure, but Kim said the president is taking it calmly. Kim encouraged Lee and his wife to have a time of prayer with President Bush and Laura Bush at their summit.

Kim said he also believes that Lee’s election is good news for South Korean mission efforts.

South Korea is second only to the United States as a missionary-sending country. Former President Rho Mu Hyun reportedly faced intense local and international pressure as a result of the six-week Korean hostage crisis in Afghanistan last summer, in which 23 aid workers were taken hostage by the Taliban. Two of the Koreans, both men, were killed by the Taliban.

While the focus of mission efforts may shift toward more local initiatives in the short term, Kim said he believes the commitment of church leaders to missions and evangelism will only continue to escalate, and local church leaders will be able to count on the support of a president who understands the importance of taking the Gospel to the uttermost part of the earth.
Ann Lovell is a media worker based in Seoul, South Korea, with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

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