The Words of the Beard Family

The Messiah's Countrymen

David Beard
February 2009

In the years spanning True Parents' births, there was no division on the Korean Peninsula, no border to cross on the train journey from Fusan on the southern tip of the peninsula through Keijo and Heijo to Shingishu on the Joseon (China border). The Japanese had changed Korea's name to Joseon, which some non-Koreans publications adopted, though sometimes they used "Korea, a province of Japan," or "Korea -- that part of Japan situated on the mainland."

True Father was born on February 25, 1920 (first month, sixth day of the lunar calendar) in North Pyung-an Province, which abuts China on the west coast of the peninsula. "I was born," he explained, "during the Japanese colonial administration of Korea. I have experienced firsthand the pain and sorrow of a weak nation trampled on by a powerful neighbor. During my youth, I thought seriously about how to bring salvation to this tragic world of war and evil."

Saito Makoto was governor-general of Korea at the time of True Father's birth. Saito dealt with Joseon in a more sophisticated manner than had his predecessors. He encouraged social organizations and allowed a relatively free press. Two newspapers still existing had their beginnings in the first year of Saito's administration.

Saito worked with Koreans that could serve as models of assimilation and promoted relations with them, while simultaneously greatly expanding the police force in order to mete out forceful repression to those who continued to fight the government. He showed businessmen the benefits that could come their way by cooperating with his regime, though this meant colluding with the government at the expense of their fellow Koreans. In this way, he set Koreans against one another, thus harming the nation deeply. The vestiges of these policies are with the Korean people to today.

True Mother was born in South Pyung-an Province on February 10, 1943 (first month, sixth day of the lunar calendar). Koiso Kuniaki was the governor-general of Joseon when True Mother entered the world. He was later described as "a two-fisted army man who is known as the Korean Tiger because of his brutalities while governor of Korea." In August of that year, military conscription began for Korean boys beginning from age seventeen. This led to frequent riots in Korea over both conscription and Japanese food control.

True Mother's home was quite near Pyong-yang. A few years before her birth, it was estimated that more than half a million Protestant Christians lived in Pyongyang and that it was the most Christianized city in Asia. Some churches had Japanese approval, but the ones that True Mother and her mother attended were underground churches, alive with spirit but in constant danger of being raided by the police.

We know from Divine Principle that in relation to the Messiah and his bride, the years Korea suffered under Japan fulfilled "a national dispensation of forty for the separation of Satan for the cosmic-level restoration of Canaan." But other significant developments also helped prepare Korea as True Parents' birthplace.

Maitreya, the future Buddha

In centuries past, China was Korea's suzerain. Theirs was a Confucian-inspired relationship that involved younger-brother Korea making material offerings to elder-brother China and occasionally holding ceremonies that demonstrated their respect. In return, China interceded in any international conflicts involving Korea, while Korea had complete control over her own domestic affairs.

In AD 372, during a period when three kingdoms occupied the peninsula, Buddhism was brought from north China to Korea by Sun-do, a missionary monk. King Sosurim of the Goguryeo Kingdom welcomed Buddhist teachings.

At that time, Chinese Buddhists were keenly interested in the Maitreya, the future Buddha.

In the Pali canon an early collection of Buddhist literature and sutras, we find,

"I am not the first Buddha who came upon earth, nor shall I be the last. In due time another Buddha will arise in the world, a Holy One, a supremely enlightened one, endowed with wisdom in conduct, auspicious, knowing the universe, an incomparable leader of men, a master of angels and mortals.... He will proclaim a religious life, wholly perfect and pure, such as I now proclaim.... He will be known as Maitreya, which means he whose name is kindness."

Poke around in Christian texts and you'll find many views on the returning Christ. Some say he will come only to Israel, others that one's own acceptance of Jesus is his return; still others cling to the idea that he will appear in the sky and that Christians living and long dead will rise from the earth to join him. It is much the same with the Maitreya. The various views Buddhists hold on the Maitreya will only be clarified once Buddhists realize he is now among them. According to one Korean scholar, "Every period in Korean history and every local area in Korea has appropriated Maitreya in its own way. The Maitreya faith has played an ongoing and important role in each period of Korean history in most all provinces of Korea."

Belief in the Maitreya still exists in Korea, China, Japan and India -- all Buddhist strongholds. In China, belief in the Maitreya was its height just as missionary Sun-do was being dispatched to the Goguryeo Kingdom. News of the future Buddha came -- along with basic Buddhist precepts -- like mother's milk to Korean Buddhism in its infancy. Though Maitreya expectation has waned in China, it not only remains among Korean Buddhists but has crossed over into general Korean folk belief. During the time that True Father began his public ministry, more than eighty active Korean Buddhist groups could be identified as holding belief in the Maitreya.

The structure of early Korean society

Throughout most of Korea's Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) Confucian virtues of loyalty, filial piety and faithfulness imbued Korea's social hierarchy, etiquette, government and education. Socially, not only was Korea tightly stratified, with opportunities to rise in the social hierarchy being severely limited, but social positions were hereditary, they remained fixed over generations.

The aristocrats, who monopolized land, wealth and political power, were of two types, the munban (civilian class) and muban (military class); they were generally referred to as yangban, a term that simply meant "both classes." There were nine tiers of yangban, each having four grades. Only yangban could take the civil service examinations, which emphasized Confucian literary knowledge. With rare exceptions, only those who had passed such a test were appointed to a government or military post.

Beneath the yangban came the chteng-in, (middle people) a relatively small group comprising petty officials, technicians, translators and the children of any yangban man and his chung-in concubine. (A yangban woman couldn't be a concubine, and a child by concubine inherited whatever status below yangban that its mother had.)

The vast majority of Koreans were sangmin (common people). Most sangmin were tenant farmers, tilling land owned by a yangban; a scant number owned land. Merchants and artisans were also sangmin.

The lowest social class was cheonmin (low-born people). Most cheonmin were slaves of various sorts, burdened with varying degrees of servitude. Actors (there were no actresses); kisaeng, the Korean equivalent to Japan's geisha, and butchers were also cheonmin.

Korea's tight social order may have been a source of stability at one time, but as the nation faced foreign challenges and domestic corruption, became a national straightjacket. From the mid-1800s, in pursuit of varying combinations of profit and national security, the United States, Britain, Japan, China and Russia all had designs on Korea. Korea's leaders seemed only to wish they would all go away of their own accord. In 1871, in front of every government office in the nation, Taewongun, the tyrannical father of Korea's boy-king (Kojong 1852-1919) had large stones erected which bore an inscribed warning to "our descendants for a thousand years."

The inscription read, "Western barbarians are encroaching; failure to resist is appeasement. Appeasement is tantamount to selling our country." This, sadly, was one of the more innovative responses to the prevailing national crises.

Uneasiness was a defining characteristic of the times. Impoverished sangmin were rebelling. The political administration was in disarray. Government officials whose job was to tax and control landlords were among the nation's largest landowners and consistently found means of skirting tax payments. As one writer described Korea's diminished state at the time, "Extravagance, selfishness, dishonesty and jealously swept through Korea like the wind. In other words, within the Korean lifestyle, there were no ideals, morality or standards." To fill empty public coffers, yangban status was openly sold; the yangban class mushroomed in size. Candidates quickly outnumbered the bureaucratic posts they customarily vied for. Since even jobless yangban contemned manual labor and commerce, personal economic ruin befell many yangban. This led to a hitherto unheard of social category -- homeless yangban wanderers.

The Tonghak religion

On April 5, 1860, in this atmosphere of dismay, Choi Che-u, a deceased yangban's son, who had wandered for twenty years after his father's death, heard a voice. "Don't be afraid," it told him. "People know me as Sangje. Don't you know me?" Sangje, who in Taoism is the supreme ruler of the universe, told Choi that as an incorporeal being, he needed Choi to disseminate on earth Sangje's virtue and goodness. Sangje taught Choi a talisman and a prayer. Choi drew the talisman on paper, which he then ate. He soon felt healthier and a sense of deep inner peace.

He lost his fear of impending death. He saw life from a new perspective and experienced renewal. Others had similar experiences when he administered the talisman and prayed. They gained confidence despite their instable circumstances.

Choi went into seclusion for a year, emerging in June 1861 to proclaim the teachings of a religion that addressed the people's deeper needs. Recognizing that all people stem from Ultimate Reality, a prime force in the universe, Choi taught that because anyone can serve God, all people are equal. For five months, large crowds came to hear him speak on the outskirts of Seoul. Though he insisted that people remain loyal to their king, government officials were nonetheless alarmed.

He moved to the southern part of the peninsula where he spent the winter writing out the central tenets of the new faith. An official history states, "The Great Master was simultaneously critical of the collapsing traditional social and political order of the Joseon Dynasty, as well as the modern order of the West and its encroachment in East Asia. To meet these new challenges he preached a new system of belief that he called Tonghak [Eastern Learning]." Choi Che-u resumed preaching until his arrest in December 1863. The following March, though bound by ropes, he mounted the execution platform under his own power and was beheaded.

Tonghak is known today mainly for military campaigns that members of the faith led against first the king's soldiers and then Imperial Japanese forces. In the years just before the Tonghak Rebellion (1894), the religion itself had three hundred thousand followers. An impoverished vagabond who had endured years of mental anguish over the disparity between Confucian ideals and commonplace existence provided the spark that reignited the nation's spiritual fervor. In that it was an indigenous religion, Tonghak awakened Koreans to their own divine potential. In that it refocused its followers on their shared divine origin, it prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah to their nation.

Western Learning via Catholicism

Further back in the nation's history, Korean intellectuals had turned their attention to what they had termed "Western Learning." In the eighteenth century, along with cartography and geography, they were curious about Catholicism as taught by European Jesuit priests in China. Envoys traveling to China had discussions with priests, and among the books they returned to Korea with were ones on Catholic teachings. The son of one envoy, baptized in 1783, returned to Korea and began holding services in his home. Catholicism began to spread both among poor farmers living near the border with China and among yangban scholars further south. When Korea's rulers finally took notice, they were appalled to learn that the new faith was opposed to ancestor worship. On that basis, Catholicism was banned in 1785 and envoys to China were forbidden from having contact with non-government officials.

Six years later, it was discovered that a yangban son had buried his mother without performing the required Confucian rites. On further investigation, it was found that both the son and his cousin had embraced the Catholic faith. Having rejected ancestral veneration, they had also burned their family genealogical records. This, in the officials' eyes, was a wicked act, counter to the most sacred duties of filial piety. As punishment, the two were beheaded.

French priests covertly entered Korea in the 1830s. In 1839, the government executed three French priests and seventy-five local converts, fifty of them women. French government protests puzzled the yangban rulers. They reasoned that if Koreans were spreading Korean ideas in France, surely the French government would have them executed.

The first native priest, Father Kim Tae-gon, was ordained in China in 1845. By boat, he slipped back into Korea with two French priests. Father Kim was captured a year later and also executed. Despite the risk, the faith continued to spread. By 1860, more than sixteen thousand Koreans were Catholic.

For whatever reason, the Catholic contribution to Korea's preparation to receive the Messiah was largely as a blood sacrifice. Beginning in 1866, Taewongun, the same benighted ruler who had the Appeasement Stones erected, set out to rid Korea of all Catholics. Within six years, an estimated eight thousand believers had been arrested and put to death.

Timing favored the Protestants

By the time Protestant missionaries arrived in Korea, Taewongun had for a time ceded control to his son, King Kojong, who proved an incompetent ruler. Under pressure to do so, Korea agreed to open relations with the U.S. in 1870. On Korea's behalf, a Chinese official and an American Navy commodore negotiated a treaty that was lopsided in U.S. favor. It was signed in May 1882. The first missionary arrived in 1884. The bulk of early Protestant missionaries to Korea came from America and the treaty protected them from harm. Like foreign embassies, their homes, schools and churches had extraterritorial status; they were outside of Korean police or government jurisdiction. As wealthy men by Korean standards and as teachers, the missionaries were respected.

In the first years, they studied the Korean language and tried to devise strategies for proselytizing. Baptisms took place, but no genuine acceptance of Jesus is recorded until the year following the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), one of two wars fought exclusively by foreign nations on Korean soil. The Korean people were hostage to the ineptitude of their leaders. As they perceived their nation sinking, some of the newly Christianized saw a connection with foreign missionaries as a lifeline.

"Is there much food for followers of Jesus?" was a common question put to missionaries. The editor of a monthly magazine published by the Methodist Mission Press estimated that in 1893, for five dollars a person, three quarters of all the people in Korea would become baptized Christians. The early missionaries, men who saw "dancing, smoking and card playing as sins in which no true follower of Christ should indulge," set unusually strict, inflexible standards for church membership. This was in part because of their distrust of member-candidate's motives. For those who did convert, the standards, in turn, added to their sense of elitism.

There was a heavy stress on biblical knowledge and evangelism for new Korean Christians. As membership in churches grew, regional Bible study meetings took place. These were often ten-day affairs, which people traveled to at their own expense.

By about 1905, thirteen thousand Koreans were Protestants. Much of the Korean mission work paralleled developments in American Christianity. To complement Koreans' biblical understanding with first-hand experience of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, in 1907, missionaries began holding American-style tent revivals around Korea with an emphasis on confession and repentance. What ensued was a spiritual catharsis that stunned the missionaries. In city after city, but particularly in Pyongyang, revivals saw all manner of deep confession and spiritual experience. Membership reached fifty thousand within five years.

Later work in rural areas

As a people oppressed, Koreans were drawn to communism from its very beginnings. The Bolsheviks made use of the descendants of immigrants, such as Alexandra Petrovna Kim (1885-1918) to fight their battles with the Japanese Army in Siberia and the Russian Far East. The first Soviet-sponsored conference for Korean revolutionaries took place in Khabarovsk only a few months after the Bolshevik revolution had begun in late 1917.

In 1922, Japan withdrew its troops from Vladivostok and entered into negotiations with the Soviets. From that point on, Korean communists concentrated their revolutionary fervor on Korea, where they quickly began gaining recruits among impoverished farmers. At the time, 80 percent of the population lived in rural areas. Korean Christians saw radical politics gaining popularity because of destitution as a threat to their witnessing efforts, but the foreign missionaries were not convinced that programs to alleviate poverty were necessary. They advised pressing on with their simplified evangelical message -- we are sinners, the Bible is inerrant and our only hope for salvation lies in accepting Jesus as our savior. The foreign missionaries' focus was not on earth but on the glories of heaven to come.

Fortunately, for the rural poor, the progress of Christianity in Korea owes much to the foreign missionaries applying the principles outlined in Methods of Mission Work, a book by John L. Nevius, a missionary to China. Nevius stressed that churches should be self-supporting, that local converts should propagate the faith and that native pastors should govern the church in their own country.

Pai Min-su and Yu Chae-gi, two such native pastors, shared ideas that were radically different ideas from those of the Western missionaries. Rev. Yu had traveled to the countryside because he felt the importance of serving the less fortunate, as Jesus had done. Rev. Pai believed in the restorative power of love to bring resurrection within people's hearts and that God is to be found in human relationships. Wishing to turn the space occupied by the peasants into sacred ground and the peasants' time on earth into a period to build spiritual wholeness, the men began pioneering "Jesus Villages," where all the spiritual, educational and material needs of the people could be met.

A third important figure at the time was an extremely pragmatic layman, Cho Man-sik, an experienced, bold social organizer even under the Japanese. In 1920, while the nation was under tight Japanese control, he started the Korean Products Promotion Society to raise awareness of Korean national identity and retain economic power among the Korean people. It was Cho who first brought Rev. Pai to the countryside to show him the living conditions there.

In 1928, the three helped form the Christian Rural Research Association, through which they developed the theoretical tenets that Pai would implement later when he was asked to head the Presbyterian Church Rural Movement (PCRM) in 1933. From the time Pai assumed leadership until 1937, PCRM held educational workshops in more than thirteen thousand villages. Literacy education preceded Bible study and modern farming techniques were among the courses taught.

Though known for his piety, Cho Man-sik applied his efforts in other areas. He had helped provide similar education to Koreans while with the United Front, a group of patriots of all political stripes, formed in 1927 but forcibly disbanded in 1931. Near war's end, the Japanese governor of the Pyongyang area appointed Cho to lead a governing body during a transition to Korean independence. Pyongyang was Cho's hometown. When the Russians arrived, they could not find a communist as respected as Cho.

Cho was ousted only after the arrival of Kim Il-sung. Trapped in northern Korea once the Russians closed the border, he started the Korean Democratic Party there. He was placed under house arrest in 1946. Soon after the Korean War began Cho Man-sik was put to death.

The Bible records Moses referring to the Messiah, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen." Cho, Pai and Yu were three of True Parents' countrymen who believed that the Kingdom of Heaven was meant to be built on earth through vigorous personal effort. In instilling this attitude in their fellow citizens, they too were among the righteous Koreans who helped prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah and his bride to their nation. 

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