Kukmin Daily Newsletter (Issue 32)

Kukmin Daily Newsletter
Issue 32
July 26, 2020
Seoul, Korea

Well into the rainy days of Korea’s monsoon season, we wonder about you, our readers, and hope you are enjoying your days. Although Covid-19 seems to have changed everything, near and far, it has not and cannot prevail against the One who created and sustains our world. This newsletter shares two stories from different times and places. Both, however, tell of artists who have used their gifts in support of people’s desire to learn about and communicate God’s grace.

Heavenly sounds link humans with heaven, church with world

The pipe organ is an instrument with a history of 400 years, but Korea has just one artisan building this instrument; Deacon Hong Seong-hun (Saesaram Church). Hong is the second Korean to receive German government certification as an “Organ Baumeister” (master builder of organs. His newest pipe organ is being built on a 3.5 meter-wide, 4.5 meter-tall rectangular wooden frame that sits in the middle of his workshop in Yangpyeong; arrangements have been made for it to be placed at Kijeon University in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province. Though it will have 800 some pipes, and people will have to tilt their heads back to grasp its full height, it belongs to the “small” category of pipe organs.

“Because all its parts, starting with the pipes, must be made by hand, at least two years is needed for production,” Deacon Hong said. “It is a work of art, created by experts in diverse areas ranging from design to carpentry to computer systems, and the master builder’s role is to direct the whole process.”

Introducing its history, he said, “The pipe organ is an instrument designed to emulate the sounds of heaven as closely as possible, in praise of God.” He explained, “The pipe organ is the product of research by European artisans over the past 400 years, as they worked to imitate the sounds of nature, allowing the people of the world to hear the sound of God’s voice… My role is that of a special servant, a channel linking God and humans, helping to inspire devotion by moving souls for the glory of God.”

Hong had left Korea for overseas study of the guitar, but when he heard the music of a pipe organ in Germany, the sound enchanted him and he entered an apprenticeship to learn how to build the instrument. After twelve and a half years, he became a master builder.

It is customary to think of pipe organs as belonging exclusively in big churches, cathedrals or concert halls, but Deacon Hong’s instruments are different. The first organ-making request he received upon returning to Korea was from a newly planted church, the Beautiful Hill Church (Rev. Kim Jae-nam) in Suji, Yongin, Gyeonggi Province. Of his 20 works, 16 have been for churches, mostly planted churches or small churches. In Cheongran Church (Rev. Song Gil-won) in Yangpyeong, with space for only a dozen or so people, there stands a small pipe organ measuring about a meter long and a meter wide. In one instance, a pastor handed over his entire retirement fund, requesting to have an organ made.

“Considering that all people are equal, I hope the beautiful sounds of the pipe organ will reach everyone, and not remain exclusively in a few churches,” Hong said. “I want to spend my lifetime working toward the realization of this goal.”

The “landscape orgel (organ)” (photo) at Guksu Church (Rev. Kim Il-hyeon) in Incheon, Yangpyeong, made in 2014, is Deacon Hong’s 13th work. Located in the center of the circular worship hall, its pipes are arranged in the shape of three rounded mountain peaks, backed by the scene of a flowing river, a ridge, a cuckoo, and the Milky Way Galaxy with hundreds of sparkling lights.

[Korean Christian History Tour] A brush stroke becomes Word and Truth

We know him only by his name and his drawings. His birth date, or how he died, is unknown. There is no image of him. But his drawings alone made Jesus known to many.

James Gale (left), Hangeul translator of “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” and the cover of the first-edition block book, for which Kim Jun-geun drew the illustrations.

“Gisan” Kim Jun-geun drew the 42-cut series of illustrations for the Korean translation of John Bunyan’s novel “The Pilgrim's Progress,” printed by Sammun Publishing in 1895. This Korean version was translated by the missionary couple James Gale (1863~1937) and Harriet Gibson Gale (1860~1908). The Gales, together with Korean language teacher Lee Chang-jik, who refined the text, and Gisan, who drew the illustrations, thus produced the very first translation of a literary work into Hangeul (Korean language).

Gisan became known through his drawing and selling of works portraying Korean customs to interested Westerners at open ports such as Jemulpo (Incheon), Wonsan, and Choryang (Busan). As ports were opened, Westerners visited to investigate and understand Joseon (Korea)’s diplomacy and trade, culture and arts, tourism, imports and exports, etc. They bought or ordered specific works to be made by Gisan depicting Korean customs, and showed these images of Joseon to people back home.

To communicate the Gospel, however, missionaries such as Gale, Allen, Swallen and Davis needed to use pictures as a tool to promote easy understanding of God. Looking at 1930s statistics on the spread of the Korean alphabet, we find that it was familiar to only 22% of the populace. On this basis one may assume that in 1895, ordinary people were nearly illiterate. As a method of communicating to them about Jesus, there was a need for religious pictures that suited Joseon sentiments. Gisan became the pioneer of Korean Christian art.

Western illustration in “The Pilgrim’s Progress” depicting Evangelist instructing Christian (Christian at the Wicket Gate). The Korean traditional illustration on the right is by Kim Jun-geun.

Christian’s rescue after he has fallen into a bog (Help Draws Christian Out of the Slough of Despond).

Sinner receives the “Word of Life” (Christian and Worldly Wiseman).

Emphasizing the benefit of the book for nurturing faith, Gale wrote in the preface to the first edition of The Pilgrim's Progress: “(The book) clearly shows how the person believes in the true way, how he knows Jesus, how he is empowered, and how he keeps his faith, so this is a shortcut on the way to Heaven.” Regrettably, however, he makes no mention of the illustrator. We who are alive today can only infer the details of Gisan’s activities through such materials as records left by foreigners who bought his pictures.

박여라 영문에디터 yap@kmib.co.kr


국내외 교계소식, 영성과 재미가 녹아 있는 영상에 칼럼까지 미션라이프에서 엄선한 콘텐츠를 전해드립니다.