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Kukmin Daily Newsletter
Issue 36
September 25, 2020

Greetings from Seoul!
This issue reports on a Korean group involved in Bible translation ministry; the exciting and humbling work of transforming the Bible into other languages, to reach peoples who have never had access to it before. We also include an update on the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, defined as a heretical organization by major church denominations in Korea.
Near the Chuseok holidays, usually the time of greatest travel in Korea, everyone is again on alert to prevent further spread of COVID-19. The churches are particularly concerned, due to the constant appearance of new cases of infection among their members.


“The best missionary is the Bible written in that country’s language”

When missionaries Horace G. Underwood and the Appenzeller couple stepped onto Korean land on Easter Sunday in 1885, they brought with them the Korean translation (by Lee Su-jeong) of the Gospel of Mark. There was no precedent for a missionary to enter a country bearing the Bible in that country’s language. But possibly it was the existence of the Korean Bible that enabled the Gospel to spread more quickly in Korea than in any other place.

According to Bible Translation Mission (GBT) materials, as of the end of 2019, there are 7,353 known languages in the world. Translations of the whole Bible exist in only 698 of these, or less than 10%. In 1,548 languages, the full New Testament and selected parts of the Old Testament are available; in 1,138 languages there are only selected parts of the Bible.

GBT was established in 1985 with the vision of “helping all peoples become whole persons of God through Bibles translated into the languages they understand best.” Currently 235 missionaries dispatched to 25 countries are engaged in Bible translation ministry for more than 80 ethnic groups.


During a recent interview with Kukmin Daily at his Anyang, Gyeonggi-do headquarters office, GBT Rep. Kim Hyeon (photo above) said, “However fine the missionary, in no case has there been a greater contribution than that made by the Bible in the specific language of the region.” As the leader of GBT over the next four years, Rep. Kim bears a heavy burden. It could be a rough road, with more and more churches suspending their support due to COVID-19. But Kim declared that they will overcome the crisis, inspired by the motto “Acting Together.”

Translation of the New Testament alone takes 10~15 years. In addition, language research must be done before the start of all-out translation. Furthermore, with several different minority ethnic groups living in a given region, it is not easy to decide which of their languages to use as the standard. When the language has no writing system, the basic work takes 3~4 years; analyzing the language, sorting it into consonants and vowels, then deciding on the alphabet and determining the grammar structure. Since language is part of culture, basic research on that culture is also important, because the Biblical expressions we take for granted can have completely different meanings for other peoples.

Bibles translated by GBT missionaries for minority ethnic groups. The Bible on the far right and the one opened below are Korean translations made at the end of the 19th century.

“It is thanks to the Korean churches’ love and support that during the past 35 years GBT was able to provide the full Bible to one ethnic group, and the full New Testament to 17 others,” Kim said. “But we have mistakenly viewed the Korean churches in a partial way, thinking only of their aid and support.” He promised, “Believing in the perfect God as the subject of mission, we will cooperate with the sending churches in mission, so they understand they are our genuine companions.”


Shincheonji’s local U.S. church hires lobbying firm to get U.S. government on its side

An organization in the U.S. affiliated with Shincheonji Church of Jesus says it has hired a lobby shop to inform the U.S. government about persecution of the religion.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) website, the foreignlobby.com site, San Francisco Zion Church in California signed a 6-month contract in August 2020 with The Livingstone Group, agreeing on payment of 8,500 dollars per month for lobbying activities. The main contents of the contract relate to informing U.S. officials about the “persecution and unfair treatment” taking place against the Shincheonji organization in Korea and the U.S.

The Livingstone Group submitted the same contents when it registered with FARA as a foreign agent on September 3. According to the registration document, San Francisco Zion Church stated that it is associated with Shincheonji in Korea, and named a Mr. Lee as its representative.

In a statement it sent to foreignlobby.com, San Francisco Zion Church said that Shincheonji, “as a new and growing denomination, has become prey to misrepresentation and discrimination by mainstream churches and the secular media.” It continued, “With the outbreak of COVID-19, persecution of Shincheonji is intensifying in South Korea,” and noted that “church members are subject to hate speech and other forms of extreme violence. The situation also critically impacts the privacy of US citizens who are members of associated churches.”

Earlier, this past March, Shincheonji contacted overseas organizations such as the Center for Studies on New Religions and Human Rights Without Frontiers, and presented them with materials including its “White Paper Verifying the Truth About Shincheonji and COVID-19,” to back up its assertions about persecution by the Korean government and others.

Prof. Tark Ji-il of Busan Presbyterian University said, “This seems to be advance work to consolidate inner unity among their believers and promote a favorable outcome in the trial of leader Lee Man-hee.” According to his analysis, “With Lee’s trial coming up, they are trying to frame the issue as a matter of persecution, create a favorable atmosphere, and unify their believers, and the most effective way they see to do this is through overseas activities with results that they can utilize back in Korea.”

박여라 영문에디터 yap@kmib.co.kr

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