Chapter 20

TEN DAYS IN KOREA
(Spring 1958)

We arrived at Seoul’s Kimpo airport at 12:30 noon on Friday, June 6. We were scheduled to fly to Pusan at 2:00 o’clock that afternoon, but the flight had been canceled, and no other air transport was available; we were bound to spend the day in Seoul. We were happily not left in the lurch. The Rev. Mr. Spooner had come up from Pusan to meet his daughter, and had been charged, as well, to greet me upon my arrival in the country. I was, he said, not to worry; he had booked passage on the evening train, and this would bring me to Pusan in time for the scheduled activities. Thus reassured, I welcomed the opportunity to spend some time in the city which, from previous experience, was not wholly unfamiliar to me. After eating lunch in the airport cafeteria we took the bus into town, and were put up for the day in the Mission Guest House.

Spooner and I had time in the afternoon to canvass the neighborhood, and to explore those parts of town to which I had earlier been introduced. I saw again the railroad station, the bustling mid-town market, and the city hall in which my office was once located. All of these things evoked memories of things past, even though they had, in various ways, taken on a new appearance.

That evening I spoke to a group of church people who had gathered at short notice to welcome me, and to hear what I had to say. I brought to them the greetings of the Christian Reformed Church, and spoke to them of the Hope we share through our participation in the body of Christ. The meeting lasted until 9:00 o’clock, and, since we had to travel some distance to the guest house, we were left with little time to prepare for the overnight journey we were about to undertake. We boarded the Pusan-bound train some minutes before ten, and were almost immediately underway. Berths had been reserved for us, and we retired promptly. I slept soundly through the night, and was ready for the new day when at 6:00 AM I was awakened by Spooner, and advised to dress and be prepared to detrain.

* * * * * * *

We arrived in Pusan at 8:00 AM on Saturday, June 7. I was greeted at the station by a sizeable delegation from church and school. The twenty or more people, by whom I was welcomed, put fear into my soul. How, I wondered, would I be able to fulfill the high expectations they evidently cherished? The faculty was there en mass, as well as many church leaders, the Moderator of the General Assembly at their head. Also present was the Rev. Mr. Hard, missionary from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, who, after the hand shaking had ceased, drove us to the Spooner house, where I would be staying for the duration.

After breakfast at the Spooners, the President of the seminary put in a second appearance, and outlined to me the program that had been established. I had had intimations of what was in store, and had taken along a large batch of lectures, the titles of which I had earlier submitted, but I was somewhat taken aback by the tightness of the schedule that had been prepared for me. In the course of six days I was to give, in Pusan, nine lectures at the seminary, one lecture at the University of Pusan, and, in addition, conduct four worship services in local churches. Activities would begin no later than this very afternoon. My first appearance was scheduled for two o’clock.

I lectured from 2:00 to 4:00 PM to a large group of students and faculty gathered in the seminary auditorium. Present were representatives from three schools, and the number of listeners exceeded four hundred. The lecture was put into Korean by Dr. Yune Sun Park, the President of the seminary, whose passion and eloquence exceeded my own, and lent to the discourse a quality of excellence not otherwise to be found in it. The audience listened with rapt attention as I spoke, and again I wondered whether it was the words I uttered, the animation of my interpreter, or simply the presence of a foreigner, that moved them so. However that may be, the crowds continued to pour in during the succeeding days, and the praise I heard I was able to ascribe both to my interpreter, and to the kindness of a docile and indulgent people.

The day ended with a gala reception at a dinner attended by several dignitaries. The food was rich and plentiful, and not without the native herbs and spices that tickle and arouse the palate.

* * * * * * *

Sunday, the 8th of June, proved not to be a day of rest. I preached three times in three different churches. The 11:00 AM worship service was attended by a large audience and lasted a full two hours. At 4:00 PM I preached in the English speaking Union Church, and at 8:30 PM I preached in Pusan’s largest church to a congregation numbering above one thousand. I was exhausted when, near 11:00 o’clock that night I was finally back with the Spooners, but I was upborne by the experiences of the day, and deeply impressed with the piety and devotion of the Korean Christians. The audiences in each instance listened attentively, and many remained after the services to extend a hand of fellowship.

The manner of worship was notable. The people did not sit on chairs or benches, but upon the floor, and in close proximity to one another. From the perspective of the pulpit the assembled congregation took on the appearance of a huddled mass, a mass by no means congealed, but moving, active, and absorbing–a living body, quick and responsive. The people seemed more expressive and emotional than the Japanese. They sang with great animation, and they prayed fervently, with groanings that cannot be uttered. During the services there was a period when everyone prayed at once, not silently, nor in full voice, yet audibly, and the rising and falling sound was like the rushing of a wind, or like the play of the waves upon the shore of a restless sea. The praying stopped abruptly when the officiating minister rang a little bell, and ushered in the succeeding phase of worship.

* * * * * * *

On Monday, the 9th, there was initiated a program of lectures that would engage me daily through Thursday. The schedule required that I lecture at 10:00 AM each day, and again at 2:00 PM. This I faithfully did. The eight seminary lectures given on these four days were attended by an audience that remained relatively stable and uniform, and suffered no diminution in quality and numbers. To free students for attendance, all classes in the seminary, and all classes in the largest Bible school in the city, were suspended for the week. Ministers from Pusan and outlying districts were daily in attendance, some coming from as far away as Seoul–seven hours away by train. In addition, tickets were sold in large numbers to interested parties not directly associated with the academic community.

I was impressed by my responsibilities, and was much in prayer for the help needed to meet the challenge posed by the expectant crowds, but the response was gratifying. Everyone I met was friendly, exuded kindness, and expressed appreciation. I met many people, shook innumerable hands, forgot most names, but noticed that almost everyone seemed to be called Park, or Kim, or Hahn.

The lectures, and the meetings afterward, consumed most of the day, for the sessions, on account of the translations, usually exceeded two hours in length. The topics I addressed were various, and touched upon the fields of science, philosophy, theology, and ethics.

The two daytime lectures I delivered on Monday did not set me free for leisure and repose. I was brought after supper to the University of Pusan where, in the library of that institution, I addressed a sizeable group of faculty members and students on “The Essence of Religion.” The session ended at 10:00 o’clock, and it was again late when I went to bed.

* * * * * * *

Tuesday, the 10th of June, was substantially like the day before, though with a difference. I lectured at ten, and again at two, but was thereafter freed from work, and invited to spend the evening in the company of prominent churchmen. I was feted at a dinner hosted by the Moderator of the General Assembly and his fellow officers. The food was delicious, the company congenial, and the conversation informative. It was a pleasant way to end a busy day.

The people with whom I met represented the “Koryu” group of the Presbyterian Church. They had split from the larger body soon after the war, and now constituted one of the three branches of Presbyterianism into which the once sizeable communion had been divided. The temper of the church was conservative, tending toward a rigorous orthodoxy, in which direction they seemed to be driven by their close connection to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of America. Missionaries from the OP Church were active among them, and many of those now teaching in the seminary had studied at Westminster. The existence of a Philadelphian mentality was evident, but the forces that had shaped the parent church, and the influences emanating from the culture and ethos of the region were also operative. Observable was a tendency toward mysticism, an inclination toward premillenarianism in eschatology, and a bent toward separation, not only from unholy alliances and worldly practices, but also from social and political involvements.

Since I was unaware of these tendencies when I prepared my lectures, I did not in them address these issues directly. There was that in the lectures, however, which tended in another direction, and this could not have escaped my listeners. However that may be, I was accepted as a fellow traveller, and I was glad to be so received.

* * * * * * *

On Wednesday, the 11th, I again lectured at 10:00 o’clock in the morning, and at 2:00 in the afternoon. After the second lecture, toward 4:30 o’clock, I was brought to the recently established Calvin College, where students were prepared for Christian service, and for entrance into the seminary. I inspected the grounds and facilities, and met with the students and faculty, who had prepared a program in which brief speeches were made, and in which, to please me, some hymns were sung in English by a duo of student vocalists.

I had dinner that evening with the Hahn family. Mr. Hahn was an elder in the church, and apparently a man of means, for the house we met in was large and tastefully furnished, and the dinner set before us was rich and plentiful. A son of the family had earlier attended our own Calvin College, and was now a student in the Pusan seminary. In command of English, he facilitated the conversation at table, and so did his wife, who was studying medicine and about to obtain her degree. A number of other guests, including some professors, were seated around the heavily laden table, and it was a delight to be in the presence of this mottled company. Mrs. Hahn conducted an orphanage, which I was taken to see before we sat down to eat, and I was impressed by the size, cleanliness, and decorum of the place.

The rest of the evening was otherwise occupied. I was taken after dinner to an offshore island, where at an 8:30 worship service I preached to a congregation assembled from all parts of the island. The service lasted until 10:00 o’clock, after which I inspected a dispensary maintained by funds largely supplied by the Grand Rapids Diaconate. It was 11:00 o’clock when I got back to the Spooners, and past midnight when I went to bed.

* * * * * * *

On Thursday, June 12, my activities in Pusan came to an end. I lectured that day as usual, the two sessions being attended by as many as the auditorium could hold. I finished at about 4:30 o’clock, and, having thanked the audience for its indulgence, shook hands all around. A farewell dinner was given that evening by the seminary faculty. The food was plentiful and delicious, and, when the speeches had ended, I felt that I had not entirely failed in my effort both to instruct and to foster friendship and communion.

The seminary represented at the table that evening was founded in September of 1946. It developed out of a theological institute that had a little earlier been established by Yune Sun Park in Chinhae. The seminary building was constructed out of materials supplied by the United States Army, and funds for its erection were supplied by Korean and American supporters. The seminary was set down on the lower slope of a high-peaked mountain overlooking the bay. The student enrollment at the time of my visit stood at 69, and the budget for the year came to 12,000 dollars.

Yune Sun Park became the first president of the seminary, and he was the occupant of that office during my sojourn. He had studied theology at the Pyengyang Seminary of the mainline Presbyterian Church, and had pursued graduate work at both Westminster and the Free University of Amsterdam. In 1954 Faith Theological Seminary honored him with a D.D. degree. Park now taught New Testament, on which he was preparing commentaries, and he was associated on the staff with five other full-time professors. Sang Keun Lee, who had studied at Kobe and Westminster, taught Systematic Theology. Chin Hong Kim, who had studied at Westminster and Calvin, taught Old Testament. Son Hyuk Park, who had studied at Pyengyang, taught Greek. Yong Choon Ahn, who had studied at Kobe, Westminster, and Columbia Theological Seminary, taught Church History. Bruce F. Hunt, an American who had studied at Princeton and Westminster, served as Professor of Bible.

These six regular staff members were assisted by five part-time instructors, among whom were the three missionaries of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church who had established relations with the Koryu Church: Theodore Hard (Westminster, 1952), John Hunt (Faith, 1954), and Arthur B. Spooner (Westminster, 1956). It was with one or another of these three men, and sometimes with all three of them together, that I usually ate breakfast and lunch. I met the regular staff members daily at, and after, the lectures, but it was with Park that I most often conferred at length.

From the account here given it can be inferred that the influence of Westminster and of the OP Church was strong in Pusan. I had, of course, had my differences with R. B. Kuiper and with Cornelius Van Til, but of this the people here were probably unaware, and I made no mention of it. I lived in harmony with my hosts, and throughout my stay our mutual relations remained cordial and constructive.

* * * * * * *

The series of lectures in Pusan having been brought to a close, I was poised on the morning of Friday, the 13th, to leave the city and go on to Taegu and Seoul, where other assignments awaited me. Although I had enjoyed little leisure, my stay in Pusan had been made pleasant by the graciousness of my hosts, and it had been made profitable by contact with many good people, through whose communications I acquired some knowledge of things Korean, especially of things related to religion and education.

About Pusan itself I did not learn much. The city did not figure in our conversation, and I had little time to explore it on my own. What I saw of it was mostly from moving cars, and from the buildings and grounds to which I had been driven. I knew, of course, just where on the peninsula the city lay. Tucked into the southeast corner of Korea, it occupied a coastal plain, was nestled against steep hills, and opened upon a spacious bay, whose blue-green waters glistened under the oft-shining Spring sun. Looking seaward, a panoramic view of the coastal settlements could be obtained from the windows of the seminary building, which stood upon an eminence some distance from the shore. The houses that I saw, and the thoroughfares through which I passed, seemed to be not as well constructed and maintained as in Japan, and what arrested my attention was the presence in the somewhat dusty streets of people wearing pure white clothing. I wondered how, under prevailing conditions, they could remain unspotted, and look so resplendent.

It is possible, even likely, that the particular neighborhood in which I resided was unique, and thus not at all representative of some other segment of the city. I ventured into it once or twice when waiting for lunch to be served, and what I saw was not impressive. The streets were narrow and unpaved. At one store, unrefrigerated meat hung from an outdoor rack, exposed to the warm Spring air, and beset with flies. At another, fish, set out for sale, lay unappetizingly upon the bug-infested ground. Dogs roamed the street, and everywhere left their mark, and men and boys relieved themselves in open spaces. There was in that neighborhood evidence of the poverty, disorder, ignorance, and lack of sanitation, that resulted from the harsh rule and cruel neglect of the imperious Japanese conquerors.

The house occupied by the Spooners, with whom I lived, was, by the same token, quite unpalatial, and bereft of many modern conveniences. There was no running water. There was an inside toilet, but to flush it one dipped water from a reconstructed oil drum. One washed one’s face from a pan of rain water. To brush my teeth without running water proved difficult at first, but I learned to cope. The house was wired for electricity, but the lights were dim, and the current did not always flow. There was a power failure one day, and I shaved that morning above stagnant water by the light of a kerosene lamp. None of this detracted, however, from the satisfaction I derived from associating with good and wholesome people, who, raised above the level of their environment, devoted themselves, with an uncomplaining and sacrificial spirit, to the service of the Lord.

* * * * * * *

I left Pusan on Friday morning, the 13th of June, and set out by train for Taegu. I did not travel alone. I was accompanied on the trip by five representatives of the Pusan community, among them, the President of the seminary, the Moderator of the General Assembly, and Ted Hard. When we reached the station, somewhat before 10:00 AM, we were greeted by a crowd of well-wishers gathered to see us off. I had on previous days received small gifts from the people–a shell-inlaid vase, a name plate, and a stitched tablecloth for Hilda–and I was now presented with an album by a representative of the people who had come to say farewell. I was deeply touched, not only by the sentiments expressed through the gift, but also by the very presence of these many well-wishers, and it was with faltering words that I expressed to them my thanks.

The train pulled out at 10:00 AM, and we arrived in Taegu at 12:30 noon. A delegation of both men and women was waiting for us there. After greetings were exchanged, we were put into a cab and taken by three members of the welcoming committee to a restaurant, where we were served a delicious multi-course dinner. I had been promised an afternoon of rest, and this promise was fulfilled. Park, Hard, and I were brought to an orphanage, where a large room was reserved for us, and here I took a two-hour nap, which restored my strength and spirits. Scheduled for the evening was a special worship service at which I was to preach. For the evening meal we were taken to a Chinese restaurant, where we again feasted on a variety of delicacies.

The church service was to begin at 8:30 PM. When we arrived shortly before that time, the large church was already filled to capacity, and by the time the service started the auditorium could contain no more. People were standing along the walls, outside at the open windows, and at the doors in the rear. Inside the church, on the wall behind the pulpit, was a huge banner, reading “Welcome to Dr. Stob.” The entire scene affrighted me, and I prayed that I might to some degree meet the responsibilities thrust upon me. I preached that evening on the Unity of the Church. Park translated the message, and though the people seemed moved, they could not be so moved as I was when I listened to their prayers and songs.

The service lasted a good two hours, and it was after 11:00 o’clock when we got back to the orphanage. We talked awhile, and retired at midnight. We would be moving on to Seoul in the morning, and I welcomed sleep.

* * * * * * *

We were up early on Saturday, the 14th, for our train was scheduled to leave at 9:00 o’clock that morning. The five church leaders, and Hard, who had accompanied me to Taegu, would accompany me to Seoul as well, and we were all at the station in good time. A crowd stood there to see us off, and just before the train pulled out a choir of 15 or 20 voices sang “God be With You Til We Meet Again.” It was a moving experience. I received from the people in Taegu a lacquered wooden jewel box which, with the other gifts I had received, I placed in Ted Hard’s hands for shipment home.

It was at 2:30 o’clock on Saturday afternoon that we arrived in Seoul. Waiting for us when the train pulled in were a number of church representatives, and, in addition, Harvey Smit, who was serving as an army chaplain with the 8th U.S. Army at a base near Seoul. It was Harvey, who, in his staff car, brought our party to the guest house.

I was scheduled to lecture at 4:00 o’clock at the University of Seoul, and I was accordingly left with little time to freshen up. I was able, however, to take a quick shower, and rest awhile, before the meeting started. A goodly crowd was gathered in the auditorium when we arrived at the University, and here I delivered my lecture on “The Liberty of Conscience.”

The meeting lasted until 6:30. At that point I broke connection with my hosts in order to be with Harvey. He drove Ted Hard and me to the army post, where, in the base snack bar, we had hamburgers and malted milk, as befits good Americans. We talked a good while thereafter, and were eventually driven back to the guest house in Seoul. After we had settled in, Ted and I engaged for awhile in a discussion of theology, especially as that was pursued at Westminster, and it was late when we went to bed.

* * * * * * *

The morning of Sunday, the 15th, was unencumbered with assignments, and, since there was no English service anywhere in the vicinity, I stayed in my room, wrote letters, and washed some of my clothes. The “Mission Guest House,” where I stayed, was a western-style boarding house run cooperatively by many missions, and managed by a middle-aged widow of a former missionary. The hostess treated us well, served breakfast and lunch, and was in every way accommodating and pleasant. The hot and cold running water, the bathroom and shower facilities, the spacious room and comfortable bed–all this was in pleasant contrast to the relatively primitive conditions under which I had lived in the previous week. Ted Hard was my companion at the house, and we had occasion to speak often of many things.

At 3:00 o’clock on Sunday afternoon I preached in the largest church in Seoul. The auditorium was huge, and there were, I was told, about 1500 people in the audience. Dr. Park interpreted the sermon. By the time the two-hour service had ended, it was time for supper. I dined that evening at the home of the President of Seoul’s theological seminary, and spent a pleasant evening with him, his family, and several other guests.

* * * * * * *

I was scheduled to leave the country on the next day, but my departure was not made easy. Arrangements had been made to hold a special Monday morning worship service, and at 9:00 o’clock that morning I preached again to a large audience gathered in the spacious sanctuary. There was just enough time after the two-hour service for me to have lunch, and catch the 12:30 bus for the airport. I went through customs between 1:00 and 2:00 o’clock, and at 2:15 PM, on Monday, the 16th of June, the plane took off and headed for Tokyo, Japan.

Several representatives of church and school were at the airport to see me off. The parting was bittersweet. I had everywhere been treated with courtesy and respect, and I wished there was time to express more fully the gratitude I felt. Ties had been fastened that now had to be undone, and this was not pleasant. But the lure of home and loved ones was upon me, and this made light the moment of departure.

* * * * * * *

It was about 5:30 PM on Monday, the 16th, that I arrived in Tokyo. Ed Van Baak was at the airport to meet me, and the news he conveyed to me was disconcerting. He said that Garritt Roelofs was in town, had several times inquired about me, and wished me to get in touch with him as soon as I returned from Korea. Garritt’s wife, Ed told me, was in St. Luke’s Hospital, suffering from cancer. Both had recently flown in from Burma, in search of the most competent medical help available.

After we had deposited my bag at the Van Baaks, and had a cup of coffee, we went to the hospital, and met Garritt. It was then about 7:30 PM. We looked in upon Mrs. Roelofs, and found her quite unwell. We spoke such words as seemed appropriate, and then went with Garritt to a room he had engaged for himself. He had hitherto maintained composure, but he now broke down, and, amidst shaking sobs, informed us that his wife was given about three to six months more of life. We encouraged him to cry, and this he did, telling us that it came easy in the presence of friends. We pointed him to the Lord, man’s only source of strength in trial, went out with him for coffee, and stayed until 10:00 o’clock. He told me over coffee how sorry he was that he would be unable to meet me in Rangoon, but that he had made arrangements with his servants for my stay, that they would meet me when my plane arrived, and that they would execute the plans he had made in anticipation of my visit.

Ed and I were at the hospital again the next morning. We visited with Mrs. Roelofs while Garritt was out making arrangements for their departure to the States. We learned upon his return that the ambulance would arrive at 2:30 PM, and that a flight to America had been booked for 6:00 PM. We said our farewells at noon, committing our friends to the care and consolation of the Lord. It was only later that we learned that Mrs. Roelofs, after a brief period of suffering, had died a peaceful death, leaving my friend to mourn in the bosom of his family the loss of one he dearly loved and would sorely miss.

* * * * * * *

The afternoon of Tuesday, the 17th of June, was taken up with many things. I had my teeth cleaned by a dentist, got a haircut, had my shoes shined, took a bath, and, with the help of the Van Baaks, packed a box with clothes and gifts for shipment home. Fran had meanwhile washed such clothes of mine as needed laundering, and by 6:00 o’clock my bags were packed for the journey I would undertake near midnight.

The kindness and concern that I had throughout my stay experienced at the hands of my missionary friends, was again displayed on the evening of June 17th. To send me off with their good wishes, all of them, with their wives, left their stations, and assembled in Tokyo for a farewell party. We gathered at 7:30 PM in a Chinese restaurant, where, thanks to the generosity of my hosts, we sat down to a sumptuous 7-course dinner which, delicious in itself, was made even more palatable by the fellowship that attended it.

After the meal there was a speech by Len Sweetman, in which thanks were expressed for the efforts I had put forth, and for the benefits they had reputedly produced. Henry Bruinooge then arose, and, in the name of the group, presented gifts. For Hilda there was a beautiful red-lacquered lazy susan, together with the fine-crafted dishes that went with it. I was then presented with a set of silver cufflinks and a matching tieclasp. For these gifts, for the dinner, and for every kindness shown me I then thanked the group in words that did not plumb the depth of gratitude I felt for all that they had done to make my stay in Japan as pleasant and profitable as possible. Maas Vander Bilt thereupon offered prayer, invoking God’s blessing upon Hilda and the children, and upon the journey that I was about to undertake. The meeting ended with the singing of the Doxology. It was then about 9:30 PM.

The party, however, did not break up. The entire group accompanied me on the hour’s ride to the airport, where, after I had checked my ticket and baggage, we once more gathered for coffee in the airport restaurant. At 11:00 PM, after last minute handshakes and kisses, I entered the customs area, and at 11:25 mounted the stairs to the plane. The group watched as the plane took off, and I waved a last goodbye. It was near midnight, between the 17th and 18th of June, and my destination was Taipei on the island of Formosa.


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