Korean Baptist Missions in Kazakhstan

Weonjin Choi

South Korea has become a major source of Christian missionaries. As of 2008 its 62,000 churches were responsible for a worldwide missionary force of 20,840.1 Korean Baptists account for ten percent of Korean missionaries serving in Central Asia (89of 889) and approximately 22 percent of Korean missionaries serving in Kazakhstan (48 of 230).2

First Steps

The Baptist World Congress, held in Seoul, Korea, in August 1990, served as the catalyst for the beginning of Korean Baptist missionary work in Central Asia in 1991. Congress executive director Ki-Man Han and Minister of National Security Services Sei-Jik Park invited approximately 250 Russian representatives to attend the congress and furnished their accommodations, meals, and gifts.3After returning home, Russian Evangelical Christian- Baptist leaders extended an invitation to visit Russia to congress director Han and Bill Fudge, coordinator of Cooperative Services International at the International Mission Board (IMB) of the U.S. Southern Baptist Convention. Thus, in 23-30 November 1990, Han and Fudge visited not only Moscow but also Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; and Almaty, Kazakhstan. During this trip Russia’s Evangelical Christians-Baptists agreed to assist Korean Baptist missionaries preparing to serve in Central Asia. At the same time Byung-Ki You, representing Korean Baptists, and Bill Fudge, representing Southern Baptists, came to an oral agreement to divide their mission efforts in Central Asia (comity arrangement) whereby Korean

Baptists would work in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and Southern Baptists would focus on Uzbekistan.4 Soon afterwards in March 1991 the Korean Baptist Foreign Mission Board (FMB) sent 15,000 Korean-Russian Bibles to Russian Baptists and in August 1991, 15,000more. The first Korean Baptist missionary to Kazakhstan was Dong-Sung Kim. In February 1991, Kim visited Moscow, Tashkent, Bishkek, and Almaty, wherein the latter city he presented the gospel to resident Koryoins (ethnic Koreans living in Central Asia).

There he founded Almaty Hosanna Baptist Church, the first church planted by a Korean Baptist missionary.5Koryoin Aleksandr Han currently leads this fellowship, now renamed Almaty Central Baptist Church. This congregation alone has planted 11 daughter churches and sends ministers to villages and to other countries.6Next, Joshua Chung and his family went to Chimkent, Kazakhstan, where they established Shemkent Immanuel Church, and Seon-Taek Oh and his family went to Bishkek where they planted Bishkek Osman Church. Russian Baptist churches were a great help to Korean missionaries during this period.

The Role of Ethnic Koreans Living in Central Asia

Koryoins also played an important role in the establishment of Korean Baptist missions in the region. They first entered the Russian Empire in the 1860s via the Pacific maritime region (Primo sky Krai), escaping hunger and Japanese rule in Korea.7 Then in 1937 a paranoid Joseph Stalin ordered the forcible removal to Central Asia of ethnic Koreans living in the Russian Far-East. Deportees numbered 171,782, with 76,525sent to Uzbekistan and 95,256 settled in Kazakhstan.8Since 1991, regardless of their religious background,Koryoins helped Korean missionaries when they encountered them. Koryoins who could speak Korean and Russian played a particularly crucial role as interpreters when Korean Baptist missionaries started their ministries.

Outreach to Kazakhs

Some pioneer Korean Baptist missionaries sought to reach Muslim groups. The first was Min- Ho Chu and his family who entered Kazakhstan in September 1991. Chu’s family came through Senim, humanitarian aid organization.9 Following four years of intensive language study, Chu completed a Korean-Kazak dictionary.10 In his effort to reach Kazakhs, Chuorganized a Kazakh-American Cultural-Exchange Festival in the summer of 1991. Many evangelical Christians and mission agencies assisted, including Senim, which hired 150 translators, 60 of whom accepted Christ. The first ethnic Kazakh church was formed from these converts. By the end of 1992 the church had 29 baptized Kazakh members.11 Todd Jamison summarizes the long-term results of the two-week festival:

First the festival served as a launching point for various projects that [Peter] Kent initiated…. The second result was the huge influx of laborers and the initiation of church planting efforts…. The third, and by far most important, result of the festival was the raising of awareness of mission opportunities among the Kazaks.12Chu next planned a “Korean-Koryoin Culture Exchange Festival,” which was held in Moscow,Bishkek, Shymkent, and Almaty, 23 October− 2November 1991. Twenty-two people attended the festival from Korea, including Korean Baptist pastor ski-Man Han, Hong-Beam Hong, Sang-Dae Lee,Tae-Ok Lee, Tae-Gyu You, and Byung-Ki You; IMB missionary Bill Fudge; businessmen from Yoida Baptist Church; and medical doctors from Busan Baptist Hospital. Korean Baptist pioneer missionaries prepared the basis for church planting through medical-service program, business meetings, a musical concert, as well as church planting.13

Salem Church

Chu, along with coworkers Ki-Sup Shin, In-JaSeo, and Andrew Song, who joined him in 1992, established Salem Church on 26 April 1996, with50 church members.14 This church became the first Kazakh church planted by Korean Baptists in Kazakhstan and was one of the first efforts to reach the Turkic people of Central Asia.15 Salem Church, which now has some 500 adult members and 150children, has, in turn, planted 12 churches, including five non-registered fellowships. It also has established the nonprofit Kazakhstan Leadership DevelopmentCenter.16 Through the center, Salem operates computer-language center, a dental hospital, a young adult leadership-development center, and an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center. In 1995 the church sent two families to Mongolia and China as long-termministers.17

Theological Education

As missionary work began to flourish and the number of churches and believers increased Korean Baptist missionaries urgently needed to train indigenous leadership. To meet this need Korean Baptists opened the Central Asia Baptist Theological Seminary in 1996. In 2002, supported by South Korea’s Yoida Baptist Church, Korean Baptist missionaries introduced intensive theological training for local leaders in Almaty. By 2006, 116 local leaders had graduated from the seminary and were faithfully ministering in their home churches. In addition, some have planted churches in other countries.18

Church Growth

By 2005, Korean Baptist mission efforts handled to the formation of 83 churches in Kazakhstan, Kyyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, with 6,698 believers,including 2,187 baptized members.19 By 2007Korean Baptist missionaries had planted 52 churches in Kazakhstan with more than 5,000 believers, including 2,500 baptized members.20


Church Planting Strategies

From the beginning the churches planted by Korean Baptist missionaries in Almaty (Hosanna), Almaty (Salem), Almaty (Dunamis), Shemkent(Immanuel), Bishkek (Qyzylorda Somang), and Ust-Kamenogorsk (Rodnik) focused on discipleship training and the planting of numerous daughter churches. Church multiplication appears to be ahallmark of the Korean church-planting movement in Central Asia.

The Korean Baptist missionary concept of church planting, however, differs from that of IMB missionary David Garrison. His understanding of a Church Planting Movement (CPM), as defined in his widely circulated book of the same name, is “rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweep through a people group orpopulation.”21 By way of contrast, most Korean Baptist missionaries do not necessarily focus on speed. While Garrison stresses rapidity as a scriptural principle, Korean Baptist missionaries question whether the Bible mandates rapid reproduction. Many Korean missionaries warn that reproducing leaders as quickly as Garrison proposes may lead to weak or immature leadership and produce unhealthy churches. The Koreans argue that discipleship training is time consuming but absolutely necessary. Following this deliberate approach, however, has meant that many Korean Baptist missionaries have remained in the churches they first planted. In Kazakhstan to date only two missionaries have entrusted leadership of national congregations to indigenous pastors. Overcoming this problem has become a major concern of Korean mission leaders.

Accounting for Korean Missionary Success

Various factors have assisted Korean Baptist missionaries in reaching Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries. First, Koreans and Central Asians share common racial and linguistic ties. Koreans trace their ethnic origins to the Mongol-Altaic people group, and Koreans and Kazakhs both speak an Altaic language. As a result, Korean missionaries are able to learn Central Asian languages more easily than can Western missionaries. Korean missionaries typically learn the Kazakh language two to three times faster than Western missionaries.22

Korean and Kazakh cultures also share a number of similarities, including the custom of sitting, eating, and sleeping on the floor. Koreans understand the hierarchical nature of Kazakh society, Muslim honor shame culture, strong family values, and strong respect for elders. Ease of language acquisition and cultural adaptation greatly facilitate Korean missionary succession Kazakhstan.

Understanding Traditional Religion

Even though the majority faith of Kazakhstanis officially Islam, in practice it is folk Islam, incorporating several elements of shamanism and animism. Korean missionaries from non-Christian backgrounds, who readily comprehend such Kazakh religious elements as ancestor worship, animism, and shamanism, can easily share with Kazakhs from their own experience how to follow Jesus in such contexts.

Similar National Experience and Interest

Kazakhs also share with Koreans the experience of colonial conquest and annexation. Kazakhstan was forcibly occupied by Russia for some 70years while Korea was an imperial possession of Japan for 36 years. Korean missionaries empathize with Kazakh national indignation toward Russia. The fact that Korean missionaries are not seen as imperialistic Westerners has been a crucial advantage in reaching Kazakhstan’s Muslim population. In addition, Kazakhstan is impressed with Korea’s rapid economic growth and desires to see its own economy follow the same course. Finally, the substantial number of Central Asians of Korean descent (Koryoins) has eased the entry of missionaries into Kazakhstan.

 Spiritual Factors

Fervent prayer is one of the most significant aspects of Korean Christians. Their early-morning prayers, all-night prayers, prayer mountains, and prayer with fasting are known worldwide. This spiritual fervency has given Korean missionaries distinct advantage in sharing the gospel among Kazakhs and other Central Asians.23

Unique Korean Qualities

Korean missionary Matthew Jeong attributes Korean missionary success to devotional zeal, passion for the lost, fervent prayer, hospitality, obedience to authority, perseverance, and generosity.24 In particular, the Korean fighting spirit and tenacity were forged through the Japanese occupation, the Korean War, and economic distress. Korean believers have a great pioneering spirit and a willingness to face danger and hardship to reach people with the gospel. Since Korean Baptist missionaries are highly educated, they also can readily facilitate community-based projects including computer training, Tai Kwon-Do clubs, English and Korean classes, business centers, sports teams, and professional training schools. ♦

Editor’s note: The concluding portion of this article will be published in the next issue of the East-West Church and Ministry Report 18 (Fall 2010).


1 Korea World Missions Association, “2008 Seongyosa Pasong Hyeonhwang [The Status of Missionary Sending in 2008]”; accessed 6 May 2010; available from http://kwma.org/; Korea World Missions Association, “Seongyosa Pasong Hyeonhwang [TheStatus of Missionary Sending]”; accessed 6 May 2010;available from http://ekma.org/.

2 Email to author from Ki-Tae Kim, chairman of the Central Asia Association of the Foreign Mission Board of the Korean Baptist Convention, 3 December 2007;Todd Jamison, “Reaching the Muslim Majority: The Responsibility of the Korean Church in Evangelizing the Kazakhs of Central Asia,” unpublished paper.

3 Shin, “Jangang Asia Gweonyeok Bogo [Central Asia’s Regional Report]” in 2006 Chimryegyo Seongyo Jidoja Forum [The Forum for Baptist Mission Leaders in 2006], ed. Soon-Sang Park (Seoul: Foreign Mission Board of the Korea Baptist Convention, 2006),” 50;and You, “Chimryegyo Haeyoeseongyohoe Yeoksa,”29. Sei-Jik Park, who is an ordained deacon of Yeoi-do Baptist Church, served as a director of the National Intelligence Service in 1990.

4 Author’s interview with Byung-Ki You, 1 August2007, MP3 recording, Ilsan, Korea. Byung-Ki You served as FMB president from 1988 to 2005.

5 Dong-Sung Kim, “Gyohoe Gaecheok-uiGyeongheom-eul Tonghan Baeeum [A Lesson throughChurch Planting Experience],” The Baptist World Mission 38 (1995): 4.

6 Seok-Ki Kim, e-mail message to author, 7 October2007. Korean Baptists also placed their first missionary in Kyrgyzstan in 1991 and in Uzbekistan in 1998.

7 Jeanyoung Lee, “The Korean Chinese (Chosonjok) in the Russian Far East: A Research Note,” 164 [on-line];accessed 10 September 2007; available from http://gsti.miis.edu/CEAS-PUB/200108Lee.pdf; Internet.

8 Ibid.

9 Senim, which is the Kazak word for trust, was developed by Peter Kent as the primary platform for humanitarian and cultural exchange. It was officially registered in 1990 as the first American organization in Kazakhstan. By 1993, Altyn Alma, its Kazak partner, withdrew from the joint venture. Senim then registered under the title of an American enterprise. Todd Jamison, “A Historical Study of Evangelism and Contextualization of the Gospel among the Kazak People of Central Asia,” Ph.D. dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1999, 105.

10 Min-Ho Chu, interview by author, 1 June 2007, MP3recording, Fort Worth, TX.

11 According to Todd Jamison, “By 1989, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention had a non-residential missionary assigned specifically to the Kazakh people. By the following year, just prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, this missionary was able to facilitate the first long-term workers into Kazakhstan, who were intentionally focused on reaching Kazakhs.” Jamison, “Reaching the Muslim Majority;” See also Jamison, “A Historical Study,” 104-09.

12 Jamison, “A Historical Study,” 107. For more information, see “Baptist Workers Extend Hand of Friendship to People of Central Asia’s Forgotten Cities,” Word and Way, 13 February1992, 16; and Beth Sammons, “Baptists Visit Closed Nuclear Site,” The Commission 55 (January 1992), 43.

13 Ki-Sup Shin, “Seongyo Hyeonjang-ui SeongyoJojik-e Gwanhan Yeongu: Jungang Asia Chimryogyo

Seongyoreul Chungsimeuro [A Study of Mission Structure in Mission Field: Focused on the Baptist Missions in Central Asia],” Th.M. thesis, Korea Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001, 39-40.

14 Min-Ho Chu, e-mail to author, 27 September2007. The Salem Church was officially registered in December 1997.

15 Chu, however, remembers that Rakum (Grace) and Joy Fellowship churches started before Salem Churchman-Ho Chu, interview by author, 1 June 2007, MP3recording, Fort Worth, TX.

16 Min-Ho Chu, e-mail to author, 27 September 2007.17 Ibid.

18 Hong-Bae Kim, “Jungang Asia Sinhakgyo Sayeokui Hoegowa Jeonmang [Retrospect and Prospect of Central Asia Baptist Theological Seminary],” in 2006; Chimryegoyo Seongyo Jidoja Forum [Forum

for Baptist Mission Leaders] in 2006, ed. Soon-Sang Park (Seoul: The Foreign Mission Board of the Korea Baptist Convention 2006), 149-50.

19 Ibid., 149.

20 Ki-Tae Kim, e-mail message to author, 3 December2007. Kim is chairman of the Central Asia Associationof the Foreign Mission Board of the Korea Baptist Convention.

21 David Garrison, Church Planting Movements: How God is Redeeming a Lost World (Midlothian, VA:

WIG Take Resources, 2004), 21.

22 Jamison, “A Historical Study,” 173.

23 Jamison, “Reaching the Muslim Majority.”

24 Matthew Jeong, “Hanguk Sayeokia-ui SegyehwawaHyeobryeok [Globalization and Cooperation of

Korean Missionaries], paper presented at the Annual Consultation for Korean Missionaries, Kyrgyzstan,17 August 2006, electronic document, 10. Matthew Jeong obtained this data from the survey through questionnaire and interviews from 2001 to 2005.

Edited excerpts published with permission from Weonjin Choi, “An Appraisal of Korean Baptist Missions in Kazakhstan, Central Asia,” Ph.D. dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2008. This dissertation can be purchased from VDM Verlag Dr. Mueller e.k. for $111.

Weonjin Choi is missions pastor of Dreaming Church, Bundang, South Korea, and lecturer in missions at Korea Baptist Theological University, Daejeon, South Korea.