The advance of the gospel in Asia over the last century has been extraordinary. Christian churches are growing and thriving in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and of course South Korea, which boasts some of the largest churches in the entire world. Yet the gospel is also taking root in countries where we might not expect it to. For example, a movement of Reformed churches is growing in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. Moreover, the exponential growth of the house church movement in China is remarkable considering that the Communist government places strict restrictions on the activities of Christian churches. Clearly, the work of the gospel in Asia is something we rejoice over, continue to pray for, and look for opportunities to support.
PLANTING THE SEEDS
The roots of the modern evangelical movement are often traced back to the First and Second Great Awakenings in North America. These revivals have a mixed legacy, but we can be thankful for their emphasis on conversion and evangelism, which sparked a global missionary movement that ultimately marked the nineteenth century as the great century of Protestant mission work. Protestant missionaries traveled to Africa, South America, and Asia spreading the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. While we cannot ignore or fully disentangle the Protestant mission movement from the often-brutal historical context of Western imperialism, which led to many European countries’ annexing territories around the world and the subjection of indigenous people groups, missionaries did plant the seeds of the gospel throughout the world—including Asia.
A good example of planting seeds was the missionary work of Robert Morrison, who was sent by the London Mission Society to China in 1807. He was one of the first to translate the Bible into Chinese and bring the gospel to southern China. James Hudson Taylor followed Morrison, arriving in China in 1853. Taylor founded the China Inland Mission, with a focus on reaching the interior of China, away from the more popular and lucrative port cities. Unique for his time, Taylor and his colleagues chose to dress and eat like the local Chinese as a way of identifying more closely with those to whom they were trying to minister. The work of Morrison and Taylor introduced the gospel to China, and their legacy lives on today.
Another example of gospel seeds being planted in Asia and bearing amazing fruit occurred in Korea, where the first Protestant missionaries arrived in the nineteenth century. Protestantism grew during the early twentieth century with the famous revival (1907–10) in the northern city of Pyongyang. As a result of the revival, Christianity was firmly established and would play a crucial role during the period of Japanese colonial rule. Christianity served as a point of resistance against Japanese occupation, and especially against the imposition of Shintoism. After Korea gained independence, Protestant Christianity continued to grow, and today South Korea’s population has the highest percentage of Christians in East Asia.