Jesus Village Church, South Korea
Jesus Village Church (JVC) is one of two Anabaptist affiliated churches in South Korea. Unlike other global Anabaptist communities outside of Europe and North America, JVC is not the result of a mission plant. Rather, JVC began out three years of intensive study by Korean Christian professionals as they tried to rediscover the New Testament Church and implement it in a Korean context. These leaders felt that the Anabatist Church fit what they desired most closely, and in 1996 they started the JVC. The church is an Associate Member of Mennonite World Conference.
The Anabaptist church in Korea grew out of a long and complex process. Beginning in 1953 Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) expressed interest in sending relief workers to Korea to aid in reconstruction efforts after the Korean War (1950-1953). The first thirteen workers who came to the country worked as nurses, teachers, and social workers. As relief work expanded, MCC volunteers made contacts that would serve to build the Anabaptist Church in Korea in years to come. In 1971 MCC left after South Korea had become economically stable.
In the 1980s and and early to mid 1990s several grass roots Anabaptism began stirring in South Korea as several South Korean individuals became disillusioned the country's pervasive Christian, militaristic nationalism. One individual who began having questions about the homogenized Christian nationalism that surrounded him was Lee Yoon Shirk. His Presbyterian, Yi-Bong Kim, who had once been a chaplain at one of MCC's vocational schools and subsequently studied at Eastern Mennonite College (EMC), first introduced Lee to Anabaptist thought. In 1983 Lee met Bluffton College Professor, Dr. Burton Yost, who was teaching at Yon Sei University in Seoul on through the General Conference Mennonite Church's (GC) Commission on Overseas Mission (COM). Through Burton's bible studies Lee encountered Anabaptist texts, like Harold Bender's "Anabaptist Vision", that challenged him to think about counter-cultural ideas that conflicted with traditional Korean Christian beliefs. Later Lee moved to Chun Cheong, a northern city in the Kong-Won province that is split in two by the demilitarized zone. There Lee began Abba Shalom, a rural intentional community that strove to show the love of Christ in everyday life. In his desire to ruther understand the Anabaptist tradition, Lee attended Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) from 1992-1995.
At the same time that Lee was exploring the Anabaptist faith, Professor Ahn Dong Kyu was meeting with a group of university professors for prayer and Bible study. Like Lee, they began to question the traditional understanding of the Korean church. At an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (ICVF) retreat at Lee's intentional community Ahn and Lee met. They soon found that they were on the same page spiritually. Ahn invited Lee to attend prayer and study at the university, and from there they began to look for resource material and support from other Anabaptist groups. They studied Anabaptist History and Theology and contacted to North American Mennonite Schools and Seminaries for further study and dialogue. These meetings and conversations were the beginning of a grass roots Anabaptist movement in Korea, and in 1996 the group initiated the Jesus Village Church, "[pledging] to be a community of sharing, seeking to restore an authentic New Testament church that would give expression to the Kingdom of God that Jesus set in motion through his death on Calvary's cross."
Since its inception in 1996 JVC has continued strengthen its Anabaptist identity in a variety of ways. First, the JVC has continued to foster the international connections with the Anabaptist church that were vital for the church's early formation. The church has maintained ties with Mennonite Church Canada Witness, the mission program of Mennonite Church Canada (MC Canada); Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA); and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the joint relief agency affiliated with North American Mennonites, and currently (2009) three missionary couples have served with JVC.
Similarly, in 1998, with the help of Tim Froese (MC Canada Witness), the JVC founded the Korean Anabaptist Center (KAC). In light of the fact that the broader Korean religious establishment view the Anabaptist church as a heretical movement, the JVC wanted to create a center that would focus on relating Anabaptist theology to broader Korean culture. Since its beginnings in 1998 the KAC has developed several kinds of programs to achieve their goal. First, the KAC has attempted to provide written Anabaptist sources in Korean by creating a library and translating and publishing Anabaptist work. Similarly, the KAC provides educational opportunities like lectures and training programs. Additionally, the center stays involved in international service programs like MCC's Serving and Learning Together (SALT), Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network (YAMEN), and International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) programs. Finally, the Anabaptist Center attempts to build networks of individuals, churches, and groups that desire social transformation.
By 2009 JVC also had a number of social outreach programs in its local community. Individual members were involved in Campus Crusade for Christ, Navigators, and ICVF. The church also runs after school educational programs to extend tutoring to low income families. They also run counseling programs and reach out to disabled individuals.
Challenges: Past, Present, Future
This section is based on interpretive analysis by Lane Miller from an undergraduate research paper (Goshen College, Hist 318: Anabaptist History, Fall 2008).
While JVC's ministry is expanding in dynamic ways, the church faces challenges. At the moment (2008) JVC has no formalized seminary or theological education, and the church struggles to discern whether or not a pastor can be ordained without a seminary degree. Additionally, dedication to the church has cost members relationships with their families. Since the larger Korean population sees the Anabaptist church as a heretical movement, many church members felt pressure from their families not to join the church. Family tensions eased to some degree as the JVC grew, but strained family relationships remained a reality.
Similarly, South Korea's mandatory service threatened to pose significant issues for many church members. Since the JVC was only 12 years old in 2008, most of the children in the church were still not old enough to be eligible for military service. Still, since there is no conscientious objector program in South Korea, the church will have to struggle with an appropriate response.
Finally, the JVC has struggled to some degree with issues surrounding identity. The beginnings in reaction against broader Korean Christian culture has made them "hyper-congregational" and wary of larger church movements and traditions. While the JVC resonates with Anabaptist principles, but since they grew out of a distinctly Korean context, independent of North American church planters they do not connect with North American Mennonite culture. The JVC will have to continue to deal with this tension.
Key Individuals in Church Life
- Bob Gerber, Interview with Lane Miller, 21 November 2008.
- Lee Yoon Shik, Email correspondence with Lane Miller, translated by Sae Jin Lee, 1 December 2008.
- Fran and Bob Gerber, "MCC to JVC: 1951-2006," December 2005."
- "Jesus Village Church 'Inner Room,'" JVC Document.
- Tim Froese, Personal email correspondence with Lane Miller. (27 November 2008).
- Bob Gerber, Interview with Lane Miller, (21 November 2008).
- Froese, Email with Lane Miller.
Lane Miller conducted several interviews for an undergraduate research paper on the JVC (History 318: Anabaptist History, Goshen College, Fall 2008).
- Tim Froese (27 November 2008)
- Froese was the original director of the Korean Anabaptist Center. He arrived in Korea in 1998 and worked to lay the groundwork of the center which began in 2001. He continued working there until 2006.
- Lee Yoon Shik (30 November 2008 and 2 December 2008)
- Lee was one of the founders of JVC and studied Anabaptism before helping start the church. He served as a leader there and has studied at CMU and Associate Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS).
- Bob Gerber (21 November 2008)
- Gerber served in Korea with MCC from 1957-1960. He later returned with his wife for one year of service (2005-2006) with the JVC.
Jesus Village Church Documents
These documents were obtained from the JVC Archives courtesy of Nam Sang Wook (JVC Archivist, contact: email@example.com).
Church Historical Documents
- Jesus Village Church "Inner Room" (JVC ministry themes for 2002)
- A Future Path for JVC
- Jesus Village Church (JVC), Chuncheon, Korea.
Personal Letters to the Church
- Gerber, Bob and Fran. "MCC to JVC: 1951-2006" (December, 2005)
- Mullet Koop, Chris and Laura
- Wiens, Erv and Marian
- Sawatzky, Sheldon. Mennonite Mission Network (MMN). (16 November 2005)
- Dyck, Dan and Miller, Ryan. "Mortal Enemies Find Peace with Visits." Third Way Cafe. http://www.thirdway.com/peace/?Page=2063%7C%27Mortal+enemies%27+find+peace+with+visits (accessed 22 June 2009).
- This article describes the efforts of South Korean and Japanese Anabaptist leaders to heal the wounds left from Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
- Gerber, Bob. "Korea's First Anabaptist Church Turns 10." Mennonite World Conference. (24 February 2006). http://www.mwc-cmm.org/News/MWC/060224rls1.html (accessed 22 June 2009).
- This [Mennonite World Conference] press release describes the tenth anniversary of the JVC.
- Korean Anabaptist Center (KAC). http://en.kac.or.kr/about (accessed 22 June 2009).
- This website describes the Korean Anabaptist Center. The site outlines KAC's beginnings, mission, and ministry activities. Also on the site are several photo albums that document the center's activities.
- "South Korean Church Leaders Urge Prayer for Peace in Korea." Peace and Justice Support Network: MCUSA. (4 March 2003) http://peace.mennolink.org/articles/korealetter.html (accessed 22 June 2009).
- This news release describes South Korean Anabaptist leaders' request for support and prayer in light of tensions between North and South Korea in 2003.
- Wiens, Ervin. "Crossing the Stream to Follow Christ." Mennonite Brethren Herald 42, no. 17 (26 December 2003). http://www.mbherald.com/42/17/captivated.en.html (accessed 22 June 2009).
- In this article Erwin Wiens, a Mennonite missionary in South Korea, describes a baptism at the JVC.
- "World of Witness: South Korea." Mennonite Church Canada. http://www.mennonitechurch.ca/programs/witness/wow/countries/skorea/ (accessed 22 June 2009).
- "World of Witness" describes MCCanada's mission work in South Korea. The site includes links to partner websites and different news stories about the KAC and the JVC. There are also bios of MCCanada mission workers who are stationed in Korea.
- MCUSA Peace and Justice Support Network: "South Korean Church Leaders Urge Prayer for Peace in Korea"
Lane Miller compiled much of the information presented here in a student research paper written for an Anabaptist History Class at Goshen College (Fall 2008).