The Salvation Army in Korea by Peter Chang

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Book review

by Paul A. Rader, General (Ret.) –

Since The Salvation Army opened fire in Korea in 1908, its saga of courageous Salvationism, tenacious faith, and compassionate service has unfolded in a century of uncommon turbulence and tragedy. Korea has risen from the devastations of war to become a major player in the modern day global economy, a growing political force, a vibrant democratic society, and a powerful agent for evangelism and global mission.

In his new book, The Salvation Army in Korea, Commissioner Peter H. Chang provides a fascinating account of the Army’s life and mission during its first century of warfare in Korea. In many ways it is uniquely his story, for he and his family lived a good deal of that history. Peter’s grandfather was a farmer from rural Korea who came to faith in Christ through the ministry of Commissioner Herbert Lord, then a young missionary officer. Rejected six times for training, with characteristic Korean tenacity, farmer Chang finally prevailed, became an officer and served to retirement. Two of his sons became officers and later served for many years as a divisional commander and the other as a chief secretary. A grandson gave leadership as territorial commander in Korea. A nephew is currently Adult Rehabilitation Centers Commander in the USA Western Territory.

In this narrative history, Chang relates a host of remarkable instances of God’s intervention as the story unfolds, including a time in June 1950. Communist North Korean forces swept into the south driving the ill-prepared defenders before them all the way to the southern tip of the peninsula. Salvation Army officers and soldiers were among the refugees forced to flee for their lives. Peter Chang and his family found refuge with relatives in a tiny village called Pyungchun, about two hours by foot from the Tai Heung Corps. Because Peter’s father was a leading officer, his family would likely have not survived if their whereabouts were discovered by the invaders. A 2nd Lieutenant, Park Jong-sup, was cruelly beaten for the family’s location but did not reveal where the Changs were staying. His wife, fearful that the North Korean soldiers would find the family at Pyungchun, bravely walked the two hours in the dead of night to warn the Changs. Commissioner Chang acknowledges that his family owed their lives to this heroic young officer. Her husband died three years later, probably as a result of the torture he endured, but she continued on and now serves as a major.

Sadly, not all survived the invasion. Lieutenant Kim Jin-ha and his family were stationed at Putori, a village corps in the north. The young corps officers decided they must try to evacuate their congregation to the south but some of their people were unable to leave. Like a good shepherd, the Lieutenant could not bring himself to abandon his sheep and returned to share their fate. He was never heard of again.

Senior-Captain Kim Sam-suk was commanding officer of the Seoul Sudaemun Corps when the south was invaded. Though many fled the city, he remained at his post. Before long he was abducted by the Communist authorities and was never seen again.

As soon as the Army started to become reestablished in the south, the Japanese claimed Korea as a protectorate and unilaterally annexed the nation, attempting to incorporate it culturally and politically into the Japanese Empire. A junior Japanese officer was installed as commander and the name of The Salvation Army was changed. When Korea was liberated with the defeat of the Japanese in 1945 a group of officers pushed to make the Army independent of the international movement but the unity of the Army, the Ku Sei Kun, was preserved.

Commissioner Chang makes clear that Salvationists have not isolated themselves from the larger Church. Army leaders have played key roles in the National Christian Council, over which the current territorial commander, Commissioner Chun Kwang-pyo, now presides as chairman. He is not the first Salvationist to do so.

The role of valiant women officers and soldiers is also a vital part of the story and Chang records their significant contribution to the Army’s advance. They have been in the vanguard of evangelism and growth initiatives, sharing their faith, giving sacrificially, and working tirelessly to fulfill the Army’s mission in Korea.

Chang imparts the story of a renewed commitment to growth and evangelism during the 1970’s. The strength of the Army was doubled during the years that followed. As the territory advances into its second century, bold goals for future growth have been established.

This telling of the Army’s story not only accounts for historical facts in Korea but also weaves a personal story into the broader narrative giving the reader the feeling of immersion in the events recorded.
Salvationists will come away from the reading of this fast-paced chronicle of courage and commitment with a renewed sense of privilege in wearing the same uniform as their comrades in Korea. Salvationist or not, readers will rejoice in the faithfulness of God and the heroic devotion of his people as they look to the futurea future as assured as the promises of God.

The book has been published in both English and Korean by The Salvation Army Korea Territory as a centennial celebration project. It will be available by special order through Trade Departments in the USA or by direct order to Korea at The Salvation Army C.P.O. 1192, Seoul 100, Korea.

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