In September 2017, Pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, the world's largest congregation, with a claimed membership of 830,000, Dr. Young-Hoon Lee was interviewed by VIO.MEDIA during his trip to Russia, as honored guest speaker at the National Conference of the Russian Pentecostal Union (The Russian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith).
Dr. Young-Hoon Lee talks about characteristics of a missionary in the 21st century, church ministries and charity, and shares what he personally prays for.
Dr. Lee considers Russia one of the greatest countries in the world, because of its Christian legacy: in spite of the communist persecution, Christian believers overcame the difficulties, and now Christian churches are growing in all corners of Russia.
In Russia there are more churches now than in the beginning of 90-s. We realize that it’s our responsibility to affect destinies of people in Russia, and in other countries. That’s why we wanted to ask you about missions in your church – how you bring the Good News to other countries. Because we know Korean churches are all over the world.
Dr. Lee: Missions is the most important ministry of our church. Jesus gave His last commandment in Matthew 28:18-20: you must preach the Gospel to all the world, make them disciples. We call this a Great Commission for all Christians, all churches. We must pursue the world missions according to the Great Commission, so that is our primary course and the primary ministry of our church. We have a mission department to handle all missionary work.
How many missionaries do you send to other countries?
Dr. Lee: Right now 672 missionaries are working all over the world, in 67 countries.
What countries? Would you name some of them please.
Dr. Lee: In Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore — almost all countries. Russia, Romania, Slovakia, England and other European countries. South America – all major countries.
And, I suppose, in the United States of America, since you were a pastor there.
Dr. Lee: About 300 missionaries minister in the United States. They’re raising other missionaries. We already started 1,100 churches through our disciples in the world.
That’s a big blessing. What kind of training program do your missionaries go through?
Dr. Lee: We have a missionary training school in the church. For three years we train them with all necessary things for the missionaries: language, culture understanding, theology, etc.
What cultural barriers do they face when they go on a mission field?
Dr. Lee: All missionaries face cultural barriers and all kind of difficulties. However, they try to overcome all difficulties.
I think all missionaries must be humble towards the native people, because western missionaries made many mistakes in the past. They sent many missionaries with money and power. We call that “mission imperialism”. Mission imperialism failed in countries such as India, Indonesia. Netherland controlled Indonesia for four hundred years. Netherland is a young country, however, it became the largest Muslim country.
Missionaries must be humble, because in the 21st century we need missionaries with humility. Humility is the key quality for missionaries in the 21st century.
I agree, missionaries have to serve with humility and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Lee: Right. The United Kingdom sent Hudson Taylor to China, but several years later, the UK missions board discharged his mission in China, because Hudson Taylor served the local people respecting Chinese customs and treated people with the humility.
UK mission board sent him to the city, to not go to suburban area, but he broke the board guideline and went to the poor people wherever he saw them.
And he lived like them.
Dr. Lee: Yes, he lived like them. For 41 years. So, after communists conquered China, all missionaries got kicked out by the government, but they separated Taylor. He started many churches all over China. Right now they have around 100 million Christians in China, because of his dedication, his effort. We all must learn lessons from the past.
You know, in your book [With the Holy Spirit] that was just published in Russian – I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet…
Dr. Lee: No, I haven’t. It’s my first time.
You talk a lot about the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Lee: The Holy Spirit is the essential part of our ministry. Without the power of the Holy Spirit we cannot overcome all the difficulties and we cannot have the effective ministry.
I’ve read a lot in your book about this. So, what do you think what are characteristics of a contemporary church? I understand it relates a lot to what you’ve already said, but just your point of view.
Dr. Lee: According to the Bible, the book of Acts, the early church had two ministries: one is sharing and caring for people — the charity mission, the other part is sending missionaries to the world. So, the essential part of the ministry was charity and missions. We must pursue these two goals in our ministry. In contemporary society they don’t have any interest in charity mission, because a lot of money is involved in it, so they say: “Government should take care of the poor people! Why does the church have to do that?” These questions are being raised frequently. But in the Bible we read that there were no poor people in the church, because they shared everything. In Acts 4, we can find the early church mission. We must have this kind of ministry in the contemporary church.
Do you think that early Christians were more like Christ than we are?
Dr. Lee: The early church had the power of the name of Christ, the early church members met real Jesus. In current days, people want money and fame, but they do not like to live like Christians in Jesus’ times. That’s the problem.
I want to emphasize the fullness of the Holy Spirit — that means the fullness of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Inside of our hearts we must imitate Jesus mind, and outside, in our lives, we must live and act like Jesus. We must transform this world with the power of the Holy Spirit, and our lifestyle. Because Christ-like life means to live and act like Jesus.
But it’s very hard. I think many people are very selfish. They have only interest in their fame, their life, their family — focus on themselves. But we have to look around: to see someone in need for help, someone in desperate situation. We must help them. We must take care of the older people — those who are in need.
Does your church do a lot of charity work? How do you help those in need?
Dr. Lee: We spend a lot of money every year for the poor people, pregnant women find support in our church — we’re supporting all pregnant women in the church.
What other projects do you have? Please tell us about some of them.
Dr. Lee: We have charity care centers in several cities in Korea. In current days many people are facing the divorce. After the separation they abandon their children — there’s a big issue in Korea right now. Also every year, about 25,000 girls come to South Korea to marry Korean men, but one third of those marriages break. After that many children are abandoned, we take care of them.
Do you have orphanages or shelters for kids?
Dr. Lee: Yes, we call them Child Care Center, not orphanage. Until 18 years old we support them with everything.
How many children go through the child care centers?
Dr. Lee: Each Child Care Center takes care of 50 to 70 kids. There’re many Child Care Centers in Korea, but we currently support 3-4 of them. We want to expand our ministry.
Also, we take care of the elderly people — they don’t have family support, they are over 80-90 and they live alone, so we support them. Elderly care mission.
This is the work in your city. In your interview in March [last year], in Novosibirsk, you talked about the transformation of the community. Is it fair to say that what your church is doing transforms your city?
Dr. Lee: Yes. Transformation is two parts: one part is spiritual transformation — we must change our mind. Also, we have to help poor people, someone in desperate situation, support them. Because government cannot help all of them, the churches must support someone in need.
Do you think we should help even though citizens pay taxes and the government should take care of the elderly people?
Dr. Lee: Right. But the oddest thing is that government never solved the problem of poverty. This is also a problem in history. That is why the church must participate in the charity mission.
I have a question about your family. How does your family and you personally take part in charity?
Dr. Lee: My family participates in the charity mission. I regularly support poor people with some amount of money, support some NGO’s. We have NGO affiliated with our church. They are good people. UN established our NGO. That is why it can work in any place in the world, even in the communist countries. We build many schools and hospitals in the poor countries. Next month, I’m going to Vietnam, to have the completion ceremony of a school building and a small hospital. We built more than 20 schools in Asia.
Also, we heard that you’re helping people in North Korea.
Dr. Lee: We’re building a heart hospital in Pyongyang. We completed our part of the contract. But because of the tension between the North and South — you heard that they tested the nuclear weapon.
Yes, we have. Just recently.
Dr. Lee: It stopped the process for a long time. But we want to complete the heart hospital in Pyongyang — there’s no heart hospital in Pyongyang — so with the love of Christ in the near future they’ll know that the church love those Korean people. We’re praying for the unification of our country. After the unification many people will come to Jesus Christ because of the love and efforts of our church.
We’re praying for North Korea as well. We know what it is to live under communism. Though I think the conditions they live in are worse than in the USSR.
Dr. Lee: It is the worst country in the world, because many people don’t have food, all kinds of necessary things. They’re starving to death. According to the records, during the last 10 years more than 3 million people died of hunger. We must support North Korea. We’ve been separated for 73 years. We’re praying for unification. Pray for our country.
We’re praying for your country. What are your prayers to God?
Dr. Lee: My grandfather escaped from Northern Korea in 1948, so all our family are praying for the unification of our country. Also, I’m praying for my church, I want it to be more of the church of growth. That means quantity is important, but quality is more important. So, I want to focus on the quality, not the quantity.
What does quality mean for you?
Dr. Lee: To live and act like Jesus Christ. That is important. To live in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, we must be led by Jesus.
I am just wondering… you are a pastor of the largest church in the world. It requires from you a lot. What does it feel like to be in that position?
Dr. Lee: I’m just one the humans… that’s my God, He is almighty. All I do is I lead people to the Lord, and I pray the Lord would help me, guide me, teach me, lead me. So far God has taken care of everything for me. I praise the Lord.
Thank you so much. It’s very pleasant to get to know you a little, and I really admire your humility.
Dr. Lee: I’m the servant of the Lord. Some meet us like a king over His ministry, but that’s not good, because we’re all servants of people of the Lord. We must be humble before the Lord. I know we’re going to heaven, but before we meet Jesus Christ, we must win this world for the Lord. Because of that we must live in this earth. Reward is waiting in heaven, not in this earth.
The interview was conducted by Irina Litvinova
The Russian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith