The Spirit Moves West: Korean Missionaries in America by Rebecca Y. Kim (review)
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The Spirit Moves West: Korean Missionaries in America, by Rebecca Y. Kim, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, xii + 239 pp.

Despite the humble origins of Christianity, mission or evangelism tends to be done by the more powerful and culturally dominant toward those perceived to be weaker and poorer. Few Christians, even in Europe, would have considered sending Christian missions to the USA at the height of the latter's power in the [End Page 208] late twentieth century. This book analyzes an exception to this rule: the University Bible Fellowship (UBF), a campus mission founded in South Korea in 1961, and under the leadership of Samuel Lee from 1977 to 2002.

The book emphasizes that the UBF was in many respects representative of the dominant Korean conservative evangelical Protestantism of the time, which developed a large overseas missionary movement. However, it also recognizes that the UBF was "hyper-evangelical." Members held to doctrines of biblical inerrancy, incarnation and second coming, and eternal salvation through personal faith. They also adhered to strict moral codes and were expected to choose marriage partners for the sake of the mission. Integral to the organization was the dedication of all its members to making disciples, a job for which they were not paid but carried out in their own time while earning their own keep and tithing their income to the mission. These campus workers were themselves graduates who had gained professional employment in South Korea. It could be added that the UBF was initially criticized by "mainline" denominations at home who suspected that missionaries had ulterior motives of immigration to the USA and were not really missionaries given the Christian nature of the USA. Although there were undoubtedly some who, in the dark days of poverty and political oppression, used missionary work as an escape from South Korea, in the case of the UBF, this motive is belied in this book by the depiction of the simple and dedicated lives lived by UBF missionaries.

Kim correctly discerns the origins of the exceptionalism of certain Korean missions in a desire to outdo "big brother" USA and in the Protestant history of the peninsula, in which self-reliance was a watchword, although this does not explain why most other Korean missions excluded the USA from their target regions. In addition, she points to the extraordinary theology of sacrifice that developed in Korean churches after the Korean War and during the push for industrial development from the 1960s and into the 1980s. Kim could have laid greater emphasis on how this was a product of Cold War ideology in which Christianization was used to oppose communism. Like industrialization and global business expansion, world evangelization was a tool for South Korean survival in a hostile context, and its well-being depended on the USA remaining strongly Christian. [End Page 209]

Kim's approach to the topic of Korean evangelization of the USA is sociological, and the study of UBF benefits from family links to the organization. It takes the form of an in-depth and sociologically rigorous study of the motives and methods of UBF missionaries. For this reader, the inclusion of survey questions in several long appendices is unnecessary in a published work but they make the point that her interviewees were not only UBF leaders but also children of Korean missionaries and American workers. In this way, Kim is able to examine both the intercultural dynamics of the UBF's mission to North America and also the way in which the mission had changed from the first to the second generation. In explaining the latter, she repeatedly draws attention to how South Korea has changed in the intervening period into what could now be described as a democratic and post-modern society. Today there is a lack of self-sacrificing missionaries in Korea to send, a relaxing of Confucianstyle church hierarchies, and a lessening of the fiery "Spirit" of the UBF, which is increasingly assimilating as a US congregation. It could be added that the changes in diaspora identity are due not only to cultural change in South Korea but also to South Korea's rise in international status and to the...


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