Saturday, December 10, 2005

March 13, 1944 archives: Missionaries to Korea

In Brooklyn (at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church) last week a 53-year-old missionary and his 25-year-old twin sons were together ordained to the Presbyterian ministry. They were Dr. Horace H. Underwood (of the typewriter Underwoods), who was repatriated two years ago from Korea, and his sons, James and John, graduates of Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr. Underwood has had no theological training. His 32 years' work as a veteran missionary in Korea kept him "too busy to be ordained." But he has a Ph.D. from New York University, and Presbyterian usage permits the ordination of men with such qualifications upon two-thirds vote of the local presbytery.

The Underwoods, all born in Korea, chose an appropriate day for their triple ordination: the 25th anniversary of the day when 33 Korean patriots (15 of them Christians) drew up the Korean declaration of independence and brought down upon themselves the wrath of the Japanese.

First to Go In.

The first Underwood in Korea (while it was still the Hermit Kingdom) was Grandfather Horace Grant Underwood, who went there as Korea's first Protestant missionary in 1885. Though Seoul was swarming with cholera (Koreans call it "the rat in the stomach disease") old Dr. Underwood used to stride about unscathed in his black buttoned-up coat and white tie. He was extremely proud of the fact that he was the only ordained Calvinist in the city. Later he married a medical missionary, Lillias Horton, who became physician to Korea's Queen Min. Soon the Underwoods and the royal family, who were harassed by Russian and Japanese intrigues, were on very friendly terms.

Last week Grandfather Underwood's son recalled his Korean childhood. Queen Min used to dandle him on her royal knee. When the palace burned down the royal family moved next door to the Underwoods. When King Ik Song feared assassination, he sent for Grandfather Underwood and two other missionaries. They sat up all night guarding His Majesty with loaded revolvers.

Pearl Harbor Casualty.

After his education in the U.S., young Underwood returned to Korea to teach at Chosen Christian College, founded by his father. In 1934 he became the College's president, held the job until the Japanese ousted him the day after Pearl Harbor.

Teaching quick-witted Koreans was pleasant until the Japanese seized Manchuria (1931). Then the Japs dictated what should be taught, constantly suspected "dangerous thoughts." When one faculty member preached a chapel sermon on the exodus of the Israelites, the Japanese arrested him, charged him with preaching against them by parables. At last Dr. Underwood did not even dare visit Korean homes. Whenever he did, the Japanese police carted off his hosts to jail.

Evidence of Things Seen.

Dr. Underwood agrees that Christianizing Korea has been a slow task. Of the country's 23,000,000 people only some 500,000 are Christians. Koreans seem indifferent to religion. Buddhism has died out. Some educated people have embraced Confucianism, which Dr. Underwood considers "hardly a religion." Most Koreans are ancestor-worshipers.

But if the Christian missionaries have not brought the Koreans faith, Dr. Underwood claims that they have brought them education and a sense of national pride. Koreans were almost completely illiterate when the missionaries came. Korean Christians are now 90% literate, other Koreans 40%. The missionaries found literate Koreans using Chinese characters. They translated parts of the Bible into Korean characters, gradually taught Koreans to read their own tongue. Dr. Underwood also believes that Presbyterianism has shown the Korean people how democracy works.

One thing Dr. Underwood misses is his Korean hunting trips. In the winter he and his twin sons used to go into the wilds, hunt tigers and wild boars. Another Underwood hobby: early Korean naval history. In last month's Yachting Dr. Underwood has an article on a 16th Century naval battle when the Japanese attempted a Pearl Harbor on the Korean port of Fusan. The Koreans destroyed half the 500 Japanese ships.

Dr. Underwood is now working on missionary problems at Manhattan's Presbyterian Church headquarters, will return to Korea after the war. Of the two sons ordained with him, James will soon become a U.S. naval chaplain, John plans to return to Korea with his father.

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