Cho Yong-gi, South Korean Megachurch Leader, Dies at 85

SEOUL — The Rev. Cho Yong-gi, the charismatic founding father of one of many world’s largest megachurches, whose preaching of “can-do optimistic pondering” helped gasoline the explosive development of Christianity in a once-war-ravaged South Korea, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Seoul. He was 85.

Mr. Cho, an emeritus pastor on the Yoido Full Gospel Church, had been hospitalized for greater than a yr after struggling a cerebral hemorrhage, the church stated in a press release confirming his loss of life.

The church, which as soon as claimed a congregation of greater than 800,000 worshipers, has shrunk since Mr. Cho retired a decade in the past amid scandals, accused by church elders of embezzling church funds and different transgressions.

However it’s nonetheless the biggest church in South Korea, with greater than 570,000 folks attending companies on the foremost constructing on Yoido Island, within the Han River, which bisects Seoul, in addition to at 5 sanctuaries scattered round that capital metropolis. Individually, a whole bunch of smaller church buildings affiliated with Yoido Full Gospel function in South Korea and world wide.

Mr. Cho’s life coincided with South Korea’s fast transformation from a war-torn agrarian nation into one of many world’s wealthiest industrialized economies. On the identical time, Christianity turned the biggest faith in South Korea, encompassing 28 % of the inhabitants and supplanting Buddhism, Confucianism and shamanism.

Yoido Full Gospel and a handful of different church buildings accommodated hundreds of thousands of people that had migrated from rural South Korea to the cities, particularly Seoul, in the hunt for jobs and a way of non secular belonging.

“The Rev. Cho was an emblem of the megachurch increase in South Korea,” stated Hwang Gui-hag, an creator of a number of books on Christianity in South Korea and the editor in chief of the Seoul-based Regulation Occasions, which makes a speciality of church information. “He has helped globalize the South Korean church too.” South Korea’s megachurches have lengthy been one in all the world’s greatest sources of missionaries.

However like that of different megachurch founders in South Korea, Mr. Cho’s legacy turned tainted by corruption scandals and squabbles inside his household and his group. As soon as-loyal church elders accused him and different relations of embezzling church funds and demanded reform. In 2017, he was discovered responsible by a South Korean courtroom of breach of belief and embezzlement, although he obtained a suspended sentence and prevented jail.

Cho Yong-gi was born in 1936 in Ulju, in southeastern South Korea, when the Korean Peninsula was nonetheless a colony of Japan. As a scholar at a vocational highschool in Busan, a southern port metropolis crowded on the time with Korean Struggle refugees, he got here down with tuberculosis. He later referred to as his restoration miraculous, attributing it to a non secular awakening. He was additionally influenced by Kenneth Tice, a Pentecostal Assemblies of God missionary from the USA.

Mr. Cho and Choi Ja-shil, a Pentecostal pastor who would change into his mother-in-law, began a church in a Seoul slum in 1958, below a tent that had been discarded by the U.S. navy. Solely 5 churchgoers confirmed up on the primary day, three of them Ms. Choi’s relations. One other was an outdated girl who had come into the tent to get out of the rain.

However Mr. Cho and Ms. Choi quickly drew increasingly worshipers as phrase unfold that they might heal the sick at a time when hundreds of thousands lived with out entry to medical companies. Mr. Cho preached “hope” and “optimistic pondering,” convincing impoverished worshipers that non secular religion would deliver three rewards: wealth, well being and non secular consolation.

In 1973, to accommodate his rising congregation, Mr. Cho opened the church constructing on Yoido, which was then an undeveloped island. (The island is now dwelling to the nation’s Nationwide Meeting and high monetary establishments.) By 1993 the church had 700,000 worshipers and was acknowledged by Guinness World Information as the biggest congregation on the globe. The church continued rising as Mr. Cho divided Seoul into a number of proselytizing sectors, assigning deputies to every.

Mr. Hwang stated that when he was learning in Canada within the Nineteen Nineties, he was stunned to study that extra Canadians had heard of Mr. Cho than that they had of the South Korean president.

Mr. Cho began charity applications for the needy, together with elevating cash for kids with coronary heart ailments. His $17 million plan to construct a hospital for sufferers with coronary heart illnesses in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, is on maintain as relations between the 2 Koreas stay tense over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Cho is survived by three sons. His spouse, Kim Sung-hae, died in February. She had as soon as led Hansei College, which is affiliated with the Yoido church.

By the point Mr. Cho retired, at 75, his church empire had change into engulfed by the scandals. Members of the family have been additionally criticized for dominating key posts within the church and in church-affiliated organizations, together with Kukmin Ilbo, a each day newspaper.

“There may be an finish to our life,” Mr. Cho stated in a frail voice in his ultimate sermon in July 2020, shortly earlier than he was hospitalized. “When our life ends on this world, everybody should stand earlier than God for judgment. So an important factor you are able to do on this world is to imagine in Jesus Christ and win your salvation.”

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