I was born on December 19, 1924, near the Yalu River, at the Korean border with China. I was the eldest son of a prominent Korean resistance leader against the Japanese military regime, which had occupied Korea since invading it in 1905. My father received Christ as his Savior when he was ten years old, and I was raised as a Christian from childhood. I was baptized as an infant by Donald A. Swicord, a missionary from the Presbyterian Church in the United States.
My calling came to me in December of 1945 at a revival meeting at the small rural church where I was serving as a deacon. The revival meeting was led by an evangelist who had spent seven years in prison for refusing to bow to the Shinto shrine of the Japanese. On the third day of this revival meeting, I was broken down by the Spirit and confessed and repented of all the iniquities, falseness, and sins I had committed and concealed since my childhood. I wept and prayed for three days and three nights without sleeping, eating, or drinking. I took an oath to obey my calling to be a servant and witness of the Lord, and the pastor of the church and the speaker of the revival meeting laid their hands on me. I later took an exam to become a candidate for pastor in the synod.
I fled from the Communist rule of North Korea into South Korea, where I studied at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I graduated in June 1949 with honors in theology.Immediately after graduation I have married to Shin Bock Rah, a seminary classmate of mine. I began to evangelize in order to plant a church, but I failed to reach nonbelievers. I soon realized that my seminary training had not taught me how to evangelize the unreached. I then decided to study evangelism.
In 1956 I went to the United States to pursue studies in mission and evangelism. In 1950s, Korean Government did not allow people studying abroad to take along their families, and so I was alone until 1960, when I finished my training in the States. I began at Providence Bible Institute, Providence, Rhode Island, then went to the WEC Missionary Training Center in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, and later to Bethany Missionary College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I continued my studies under J. T. Seamand (mission) and Robert Coleman (evangelism) at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, where I received a Th.M. in mission in 1960. I later received two honorary doctor of divinity degrees: from Belhaven College, in Jackson, Mississippi, and from my alma mater, Asbury Theological Seminary. Finally, in 1993, I earned a Ph.D. in international development at William Carey InternationalUniversity in Pasadena, California.
From 1960 to 1978 I served as the senior minister of the Hoo-Am Presbyterian Church in Seoul, Korea. Beginning in 1961, I advocated for mission studies courses at seminaries in Korea. I began to teach mission and evangelism at the Presbyterian Seminary, the Methodist Seminary, and the Holiness Seminary in Seoul. In 1963 I established the International School of Mission in Seoul, which later, in 1973, expanded to become the East-West Center for Missions Research and Development. It was the first missionary training and research institute in the non-Western world.
My wife, who passed away from cancer in 1992, was a wonderful coworker in my various ministries. When I was pasturing, she sought out and comforted those in the congregation who needed special care. She became an effective counselor and a good listener, especially for those who were isolated or hidden in our church, which eventually had several thousand members. When I was concentrating more on missionary training, she cared for missionary candidates and their wives as though they were her own children. When I visited mission fields, she traveled with me and was especially attentive to the needs of the wives and children of missionaries. The Lord gave us a son and four daughters, each of whom has been a cooperating supporter of my ministries over the years. Currently my daughter Helen is executive director of the David Cho Missiological Institute, which is sponsored by the Global Mission Society of the Presbyterian Church of Korea. The latter is Korea’s largest mission organization, with over 2,000 missionaries now serving all over the world.
I dreamed of building a partnership with Western missions to develop leadership for the newly emerging Asian missions. I began making contacts at the Asia Pacific Congress on Evangelism, held in Singapore November 5–13, 1968. While there, I visited the Overseas Missionary Fellowship headquarters, located in Singapore, and shared with the chief executives my vision for cooperating to train missionaries of the Korean mission agencies. After a short discussion, however, they coldly refused my proposal.
I continued to contact Western missions operating in Asia, asking for their cooperation with the newly emerging Asian missions. I traveled to the United States and contacted the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) mission in New York, where I met Louis King, general secretary of the C&MA board, and proposed that they work together with Korean missionaries in Vietnam. Vietnam was a major mission field of C&MA in Asia, and a number of Korean missionaries had recently begun mission work there. After a long discussion, however, they gently declined my proposal of partnership with Korean missions. I next went to Wilmington, Delaware, to meet the CEO of the World Presbyterian Mission and propose a partnership, but they also refused. I then went to Wheaton, Illinois, to meet the head of The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM), as I had been heavily involved in the mission’s attempts to open the Word of Life Press and mission radio station in Korea. I was also responsible for much of their progress in literature and radio ministries in Korea. TEAM, however, as with the previous missions I had contacted, chose not to accept my proposal of partnership. My yearlong effort to build a partnership with Western missions had failed.
I decided to build an Asia-wide network first and then later pursue contacting Western missions. In 1971 I traveled to twelve Asian countries, meeting with Akira Hatori in Japan, Philip Teng and Timothy Dzao in Hong Kong, David Liao in Taiwan, Witchean Wataki Charowen in Thailand, Chandu Ray in Singapore, G. D. James in Malaysia, and Greg Tingson in the Philippines. I also contacted Doan Vau Mieng in Vietnam and met Samuel Kamaleson and Theodore Williams in India, Bashir Jiwan in Pakistan, and Sabuhas Sangma in Bangladesh. All were major leaders of the Asian missionary movement in the 1960s. They unanimously agreed to help launch a network of Asian missions and to cooperate in fostering mutual relationships between partners. We finally reached a consensus to call the All-Asia Mission Consultation, which would take place in Seoul in August 1973.
In September 1971 I attended the Green Lake Conference of the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (IFMA; now CrossGlobal Link) and the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association (EFMA, later the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies and now The Mission Exchange), where I announced the upcoming All-Asia Mission Consultation planned for August 1973 and gave an open invitation to the leaders of Western missions. Responses came from the following mission professors and executives: Arthur Glasser, dean of Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Mission (now School of Intercultural Studies), Pasadena, California; Ralph Winter and Peter Wagner, professors at Fuller’s School of World Mission; George Peters, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas; Edwin (Jack) Frizen, executive secretary of IFMA; Clyde Taylor, executive secretary of EFMA; Waldron Scott, general secretary of the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF); and Horace Williamson, Asia director of Worldwide Evangelization for Christ (WEC), U.S.A. With this invitation to high-level Western mission leaders, I achieved my goal of cooperation between the East and West for Asian missionary leadership development.
The All-Asia Mission Consultation was held in Seoul from August 27 to September 1, 1973. The participants were twenty-six leading figures from thirteen Asian countries; four specially invited Western missiologists; three executives of IFMA, EFMA, and WEF; two representatives from WEC and Wycliffe Bible Translators; and twelve observers from Western missionaries who were working in Korea.
The consultation resolved to form a continuation committee to carry out the following three functions: (1) sending out at least two hundred new Asian missionaries by the end of 1974; (2) encouraging the formation of national missions associations in every country of Asia; and (3) working for the establishment of the East-West Center for Missions Research and Development in Seoul. The Continuation Committee accomplished all of these functions, including sending two hundred new missionaries before the end of 1974 to two unevangelized areas: Kalimantan Island of Indonesia and northeastern Thailand. In addition, national missions were formed in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, India, and Indonesia before the end of 1974. The East-West Center for Missions Research and Development was established immediately after the consultation in 1973, and it opened the first Summer Institute of World Mission on the day following the consultation. Sixty-seven students from five Asian countries were enrolled, and four professors who attended the consultation were invited to be instructors for the center’s first Summer Institute.
As the executive director of the Continuation Committee, I initiated the formation of the Asia Missions Association (AMA), which became the first regional missions association in the world. AMA’s inaugural meeting met from August 28 to September 1, 1975, at the Academy House in Seoul, with delegates from thirteen Asian countries: Bangladesh, the Republic of China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam; and with Western fraternal delegates from Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The inaugural convention of AMA affirmed the Seoul Declaration on Christian Mission, which I drafted and which became a counterpart of the Wheaton Declaration of 1966 and the Frankfurt Declaration of 1970.
AMA grew quickly and was influential even beyond Asia in Africa and Latin America. The Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association was formed by Panya Baba, who attended the second triennial convention of AMA in Singapore in 1978. The Association of Brazilian Cross-Cultural Missions Agencies was formed by Jonathan Santos, who attended the third triennial convention of AMA in Seoul in 1982. In addition, the Third World Missions Association was launched in May 1989 as an intercontinental network of missions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Many Western mission leaders took notice of these ventures. I was invited by Billy Graham to join the Preparatory Consultation for the International Congress on World Evangelization, Lausanne, Switzerland, and I was honored to serve as chairperson at the third meeting of the Preparatory Consultation. In 1974 I was appointed as a speaker for the plenary session on mission strategy at the congress. My paper at Lausanne, entitled “Innovation of Mission Structure for the New World,” I stressed the need to move away from the one-way mission of the Western world to a two-way approach to missions. I also emphasized that both East and West have needs and resources, and input and output must therefore come from both sides. The East and the West should join hands in order to research and analyze the availability of resources and the areas of need, and in this way to produce new forces for mission from both worlds.
In these ongoing efforts, the Lord gave me a number of loyal partners of the West to fulfill my dream of East-West cooperation in missionary leadership development. The first was Donald A. McGavran of Fuller School of World Mission. He encouraged me in an article he wrote in 1972 in his Church Growth Bulletin. Even though I had not had opportunity to meet him personally, he had heard about my efforts to stimulate the missionary movement in Asia and spoke highly of my labors. He came to Seoul in 1974 to teach at the Summer Institute of World Mission, which I had started in 1973. He advised me in my work toward developing Asian leadership in mission. Until his death, he was a loyal support of my efforts to bring East and West together in mission cooperation. The second was Ralph D. Winter, one of my mentor and a partner for the East-West cooperation of mission leadership development. For thirty-six years, from 1973 until his death in May 2009, he was associated with my activities of missionary leadership development and networking of Third World missions. I often requested him to join me in mission work–in Seoul Manila, Thailand, Moscow, Ephesus, and elsewhere–and he never said no. He also never hesitate to write North Korean leaders inviting them to William Carey International University for my peace mission movement with North Korea.
The third special partner in mission has been Dale W. Kietzman. He was the U.S. director for Wycliffe Bible Translators and became vice-president of the East-West Center for Missions Research and Development in Seoul, assisting my efforts of East-West cooperation. He served with me since 1974. While he was serving as executive vice-president of William Carey International University, he visited North Korea with me three times as my fellow worker for the mission to North Korea. Ralph D. Winter, Dale W. Kietzman, and I were born in 1924 and have ministered together for the advancement of mission from Non-Western world.
In 1974 I was appointed as a member of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Missions Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship (now World Evangelical Alliance). As a member of this committee, I convened its inaugural meeting in Seoul in August 1975. Beginning in 1979 I also served as a professor and, from 1983 to 1989, as director of Korean studies at William Carey International University; in the Korean Program at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon and as a visiting professor at School of Intercultural Studies of Fuller Theological Seminary from 2002 to present.
In 1988 I called Third World mission leaders to a consultation in Portland, Oregon. The outcome of that consultation was the formation of the Third World Missions Association in 1989 at Western Seminary. I was elected as the chairman of the association and served until 1995.
Since 1988 I have also been a major speaker at the Korean World Mission Conference, held every four years at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. I have lectured at various missiological schools in the United States, including Wheaton College Graduate School; Moody Bible Institute, Chicago; Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois; Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia; Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas; and Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi.
Between the years 1989 and 2000 I visited North Korea over twenty times on peace and reconciliation missions, hoping to open the door for Christian ministries in North Korea. Several times I met personally with Kim Il Sung, the former leader of North Korea. I officially and publicly donated, in the name of William Carey International University, 2,700 Christian books on theology, biblical studies, and church history to the library of Kim Il Sung University. In recognition of the official donation, Kim Il Sung signed each volume. Kim Il Sung Universityopened a religion department to teach Christianity and other religions, and I was appointed as a visiting professor at both Kim Il Sung University and Pyongyang Seminary in North Korea. Whenever I visited North Korea I also preached regularly at two newly opened churches in the capital, Pyongyang.
In June 1991 I accompanied Han Shi Hae, the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, to the Georgia home of former president Jimmy Carter in order to extend an invitation from Kim Il Sung to Carter to come to Pyongyang. I made the arrangements for Carter’s visit in 1994, as well as for a visit to North Korea by Billy Graham also in 1992.
From 2000 to 2003 I served as a missionary in Russia. I established the Russian Institute of Christian Leadership Development in Moscow and formed the Moscow Synod of the Church of Christ, Russia, in 2002. I hosted the eighth triennial convention of the Asia Missions Association, which was held in Moscow in September 2003. I also formed the Asian Society of Missiology, which in 2007 elected Timothy K. Park as its first president. In November 2006 the ninth triennial convention of the Asia Missions Association was held in Ephesus, Turkey. The theme of the convention was “Mission, the Apostolic Way.”
In 2004, thirty-six younger mission scholars who are following in my footsteps in developing Asian missiology gathered in Seoul and decided to establish the David Cho Missiological Institute and the World Mission History Museum and Library. They also resolved to continue and to reshape the East-West Center for Missions Research and Development that I had founded in 1973. They elected Timothy K. Park, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies, as the new general director of the East-West Center.
It is hoped that these ventures will carry forward my endeavors to lead Asian missions back to the biblical way of mission and to restore the apostolic way of mission within the Asian missionary movement.