To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the organization Seoul Korea Stake — the first stake in mainland Asia and the third on the continent — members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been remembering the pioneers there and also looking to the future.
The Seoul Korea Stake presidency designated 2023 as the “Seoul Stake 50th Anniversary Year,” and several events have commemorated the anniversary, including ones by the stake and Relief Society. It also was the focus of the Korea Church History Symposium, reported the Church’s Korea Newsroom.
The Seoul Korea Stake was created on March 8, 1973, by President Spencer W. Kimball, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and assisted by then-Elder Gordon B. Hinckley.
Today, Seoul is headquarters to multiple stakes, including the Seoul Korea West Stake, Seoul Korea East Stake and the Seoul Korea South Stake.
Korea Church History Symposium
During the multiday symposium, themed “A Banner to the Nations,” attendees heard from both past and current leaders June 9-10, reported the Church’s Korea Newsroom.
“We can celebrate the sacrifice and history. We can give honor and respect to those who have gone before so they are never forgotten,” said Elder John A. McCune, a General Authority Seventy and second counselor in the Asia North Area presidency, during the symposium, which is available on YouTube.“We learn from the past so we can celebrate the future.”
A common element in many of the stories from early members of the Church in Korea is their sacrifices — such as traveling long distances to worship together, meeting in rented buildings and getting up early to attend seminary.
“Sacrifice is key to building faith. That’s why our pioneers are so strong,” Elder McCune said.
Many times, people don’t want their children to suffer the way they did. There is a balance with making it so easy they don’t build a foundation of faith and making it too hard, he said.
“If we require no sacrifice of our youth, they won’t have faith sufficient to withstand temptations of today,” Elder McCune said. There are many competing interests for teenagers and young adults, with events and activities on Sunday and the decision to delay an education to serve a mission.
And there is reason to look forward to the future, as the number of those from Korea putting in their missionary papers is rising.
“We’re seeing some wonderful examples of faith,” he said.
Other speakers at the event included Wook-Hwan Choi, who served as a counselor in the first stake presidency; Jong-Yeol Kim, who was the first bishop in the Seoul 3rd Ward; Young-Sook Kim, daughter of Ho-Jik Kim, who was baptized in the United States and returned to South Korea in 1951 and began working with servicemen to preach the gospel there.
On the second day, the speakers included Yeon-Soon Park, wife of Ho-Nam Rhee, the first stake president; Dae-Yeon Kim, adviser to the Korean Church History Committee; and Jong-Gyun Kim, the stake’s first patriarch.
Choi shared about the creation of the stake and growth of the Church in the area in the 1970s and 1980s. He and his wife were one of six branch presidents and their wives who visited the Laie Hawaii Temple in the early 1970s, including to receive the endowment and be sealed as couples.
“After receiving our first endowment in the temple, we had a testimony meeting at the visitors’ center. Then I made a decision to dedicate my whole life to serving Christ with all my heart,” he said.
Celebrating Korea pioneers
Choi and Jong-Yeol Kim were two of several early leaders at a luncheon on March 8, the Church’s Korea Newsroom reported.
“I am deeply moved when I think of the time when the first Seoul Stake presidency was called and ordained by Elder Kimball. I am grateful to those who have served together for the Seoul Stake of Zion, and I hope that we will be able to serve happily in the future,” Choi said.
At a fireside on March 12, the more than 200 members who gathered heard a recorded testimony from the late President Rhee, who was the stake’s first president.
Other speakers included Dae-Yeon Kim, Church History adviser in Korea; Seoul Korea Temple President Hee-Keun Oh; Keun-Hyuck Lee, stake patriarch and former stake president; and Young-Jun Kwon and Choi.
President Rhee’s testimony included what he learned from then-Elder Kimball.
Elder Kimball “asked me to teach, to strengthen my testimony and faith through personal scripture study, and to strengthen my relationship with God. [Also] he told me to encourage them to be Saints who endure to the end.”
President Rhee concluded, “I pray that we not only know the gospel as knowledge, but also lead a life of faith where we experience spiritual things every day.”
Current Seoul Korea Stake President Kil-Hwan Baek said at the event: “It is important to keep moving forward with a vision for the future, rather than just focusing on the past.”
Relief Society 181st commemoration
In the spring, the stake Relief Society celebrated both the 181st anniversary of the women’s organization and the stake’s 50th anniversary. Women from each ward spoke, followed by testimonies from early Relief Society leaders in the area, reported the Church’s Korea Newsroom.
Jung-Sook Kim, who served as stake Relief Society president from the mid ‘70s to the early ‘90s, said, “Relief Society work is challenging, but it is essential to developing our abilities. Relief Society is the Lord’s program to educate women to be good mothers and women who make a difference in society.”
History of the Church in South Korea
In the 1940s, Latter-day Saints serving in the U.S. military began meeting. Ho-Jik Kim, who was baptized in the U.S., returned in 1951 and began working with the servicemen to share the gospel in the country. A year after the Korean War ended in 1953, a Korean-speaking Sunday School was organized, according to the Church’s statistics and history in the country.
By the mid-1960s, thousands had been baptized and were working to build the Church there. The Book of Mormon was published in Korean in 1967.
There are currently more than 88,600 members of the Church in South Korea in 12 stakes and 100 congregations. A temple in Seoul was dedicated in 1985, and the Busan Korea Temple was announced in October 2022.