To the Ends of the Earth
A Korean businessman becomes a missionary in the Congo.
Following worship services that February morning for a recently organized Adventist church group called Bethel, 30 people would be baptized, the first of the Lugbara tribal people living in that region to publicly commit their lives to their newfound Lord and Savior. But Seung Chun Yang, a self-supporting Adventist missionary from Korea, is confident they won’t be the last.
“A few people can do so much, if they really are determined to prepare others for Jesus’ second coming,” says Yang, a law graduate of Seoul National University and a retired businessman. “God will bless the efforts with success.”
A COMMUNITY EVENT: More than 1,200 tribal people attended the baptism of the first Lugbarans to join the Adventist Church.The Road to the Congo
Becoming involved in missionary work wasn’t Yang’s intention when he sold his thriving electronic communication company in 1995 and retired. He planned to enjoy the “good life” with his wife, Kyung Won Yoon, by traveling around the world and immersing himself in games of golf. But the Lord had a different plan in mind.
A few years into his retirement Yang experienced a reconversion and dedicated his life to serving God. He enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies(AIIAS) in the Philippines, and prayed for the Lord to guide him to where He wanted him to serve. A CD of hymns sung by missionaries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—a gift given to him by his son—drew his thoughts and heart toward Africa.
“Each one of those hymns inscribed a visual video in my heart, and some of the melodies constantly played in my mind. They disturbed my concentration,” Yang explains. “When I finally made up my mind to become involved in ministry in Africa, peace came to my soul. I knew the Lord was telling me that Africa was where He wanted me to go.”
Yang first arrived in the DRC—a region of the world he then knew very little about—on December 12, 2006. His plan was to work among the Pygmy and Lugbara tribes living in remote areas near Butembo in the northeastern corner of the country. What he found there, however, surprised him.
“When I came to the Congo for the first time, Butembo was my ‘end of the earth,’” Yang explains. Butembo is a town of some 600,000 refugees. It has no running water or electricity, outside of that provided by generators. Wood is used for cooking. The average level of education is low. Modern technology is scarce.
“But then when I went to the Pygmy camps, the ‘end of the earth’ was moved much farther into the Congo bush,” he adds. “There I found this unusual, remote place where thousands of naked, or Lugbara, tribes reside.… With God’s help we will reach even farther into the far, far corner of this earth.”
At first the tribal people treated Yang with suspicion. He was viewed only as someone who had wealth and could provide them with material goods, Yang says. They expected him to leave soon, as previous missionaries had done.
“They just pretended to accept the spiritual lessons,” he says.
But gradually, over time, a relationship of acceptance and trust developed, and the people began to listen to the gospel message and learn about Jesus.
Maha Is Formed
Soon Yang met Sebastian Tirtirau, director of a self-supporting Adventist organization called the Pilgrim Relief Society (PRS), founded by Tirtirau in 2001. PRS ministers to people living in the DRC as well as 15 other world regions through humanitarian and spiritual programs. Yang and Tirtirau decided they could accomplish more by working together.
“Mr. Yang is the initiator of the Congo mission,” Tirtirau says. “His heart is bigger than the Congo, and so is his love for God and the people. The work is progressing there because of his passion, integrity, and dedication.”
Tirtirau, too, has a heartfelt love for the DRC tribes.
“I have been praying for the Pygmies of the Congo for the past five years,” he says. “Their plight in the civil war is indescribable.… They have been killed by rebels in what is called ritualistic cannibalism, and few people seem to care. Right now we are providing medical clinics, churches, schools, pastors, nurses, and missionaries to support them. We deliver equipment and food to these people. We provide missionaries from our mission school in Romania to preach there, and we’re planning to hold evangelistic campaigns in their villages soon.”
Yang named the DRC mission program Maha, which in the local dialect means “hope” or “desire.” Maha and PRS work in close cooperation.
Meeting Spiritual and Practical Needs
THE FOUNDER: Seung Chun Yang.Along with telling the people about the love of Jesus and giving Bible studies, Yang, Tirtirau, and volunteers recruited by the North Kivu Field of Seventh-day Adventists focus on meeting their practical needs. The missionaries are providing the tribal people with training in agriculture so they can plant small gardens and grow vegetables. They also offer seminars in healthful living and literacy.
“Our plan includes teaching the Lugbarans and Pygmies how to read and write so they can learn to read the Bible,” Yang says.
Maha is also organizing small schools and providing teachers. About 45 children are now attending classes, and many tribe members are coming to five medical dispensaries the missionary organization has set up and stocked with basic medicines and first-aid necessities. Several orphanages throughout the region have also been established.
“We are beginning to wake the people up [to the importance of] health ministries and the need to educate their youngsters,” Yang says. “Pygmies and Lugbarans are ignorant on health issues. They just die young, especially males. There are also many handicapped or lame people. The new Christians have opened their hearts and their doors to these people.”
Maha is also addressing the water problem in the local villages. Two water engineers, brought in to survey the Bethel church camp, installed manual water pump systems utilizing the water from a nearby natural well. Yang calls the system “primitive” but inexpensive—and it works.
“This is the first time in their lives the Lugbarans have drunk fresh, good water,” Yang says.
Musasya Makulambizia, president of the North East Congo Attached Territory, visited the area to see firsthand how the Maha ministries were progressing.
“What first impressed me is their love for needy people living without hope in remote areas away from the cities,” Makulambizia says. “The second thing is Maha’s method of working systematically. After first sharing with the people the Word of God concerning His love for them, Maha provides for their well-being—collecting for them clothes from church members in Butembo. The people were also in need of good water in that area, and Maha has already provided pure water. The building of dispensaries has started, and the agricultural training is allowing the people to be self-supporting.”
Makulambizia adds, “The people there are full of joy and want to hear more and more about God’s love. Their lives have greatly changed.”
The recently organized Bethel group, located 46 kilometers (28.6 miles) northwest of a town called Aru, which borders Uganda, and about 650 kilometers (404 miles) northeast of Butembo, is flourishing. About 530 Lugbarans are currently taking Bible studies and attending the Bethel church facility each Sabbath.
To organize the first baptism in the region, held on Sabbath, February 9, 2008, Yang, two other missionaries, and an ordained Adventist pastor took two full days to drive from Butembo to Bethel over rugged roads in very poor condition. It was a grueling adventure, but well worth the effort, Yang says.
More than 1,200 people attended the event.
“The Sabbath morning devotional was held in this beautiful nature church God has provided,” Yang says. “Zero pollution. Sound travels far, far away over the hills.… Are these people not the ones who are pure? Are we not intruders in this Garden of Eden? But they need to hear the good news of Jesus. That is why we are here.”
The congregation is being led by an Adventist pastor, Batembo Lukando. He and his wife and children live on the church property, or the church camp, as it’s called.
About 6,000 Lugbarans reside within a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius of Bethel. Some attendees walk 7 to 10 kilometers (4 to 6 miles) in this semidesert environment to attend church services there. Branch churches are now being organized in two nearby villages.
“Seung Chun Yang is helping the work in that region to jump ahead by as much as a generation,” says Claude Richli, associate publisher of Adventist World. Richli was associate secretary of the East-Central Africa Division when Yang first arrived in Africa. He himself had felt a personal desire to do evangelism in the Butembo area, but every time he was about to travel there, the project had to be postponed for political reasons. So when Yang arrived at the division office and said he was a missionary going to Butembo, Richli says he “was greatly surprised at first. But then as Mr. Yang talked about how the Lord had led him, I felt that the Lord had perhaps chosen him to do what I had not been able to do,” Richli explains. “So I became his mentor.”
Richli describes what Yang has accomplished as mind-boggling. “He has done in a year and a few months what would usually take 10 years, 15 years, to accomplish,” he says. “He’s going to change the work there forever.”
TESTING THE WATER: Seung Chun Yang (left) and retired NSD president Pyung Duk Chun check out the new water system at Bethel.Maha comprises two full-time pastors, three Congolese missionary volunteers with bachelor’s degrees in business, two Romanian volunteer missionaries, three volunteers—one a college graduate—who do the housekeeping and cooking as well as care for the orphans, and a night watchman. Bugema Adventist University in Kampala, Uganda, is also recruiting and sending volunteers to help with the projects.
Private donations and some funding from the Korean Union Conference are providing Maha’s financial support. An organization called Bicycle Mission to the World (BMW), a Korean-American mission group based in Michigan, United States, provided the funds to set up the water system at Bethel. BMW has also donated funds for other Maha projects as well as 60 bicycles and five motorbikes for the lay leaders and camp pastors to use for transportation. And Yang has dug deep into his own pocket. But even though money is scarce, the Lord is blessing the endeavors.
Along with paying the small salaries of the full-time pastors, some retired pastors who also assist, and an associate lay leader, Maha is funding orphanages, medical dispensaries, a prison ministry, and a church-roof project, among other initiatives. So far Maha has funded the construction of three roofs; the Korean Union Conference has funded 10. Maha also covered the education costs for 184 students for one year. Since then, a Korean pastor in the Philippines has set up an education scholarship fund that has so far provided scholarships for 607 students in the DRC.
Adventist churches in Butembo have also become involved. Although most Butembo members don’t own much in worldly goods themselves, after they heard about Maha’s ministry they collected and donated a large amount of clothing for the Lugbarans.
Pyung Duk Chun, international publishing manager of Adventist World and retired president of the Northern-Asia Pacific Division, recently taught a couple of courses for ministerial students at the Adventist University at Lukanga in the DRC. While there, he visited two Pygmy camps as well as the Bethel church.
“The trip there took more than five hours by car,” Chun notes. “I was able to visit there owing to Mr. Yang’s capable driving skill and … Land Rover, even if we had to push the jeep several times from the mud trenches.”
He adds: “The poverty level of the people was beyond my imagination, but they seemed happy. I cannot understand how that country has undergone a decade of civil war, because the people of the Congo are so gentle and peace-loving.… There is almost no crime nor violence. No thieves nor robbers. No strife nor quarreling.… I had a lingering doubt about the role of so-called civilization in terms of the happiness of the people.
“The Pygmies and Lugbarans must be the most underprivileged people groups in the world. But Mr. Yang and the local pastors and laymen he has trained are doing their best to improve the quality of their lives. And, of course, they are teaching them to study the Bible and worship God.”
A Love for the People
Not only Yang’s life but also his heart has become knit with those living in the Butembo region of the DRC.
“People are very nice here. The sense of order, ethics, and morality of the Lugbarans living in the Bethel church area is quite high,” he says. “Their social order concept is well advanced.”
He adds, “All of these people deserve to have a chance to hear the good news. And they are very, very eager and very receptive. We need to do everything we can to help them know Jesus.”