Korea: 5:00 AM Prayer Service

Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit. — Romans 15:30

Our group of thirty United Methodist Pastors from all parts of Virginia was escorted into the sanctuary of Bupyeong Methodist Church in Incheon, Korea where we were staying as guests. We were there for their morning prayer service held at 5:00 AM, every day, throughout the year. Did I mention that it was 5:00 AM? I say that because the sanctuary was filling up. At least 500 to 600 people had arrived and I would soon discover they were not there just to sit. This was to be a prayer service unlike any I’ve attended before.

EarlyPrayerKorea 2

God whose grace overflows, every sublime
Cares for each who believes one by one
Yesterday and today and for all time,
Still He guards all who trust in His Son.

Oh Lord grant the gifts, here as we call.
Send the gifts of the spirit we pray
With the pure searing flames over us all.
Send the Spirit in fullness today.
— God Whose Grace Overflows

We started the prayer service singing familiar hymns including the one above but we were singing more quickly than I was accustomed. To make sure we didn’t slow up, the song leader pounded one hand on the podium in beat with the music while we clapped. The atmosphere as we sang was joyful and celebratory. Lyrics in Korean and in English were conveniently located on screens in front of us.

Let the stains of our lusts and of our sin,
Be consumed in the Spirit’s hot flame
Make us pure Lord and clean; outside and in,
Make us clean Lord, in Christ Jesus’ name!

Oh Lord grant the gifts, here as we call.
Send the gifts of the spirit we pray
With the pure searing flames over us all.
Send the Spirit in fullness today.

The singing was followed by a reading from 1 Thessalonians 5:17. “Never stop praying.”

The Rev. Hong, Eun-Pa, pastor of Bupyeong Methodist Church proclaimed: “We gather together to pray, to wake up our souls in the presence of God. I am sure God will listen to our prayers and answer our prayers. Christians pray continually. Pray without ceasing. Prayer is like breathing. We must continually breathe or die. When we do not pray our souls will die. We may look alive but in reality our soul is dead. The church should be a house of prayer. We pray continually.”

He added: “The Korean church started with early morning prayer services in 1905. Only 2 churches participated at first but as time went by, more joined. Many churches across our country now have early morning prayer service. Prayer is a critical part of our history in Korea.”

Lamb of God, who for us sinners was slain;
Without blemish, eternally dear,
By the power of that unknowable pain,
Oh Lord, save those who wait on Thee here!

Oh Lord grant the gifts, here as we call.
Send the gifts of the spirit we pray
With the pure searing flames over us all.
Send the Spirit in fullness today.

Following the message, we sang more hymns followed by a prayer. At the conclusion of the prayer instead of saying “Amen,” the speaker and the entire congregation simultaneously raised both hands high and shouted, “Lord, Lord, Lord.”

This was the signal to begin praying. Koreans describe this form of prayer as “Tongsung Kido” which means “fervently praying together out loud.” This is a common prayer used to free themselves from their troubles and give everything to God.

With the organist playing hymns in the background, five to six hundred people in the church began fervently praying out loud. Some quietly, others shouting and others moaning as people expressed themselves before God. Being a relatively private person, I was at first intimidated but as I listened and quietly began to pray, I stopped thinking about myself and began to focus more on connecting with God. After a few moments, I found myself talking, asking for help. My feelings of intimidation gradually gave way to a feeling of comfort and peace. I too desperately needed to release my struggles and burdens before God. I too needed reassurance that God loved me in the midst of my turmoil.

All too quickly the music began to fade and the lights in the sanctuary became brighter. The hour for prayer was coming to a close. Some people would stay and continue praying but most would quietly file out of the church and continue on their way to work, or school or home.

Our group attended the 5:00 AM service every day. I was beginning to understand why I felt led by God to join other pastors on this journey to Korea. I was no longer here to please the Bishop or to take a trip. My journey was becoming a personal part of my walk with God. I too needed an opportunity to deepen my relationship with the God who has loved me and nurtured me. But I too have questions and burdens and doubts. I too needed reassurance that I was fulfilling the calling God placed on my life.

Far and wide, to all lands under the sky
we would but share the depth of His grace.
Clothe us, Lord, then with power, power from on high
Send us out in Thy strength from this place.

Oh Lord grant the gifts, here as we call.
Send the gifts of the spirit we pray
With the pure searing flames over us all.
Send the Spirit in fullness today.

Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit. — Romans 15:30

Next week: To help us better understand Korean Christian faith, we must learn a little about their history and culture.