Dr. David J. Cho (1924-2020), who has been called “Mr. Mission,” went to the Lord at his home in Uiwang-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea on June 19, 2020. Dr. Cho was born on December 29, 1924 in Chungryol-dong, Yanggwang-myeon, Yongcheon-gun, North Pyeongan Province of North Korea, located on the banks of the Yalu River that flows across the border between the mainland China and the Korean peninsula. He lived a life of faithfulness in his service to the Lord until the Lord called him to his eternal home.
Dr. Cho’s influence on world missions is truly great. Mission historians say William Carey opened the Coastland Mission Era and Hudson Taylor opened the Inland Mission Era, and Donald A McGavran and Cameron Townsend opened the ‘By-Passed People/Hidden People Mission Era. Dr. David J. Cho, on the other hand, is the person who initiated the missionary movement of the churches in the Third World/ Global South. His influence on the world missionary movement was so great that today’s mission has become “Mission From Everywhere To Everywhere.”
When world mission was regarded only as the responsibility of the Western churches, Dr. Cho did not agree. He left for the United States in 1956 to study evangelism and mission, and continued his studies at Barrington College in Ireland, the WEC Missionary Training Center in Pennsylvania, Bethany Mission College in Minnesota, and the Graduate School of Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. Returning to Korea in 1960, he taught missiology courses at Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Methodist Theological Seminary, and Evangelical (Holiness) Theological Seminary.
He also served as the senior pastor of HooAm Presbyterian Church, one of the most dynamic churches in Korea until he resigned from the church at the age of 55 to concentrate on missionary work.
He founded Korea International Mission (KIM), the first interdenominational mission organization in Korea, and facilitated a missionary movement of the Korean Church.
He held mission conferences and challenged young people to commit themselves to the Lord, trained them and commissioned them to serve as cross-cultural missionaries. In sending missionaries, he sought out strategic countries by consulting with churches and mission leaders in Asian countries. He sent KIM missionaries to the Muslim-dominant Indonesia, Buddhist-dominant Thailand, and Roman Catholic-dominant Philippines to work together in cooperation with churches and mission leaders in each country for the evangelization of their nations, and to evangelize each religious block through the churches of those nations. Instead of sending missionaries to Hindu-dominant India, he invited leaders of India to EWC for training and sent them back to India to help evangelize India.
In the early 1970s, Dr. Cho visited Asian countries and encouraged Asian church leaders to form the Asia Missions Association (AMA), which promoted the missionary movement of Asian churches. He founded the East-West Center for Missions Research and Development (EWC), the first non-Western mission research and leader development institute, to focus on mission research and leadership development of Asian churches. The EWC invited mission scholars from Fuller Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Trinity International University), Asbury Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, Wheaton College, Moody Bible School, and Tubingen University to Seoul to educate local church pastors and missionary candidates for over 20 years. Over 500 prominent local church pastors and 1,500 missionaries from Korea and Asia received mission education by the prominent faculty members of the above-mentioned institutions at the EWC.
In the 1980s, Dr. Cho established the Third World Missions Association (TWMA) to lead the missionary movement of third world churches. He then established World-Link University to mobilize human and material resources from the East and the West to contribute to world mission. Asbury Theological Seminary, Dr. Cho’s alma mater, awarded him an honorary doctorate and gave him the nickname, “Mr. Mission.”
In 1974, he was nominated as a speaker on missionary strategy at the plenary session of the International Congress on World Evangelization, which was held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974. There, he delivered a lecture on the subject of ‘Innovations of Mission Structure for the New World,’ saying, “We must turn from a one-sided mission based solely on missions in the Western world to a two-way mission where East and West are together.” And he also emphasized that “in the East and the West of the world, both sides have missionary resources and missionary needs.” In addition, he stressed that “to maximize the generation and input of missionary manpower, East and West should work together to study and analyze available resources for missions and areas in need of missions.” He stressed, “This is the only way that can maximize the production and training of ‘New Forces of Mission’ from both the East and the West.” The General Assembly of the World Evangelical Council: WEF, which gathered in Chateau-d’CEx, Switzerland in 1974, appointed Dr. Cho as a member representing the Third World while organizing a new International Mission Committee. In addition, he led the inaugural meeting of the WEF Mission Committee in August 1975 to meet in Seoul.
Since 1979, Dr. Cho has served as a professor at William Carey International University in Pasadena, California, USA, as a professor at Western Theological Seminary in Portland, Oregon, and as a visiting professor at the School of World Missions (now the School of Intercultural Studies) at Fuller Theological Seminary. He also guest lectured at various seminaries and mission schools in the United States, including Wheaton College Graduate School, Moody Bible School, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Westminster Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, and Reformed Theological Seminary.
Dr. Cho received his Ph.D. in International Development from William Carey International University, where he took the position of Director of the Korea Research Center. While at the university, he undertook efforts for peaceful reunification between North and South Korea. From 1989 to 2000, he visited North Korea 24 times and worked for the reconciliation and peaceful reunification of the two Koreas, and to open the way for church ministry in North Korea. President Kim Il-sung of the People’s Republic of Korea invited Dr. Cho to the presidential palace three times to discuss a reconciliation with the United States. As a result, in June 1991, Dr. Cho invited North Korea’s former UN ambassador Han Shi-Hae to the United States to meet President Jimmy Carter, where he delivered an invitation from President Kim Il-sung, and made contact with the Evangelist Dr. Billy Graham. As a result of his efforts, in 1993, Billy Graham and President Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang to meet with President Kim Il-sung. President Il-Sung Kim established the Department of Religion at Kim Il-Sung University and appointed Dr. Cho as a visiting professor. Dr. Cho officially donated 2,570 Christian books, including Christian theology, Bible commentaries, and Christian history, to the Kim Il-Sung University Library, and delivered a special lecture on the theme of “The People and the Church” as a commemorative lecture on the book donation in front of 120 professors. He preached twice a year at Pyongyang Bongsu Church and Chilgol Church, and lectured in Spring and Fall as a visiting professor at Pyongyang Theological Academy.
From 2000 to 2003, Dr. Cho established the Russian Christian Leadership Institute in Moscow and educated Russian pastors who had not received theological education. With pastors from this research institute, the Synod for Russian Christianity was organized and registered with the government. In September 2003, the 8th AMA Triennial Convention was invited to Moscow, and more than 100 church leaders from 15 CIS countries belonging to the former Soviet Union attended. The Asian Society of Missiology (ASM) was organized at the convention. At the 9th AMA Triennial Convention held in Ephesus, Turkey in November 2006, he emphasized that missions should be done in an Apostolic way. In 2004, six young theologians of EWC gathered in Seoul to establish the David J. Cho missiological Research Institute, and formed the Preparatory Committee for the establishment of the David J. Cho World Mission History Museum.
Personally speaking, Dr. Cho had a great influence on my life and ministry. He was my mission hero and mentor. When I was a college student, I committed to become a missionary at the missionary conference he hosted in his church, and I had the honor of receiving missionary training under him at the EWC, which he founded. While on furlough, I studied missiology at Fuller Theological Seminary School of World Mission, where I would often visited Dr. Cho’s office at the US Center for World Mission in Pasadena. Whenever we spoke, I received insights from him that I had not received from other mission scholars.
I joined the AMA which significantly broadened my perspectives of mission by meeting and listening to the prominent mission leaders. When I became a Professor of Asian Missions at Fuller Seminary School of World Missions/ School of Intercultural Studies, Dr. Cho advised me to establish a missionary research center, which became the Institute for Asian Mission (IAM). When the 8th AMA Mission Conference was held in Moscow in 2003, he encouraged me to organize the Asian Mission Society (ASM) for the advancement of the missions of Asian churches, for which I served as the founding president for 6 years.
I was able to later serve Dr. Cho’s ministry as his successor of the EWC in 2004. In 2010, he encouraged me to serve AMA for two terms as the Head Chairman where I now serve as honorary Chairman. I have also served as the first Director of David J. Cho Memorial Mission Museum. I thank God for Dr. David J. Cho and I thank him for his works in missions!
Timothy Kiho Park
Dr. Timothy K. Park is the Senior Professor of Asian Missions at Fuller Theological Seminary School of Intercultural Studies.