|Rev. Cho Yong-gi, founder and senior pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at the church office, Seoul, March 27, 2020. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
By Park Ji-won
Rev. Cho Yong-gi, founder and senior pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, died Tuesday. He was 85.
The pastor emeritus passed away at 7:13 a.m. in Seoul National University Hospital due to a brain hemorrhage, the church said.
Cho had been hospitalized due to the stroke since July last year. He is considered as the pioneer in expanding the size of Protestant church in Korea.
Born on Feb. 14, 1936 in Ulju, Ulsan, South Gyeongsang Province as the eldest of nine children, he was raised in a Buddhist family. Cho was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis in his second year of high school and was told that he would not have long to live.
He was introduced to Christianity through a friend of his sister and decided to follow the religion. Cho met with Kenneth Tice, a missionary from the Assemblies of God, an American Pentecostal denomination in Busan and began helping him. He later enrolled in the Full Gospel Theological Seminary of the Assembly of God in September 1956, at the age of 20.
|The main building of the Yoido Full Gospel Church / Korea Times file|
After graduating from the seminary in 1958, he established the Cheonmak Church in Daejo-dong, Eunpyeong District, Seoul in 1961 with pastor Choi Ja-sil, his mother-in-law. He was ordained on April 26, 1962. He then moved to Seodaemun District and founded Seodaemun Church in 1963. As the number of churchgoers soared, he moved to Yeouido and founded the current Yoido Full Gospel Church in 1973.
In 1993, the church was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest single congregation with around 700,000 members ― it currently has 570,000.
He engaged in many church as well as social activities while serving as pastor there.
In 1976, Cho established Church Growth International (CGI) to expand the church internationally. He established the Kookmin Ilbo newspaper in 1988, a Christian daily, and set up Good People, an international non-government organization for human rights, the environment and child welfare in 1999.
The pastor also pushed for establishing a hospital specialized in heart disease in Pyongyang, North Korea, but this project was suspended due to sanctions imposed by the South Korean government.
|Rev. Cho Yong-gi, founder and senior pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church preaches during a ceremonial event at Bongsu Church, Pyongyang, North Korea, for the establishment of a hospital specialized in cardiac problems in this Dec. 4, 2007 photo. Courtesy of Yoido Full Gospel Church|
In 1996, Cho received the Order of Civil Merit Mugunghwa Medal for supporting the free treatment of children with heart disease. In 2005, he received the The Family of Man Medallion from the New York Christian Church Council in the United States; and in 2007, the Proud Korean Certificate from the United States Federal Council. In 2009, he was awarded a medal by the Cambodian government.
Cho stepped down as a senior pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church in 2008 and served as a pastor emeritus. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half year prison term suspended for four years in 2017 for causing 13 billion won ($12 million) worth of losses to the church by instructing its staff to buy unlisted stocks at prices over twice the market value.
The United Christian Churches of Korea released a statement honoring Cho, saying "He was a great preacher and spiritual leader, leading the prosperity of the church in Korea and in the world."
"Also, he contributed to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. In particular, he helped many people, who moved to Seoul after the Korean War, to have hope and positivity through the gospel amid the indoctrination of the country."
A commemorative altar will be set up in the grand hall of Yoido Full Gospel Church in central Seoul and visitors can visit from Wednesday to Saturday to pay their respects. The funeral service will be held at the church on Saturday. Kim Sung-hae, his wife and dean of Hansei University, died in February. He is survived by three sons.