Celebrating the Life of Dr. David Cho

Venerable mission leader Dr David Dong-Jin Cho passed on to glory on June 19, 2020 at his home in South Korea at the age of 95.

He left a legacy which will live on in the many missionaries and missiologists that he has influenced This includes the organizations and gatherings he founded, the books and papers he published and the Missiological Institute named in his honour. This aims to commemorate and study his leadership as a great advocate for missions.

On December 19, 1924, near the Yalu River at the Korean border with China, Cho Dong-Jin, who would become known as “Mr Mission”, entered the world. He was the eldest son of an eminent Korean resistance leader against the Japanese military regime, which had inhabited Korea since invading it in 1905.

Adolescence days

Recollecting his adolescence, Dr Cho confessed, “I wanted to become like my father and accomplish something big for my nation. However my mother prayed that I would become a servant of God. I used to feel rebellious, thinking ‘who can ever dedicate me to God against my own will?’”.

What he moved on to achieve, not just for his nation but for all nations would surpass his venerable father’s accomplishments, bringing his family and nation great honour.

Service to God

Dr Cho received a calling to serve God in a revival meeting in 1945,. It was a dramatic experience that lasted for three days. After attending seminary, Dr Cho’s real-world maturing continued. He and his family endured war and near death experiences during his service as an associate pastor.

His consciousness of God’s purpose for the nations grew in his work as chief editor for the interdenominational Christian Gazette. There he got to interview many ministers and missionaries (local and foreign).

From there his passion for missiology grew and was further formed studying evangelism and missions in the United States. Dr Cho recalls he was the very first non-Westerner in the world to study and receive a degree in missiology.

On the progress lane

Subsequently in 1968, after returning to Seoul to pastor what was to become a thriving church, Dr Cho was appointed the inaugural General Director of the Korea International Mission. Simultaneously, the International School of Mission was also founded under his leadership.

After the first All-Asia Missions Consultation was held in 1973, the International School of Mission expanded to become the East-West Center for Missions Research and Development to reflect increasing interest from Western organisations to partner with the center.

 Mission work in Asia and beyond

From the late 1960’s, Dr Cho’s attempts to connect an Asian missions vision with Western agencies did not progress easily.

Despite setbacks, he persisted in his calling to mobilise for missions from Asia. Therefore in 1971 he made several trips to various Asian countries, discussing the possibility of convening an All-Asia Missions Consultation.

The first Consultation was actualized in August 1973, with some high-level Western mission leaders present. From that Consultation, the Asia Missions Association formed in August 1975, with 50 year-old Dr Cho appointed as the first General Secretary.

The Asia Missions Association was the first regional missions association in the world and it inspired the formation of many national missions associations in what is currently described in missions as the “majority world”.

Passion for global missions

At the opening meeting of the Asia Missions Association in 1975, the “Seoul Declaration on Christian Mission” was written. Representatives of sixteen nations were present, a mix of East and West, North and South, that represented Dr Cho’s passion for multi-national cooperation in global missions.

The Declaration made an appealed to all Western evangelical mission societies still active in Asia:

Do not any longer go your own way. Do not any longer compete with each other and with us. Do cooperate with the growing evangelical leadership in Asia. Let us establish a united front of East and West, North and South, to carry out the unfinished task of the Christian mission”.

While much has been accomplished in the meantime, in several ways this call is as fresh today as it was 45 years ago.

To all Western evangelical mission societies still active in Asia:

Do not any longer go your own way.

Establishing a mission commission

Also in 1975, Dr Cho was a key leader in the establishment of the World Evangelical Fellowship’s Missions Commission (now the World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission).

New Missions Pathways

Furthermore, having paved the way for many who were to follow, Dr Cho encouraged the development of non-Western involvement in world evangelisation and missions. This was to grow rapidly from the 1980s through to today.

He was also an influential keynote speaker at the Lausanne International Congress of World Evangelization in 1974. His paper, entitled “Innovation of Mission Structure for the New World”, emphasized the need for a shift away from what we now understand to be ‘West to the rest’ thinking. Today, it is more common to view missions as ‘from everywhere to everywhere’, largely thanks to the forward-thinking foundations laid by Dr David Cho.

Western missions

In the early days of trying to establish missions interest in Korean and wider Asia, Dr Cho’s efforts to partner with Western missions organisation were met with frustration and rejection. Nevertheless, as seen above, he was committed to joint cooperation between the West and East in missions.

In addition, he also did not tire of encouraging uniquely Eastern perspectives in missions reflection and missiology.

“We must boldly remove the obstacles hindering Christian mission(s). We must remove all remnants of Western culture, Western colonialism, Western methodology, and Western thought from Asian theology, doctrine, churches, structures, and methods.”  he said

To further promote non-Western missions missiology, methodologies and mechanisms, Dr Cho was instrumental in developing the Third World Missions Association in 1988, which formed officially the following year. He served as Chairman of that network (since renamed, “World Link Missions Association”) until 1995.

His legacy will live on in the many missionaries and missiologists that he has influenced, the organisations and gatherings that he founded, the books and papers he published.

The force of unity

Dr David Cho was born in a unified Korea and never lost a desire to see the North and South reconciled. Between 1989 and 2000 he visited the North more than twenty times on peace and reconciliation missions, seeking to open the way for Christian ministries to serve in the North.

In 2000 his ambassadorial ministry shifted to Russia where he continued his passion for promoting non-Western missions studies, founding the Russian Institute of Christian Leadership Development in Moscow and forming the Moscow Synod of the Church of Christ in 2002. In September 2003, the 8th AMA Convention was hosted in Moscow.

It was also in Moscow that Dr David Cho influenced the forming of the Asian Society of Missiology that was attended by world mission scholars.