Home Christian news Esteemed mission leader David Cho dies

Esteemed mission leader David Cho dies


By WEA Mission Commission —

Dr. David Cho (Photo © Dr Timothy Park)

Venerable mission leader Dr David Dong-Jin Cho passed to his reward on June 19, 2020 at his home in South Korea. He was 95.

His legacy will live on in the many missionaries and missiologists that he has influenced, the organizations and gatherings he founded, the books and papers he published and the Missiological Institute named in his honour that 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 as the eldest son of a prominent Korean resistance leader against the Japanese military regime, which had occupied Korea since invading it in 1905 [1].

Reminiscing on 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?’” [2]. What he went on to achieve, not just for his nation but for all nations would exceed his venerable father’s accomplishments, bringing his family and nation great honour.

Called To Serve

Dr Cho received a calling to serve God in a revival meeting in 1945, a dramatic experience that lasted for three days. After attending seminary, Dr Cho’s real-world maturing continued, with him and his family enduring war and near death experiences during his service as an associate pastor. His awareness of God’s purpose for the nations grew in his work as chief editor for the interdenominational Christian Gazette, where 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 [3].

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.

Connecting Asia & Beyond

From the late 1960’s, Dr Cho’s attempts to link an Asian missions vision with Western agencies did not progress easily. Undeterred, he persisted in his calling to mobilise for missions from Asia and in 1971 he made several trips to various Asian countries, discussing the possibility of convening an All-Asia Missions Consultation. The first Consultation was realised in August 1973, with some high-level Western mission leaders present [4]. From that Consultation, the Asia Missions Association formed in August 1975, with 50 year-old Dr Cho appointed as the first General Secretary [5]. 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”.

At the inaugural 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 reflected Dr Cho’s passion for multi-national cooperation in global missions. The Declaration made an appeal 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” [6].

While much has been accomplished in the meantime, in many 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.

Creating 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). At the request of Waldron Scott (WEF General Secretary), Dr Cho joined Dr. Wade Coggins (USA), Ernest Oliver (England), and Dr. Theodore Williams (India) on the steering committee tasked with forming a commission. Dr Cho hosted the MC’s inaugural meeting in Seoul in August 1975, where Dr. Chun Chae Ok, the first Korean woman ever to serve as a missionary, was appointed as the MC’s first Executive Director [7].

The 13th AMA Convention was held in Chiang Mai Thailand on November 2019 [8], the first one that Dr Cho was unable to attend. Continuing its mutually supportive relationship with the AMA, the Mission Commission was well represented, with Decio De Carvalho (Vice Chair of the MC’s Global Leadership Council), Dr Ashok Kumar (MC Global Leadership Council member), Wolfgang Büsing (MC Associate Director at the time), and Dr Jay Matenga (now MC Executive Director) attending and presenting papers.

Conceiving New Missions Pathways

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

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. Yet, as seen above, he was committed to joint cooperation between the West and East in missions. That being said, he also did not tire of encouraging uniquely Eastern perspectives in missions reflection and missiology. Although he emphasised that his concern was to strengthen the contribution of missionaries from Asia, Africa and Latin America and not create an anti-Western force, at the 1982 AMA Convention he called non-Western missiologists to decouple from the constraints of Western theology and praxis…

“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.” [9]

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…

Committed To Unity

Dr 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 Cho influenced the forming of the Asian Society of Missiology. Eight missions scholars attended the inaugural meeting: Timothy Park, Greg Paek, Kwanja Park, Jin-Rag Son, Yong Joong Cho, Seung Oh An, Young-Ho Jang and David Hartono. Dr Timothy Park was to be elected as the first president of ASM, assisted by Dr David Hartono, who was elected as Vice President [10]. — World Evangelical Alliance


[1]  International Bulletin of Missionary Research. Vol. 33 No. 4, 2009 (p196-198)
[2]  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3B0iNANfaWY
[3]  See link at point 2
[4]  See IMBR reference, point 1
[5]  http://davidcho.org/m/ama/
[6]  http://www.asiamissions.net/declaration-seoul-1975-2/
[7]  Ekström, B. 2019, From Seoul to Kuala Lumpur: The Missions Journey of the Mission Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance. Sao Paulo, WEA Mission Commission
[8]  http://www.asiamissions.net
[9]  Cho, David J. 1986. The Third Force The Official Report of the Third Triennial Convention, Seoul ’82 of the Asia Mission Association. Seoul: East-West Center for Missions Research and Development
[10]  http://www.asiamissions.net/partners/asian-society-of-missiology/
[11]  http://dcmi.asia