Korea has been the target of invasion many times throughout its history, but it has always rebounded, says Rhee, Ho Nam, regional representative in the Seoul Korea Region.
Now, it is on the verge of a new era of spiritual progress.
“When the Korean War, which lasted three years, was over in 1953, there was little left except ruins,” Brother Rhee says. “Most buildings and facilities had been destroyed.”
But with the help of friendly nations, the industrious Korean people rebuilt both their cities and their economy. Today, Seoul, a city of ten million, is a center of international business, industry, and other activities.
For Latter-day Saints, the most important building in Seoul is located about five kilometers (three miles) northwest of the city’s center in Shinchon, an area of fine residences and colleges. The Seoul Korea Temple stands on a hill there, its angel Moroni statue heralding the dawn of a new day in Korea.
Spencer J. Palmer was the mission president who arranged the purchase of the site in 1965, after Church leaders in Salt Lake City approved the recommendation to buy it. A number of things have convinced him, he says in retrospect, that the site did not come to his attention by accident—among them the fact that when the Seoul subway system was laid out years later, one of its main trunk lines ended at the base of the hill where the temple now stands.
“The subway,” Brother Rhee says, “has become a main transportation facility for the citizens.” For a moderate fare, Saints from throughout the area will be able to travel to the temple.
Much of South Korea still lay in ruins when Elder Joseph Fielding Smith of the Council of the Twelve dedicated the land for missionary work on 2 August 1955.
Though a few Koreans had already heard the gospel from LDS servicemen, full-time proselyting began with the arrival of missionaries in April of 1956. Their entry into the country was eased by Kim, Ho Jik, a government official who had joined the Church while studying at Cornell University in New York before the Korean War.
Life was hard for the Koreans in the mid-1950s because of the physical and economic devastation that surrounded them. Food and other commodities were sometimes scarce. That meant life was also difficult for the young missionaries, recalls Paul C. Andrus, who served as president of the Northern Far East Mission for seven years. But the missionaries’ testimonies were strong, and they persevered.
Their efforts were rewarded. In 1962, acting under the direction of the First Presidency, Brother Andrus organized the Korea Mission. Its first president was Gail E. Carr, who had served as a missionary in Korea under President Andrus shortly after proselyting began there. The new mission had seven branches—in Seoul, Pusan, and Taegu.
Eleven years later, in 1973, the first stake in Korea was organized. Now Korea has thirteen stakes, three missions, and nearly 41,000 Latter-day Saints.
Thousands of them are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to enter the temple, particularly because so many Koreans feel a strong bond with those who have gone before them in this life.
Lee, In Soon, a member of the Moraenae Branch, Seoul Korea North Stake, says that with the help of her father and brother, she has compiled records of her forebears back thirty generations. “I am very grateful to our Father in Heaven that I can prepare for work in the Seoul Temple for our deceased ancestors.”
Some who longed for the coming of the temple will not be present for the dedication. Saints remember the dedication of Cho, In Shik, Korea’s first genealogy missionary. Despite advancing age Brother Cho, then seventy-three years old, visited all the stakes and districts in the country in connection with his calling, motivated by a strong desire to help members prepare for the vicarious work to be performed in the House of the Lord. But he died before he could enter the Seoul Korea Temple.
Missionaries of the 1950s and 60s may lovingly recall “Mother Kim.” In her later years, illness forced Sister Kim, Do Pil, to attend meetings in the Chung Woon Ward, Seoul Korea Stake, in a wheelchair. Her medical treatment was very expensive, so it was a surprise to her bishop when she came to him with 300,000 Korean won (more than $300 in United States currency), “a little money” for the temple fund, she said. The bishop knew it was nearly all she had. She, too, is gone from this life.
On 1 April 1981, Brother Rhee says, after President Spencer W. Kimball’s announcement of a temple in South Korea hit home, members were asking themselves: “What does the Lord want us to do regarding the temple?” Like Sister Kim and Brother Cho, thousands of Saints have found the answer to that question, and they have been setting their lives in order so their service in the temple can begin.