“Conference in Korea,” Ensign, Oct. 1975, 94–95
Wearing the white uniform peculiar to Asian Martial Arts, the nine-year-old Primary boy sprinted across the stage of Seoul’s Sports Palace. Barely four feet tall, the lad ran up a man as if climbing a ladder at full speed, propelling himself upward at dizzying speed. As he reached the apogee of his orbit, his leg shot straight up over his head in the fearsome kick of Taekwondo, the unique form of Korean Karate. His foot fractured the shell of a paper lantern held 10 feet off the stage by a bamboo pole. From the fractured lantern plunged multicolored confetti and a cloth banner proudly bedecked with Korean characters reading “Korean Area General Conference.”
The tiny Saint had jumped nearly three times his own height. He outdid himself. He was only one of hundreds of Korean Saints who outdid themselves to welcome the prophet. It was cultural night, the Friday night first session of the first conference on the mainland of Asia. And the prophet was watching. Who couldn’t jump a mere 10 feet into the air?
There is something special about the Koreans. President Kimball noted that his affection for them had grown boundlessly as he saw their devotion and faithfulness. Their special traits were obvious in the brilliantly choreographed and fervently performed folk numbers of the cultural night program. First there came the beautiful dance of the court women as nearly a hundred young women danced sedately in the puffed sleeves and billowing beauty of the Korean traditional dress, Hanbok. Then there was no pause for two hours as 270 youths performed in quick succession the most beautiful folk dances of Korea so well that many could not believe the dancers were not professional.
Friday’s session was on 15 August 1975, 30 years to the day after the close of World War II and the freeing of the Korean people from 45 years of occupation. The Saints had only three hours to set up for the conference because of holiday use of the building. The Sports Palace, the only building in Seoul capable of handling the crowds, held 9,000 people in the Friday night heat. It is estimated that due to a 12-month push through the home teaching program, fully 3,500 of the attendees on the first night were nonmembers! One said, “I haven’t studied with the missionaries yet, but after hearing the conference sessions I know that President Kimball is a prophet.”
The talks throughout the conference were messages outlining the basic matters necessary for life eternal. President Kimball observed that he had come to emphasize basic principles. He spoke out strongly on tithing as necessary for economic blessings to overtake the Saints. He spoke of the need for temple work, urging that every couple solemnize their marriage in the temple. He spoke of genealogy to prepare for the future day when a temple might be constructed in Korea.
President Paul C. Andrus, Regional Representative of the Twelve, reminded the audience that conference sessions were being held exactly 20 years after the August day in 1955 when President Joseph Fielding Smith dedicated Korea for the preaching of the gospel. The Sports Palace in which the conference was held is located at the very foot of the hill where the dedication took place.
Bishop Cha Bong Kim observed, “Yesterday was National Independence Day, our biggest holiday in which we celebrate the end in 1945 of occupation by Japan. Today the prophet asked us to support the temple in Tokyo. In the gospel we are now brothers. There is only one prophet who administers to all nations as one. We will help with the building of the temple in Japan with all the strength we have.”
Let the Saints describe their experiences themselves. The beautiful choir was composed of 300 members who came from different locations all over Korea and only practiced together for three days. Sister Kyong Hae Kim, from Pusan, said, “I was so disappointed in our little choir group. They sounded forlorn and hopeless. Then, when I heard them during the sessions, I couldn’t believe my ears. Something had transformed the combined voices into gold.”
The Saints in Korea paid a price in suffering to attend the conference. One sister who is a school teacher tutored eight students for three months, two hours a day, to earn train fare for her family.
Brother Kil Hwe Do, a seminary teacher in Pusan, thought that the average cost for conference for those who traveled up from the southern provinces was about a month’s wages. “That is a lot, particularly for kids whose folks are not members. In our branch, these faithful youth started a ‘serve your parents’ program. They tried to live so worthily that their parents would be touched with the truth of the gospel. We not only baptized a couple of parents, but many more have gained good impressions of the Church and every youth in the branch managed to get up to conference.”
A retired army officer, who had been baptized for only one month, told an amazing story. “I brought my neighbors to conference with me, 14 all together. Most of them have cried throughout the conference they have been so impressed. I expect all will be baptized.”
A small branch, 61 members, which was started only in May of this year, brought no fewer than 200 people to conference.
How did the Church in Korea benefit from the conference? A sister baptized only two weeks before conference spent an hour and twenty minutes coming and going on a train to attend each session of conference. “I want to tell the Saints all over the world that we must stand without shame before the people of the whole world and bear an honest witness of the truth of the gospel. That is our mission in the true Church.”
Bishop Mu Kwan Hong noted some statistics. “We started 12 months ago using the home teachers to activate members and prepare ourselves spiritually for conference. In addition to the other wonderful things we get from the conference, do you know what the home teaching effort did to my ward? In the year, our sacrament meeting attendance jumped from 60 to 100 and Sunday School attendance went up from 90 to 150.
“At today’s session we had people who had not attended church for two years. We had people who had not been out in five years. We even had some we had sent letters to who came today and we had never even seen them before.”
An institute teacher summed it up, “Our efforts to get here this weekend were so strenuous we had to pull together. We gained a sense of identification that we have not had. I would go so far as to describe it as establishing a base for the Church in Korea.”