On August 2, 2011 (Korean time), Pastor Ha Yong Jo – founder and senior pastor of Onnuri Church in Seoul, Korea, passed away at the age of 65.
A life well lived…
While 99% of my readers will never have heard of this man. Pastor Ha was not only one of the most influential Christian leaders in Korea and Asia but perhaps (in a quiet and humble way), the entire world.
While many have influenced me, I have always seen and looked to him as my pastor and one of my mentors. It pains me not to be able to go to Korea directly to pay my respects…
하목사님과 대화했던 순간 순간을 떠올리게 된다. 늘 꿈을 꾸시고, 사랑하시고, 열정을 나누셨던 하나님 닮는 삶을 사신 목사님, 사랑합니다.
After my wife informed me of his passing, I just sat there in silence – mourning his passing and yet mindful and amazed by his legacy. Minhee and I have deep respect for Pastor Ha for many reasons and one of them is simply because he was the pastor that officiated our wedding in 1997. Pastor Ha was also Minhee’s boss through a Christian company he founded called Tyrannus Ministry (Duranno in Korean).
In recent years, Pastor Ha had battled numerous health issues including an ongoing bout with liver cancer. But even despite his illnesses and what has been reported to have been 7 major surgeries in the past couple years, he continued to serve the Lord faithfully.
I first met Pastor Ha in 1994 when I joined his staff – first as an intern and then as one of the 35 full-time pastors (at that time). Pastor Ha – to be blunt – spoke firmly and directly into my life on several occasions. But he also always spoke lovingly.
Oh the stories I have…
Some of our conversations, truthfully, were painful at the time but as I looked back, I have grown to appreciate all of our conversations as I later understood how he was willing to invest and speak into my life.
When I joined the church in 1994, the church was then about 20,000 people. It has since reportedly grown to over 75,000 people.
But beyond numbers, I was always convicted by his passion for the one – both near and far.
Beyond Numbers: Faithfulness
While many would certainly be drawn to the impressive “numbers”, my admiration for Pastor Ha derives not out of his success but rather his faithfulness to God, his family, the Scriptures, and to Missions.
He planted Onnuri Church (Onnuri means All Nations) in 1985 with 12 families with a vision of stirring a vision similar to the Book of Acts. It’s for this reason that when I planted Quest Church in Seattle in 2001, I also began with the study of Acts.
It was in Korea and through his preaching that I grew passionate – once more – about the Scriptures. Not as a source of our ultimate worship but rather as a profound and deep means for us to encounter the Living God and Holy Spirit.
I admired his willingness to pursue vision and conviction and make mistakes along the way. Amongst his many visions, he hoped to stir the entire church and his members to see themselves as missionaries. When I was on staff there, he shared his vision for the church to raise up 1,000 full-time missionaries and 10,000 missions workers. I thought he was crazy.
And he was crazy.
Crazy enough to believe in the power of the Holy Spirit.
He taught me to believe in vision that was so crazy that there was no possible way it could be accomplished apart from God’s provision.
And by the way: Onnuri Church (thus far) has commissioned 1,220 missionaries throughout the world.
Through his leadership, they planted and aided the planting of hundreds of churches around the world, helped found Handong University, started Tyrannus Ministry, started the largest Christian publishing company in Korea, created an important Christian television ministries (please don’t equate this to TBN), and the list goes on and on.
He was faithful, smart, creative, courageous, and entrepreneurial.
Commitment to Prayer
But what I remember the most about Pastor Ha Yong Jo was his commitment to prayer.
He often shared with the church that his “favorite” ministry was to teach at the early morning prayer meetings at 5am.
That is not a typo. I did indeed write: 5 AM.
As a pastor, I was “encouraged” to attend and what a sight and experience to be there and be joined by about 1000+ other worshippers. And that was just at the 5am morning prayer time. There was also a 6am prayer gathering.
While Pastor Ha has compiled an incomparable resume which included four honorary doctorates, I will remember him most for his faithfulness to God and all that God placed upon his heart.
I do not believe it to be a stretch to say that millions of people – past, present, and future – has and will be impacted by his life, leadership, and legacy.
Dear Moksanim: Thank you for mentoring me and so many others. Thank you for your leadership, ministry, and faithfulness.