By Philip A. Pinckard, NOBTS
Jesus made it clear that the cost of discipleship would be high: Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life must lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it – Matthew 16:24-25, NASB.
When my wife and I attended orientation for new Southern Baptist international missionaries, little did we realize we would meet a couple who would lose their lives in taking the gospel to the nations.
Chu Hon, M.D., and his wife, Kei Yi, a nurse, were charter members of the Tidewater Korean Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Va.
They never had children of their own, but had many friends and neighbors who remember them like family, according to the church’s website: www.tkbcva.org.
They attended orientation for members of the Cooperative Services International, a Southern Baptist aid organization, in the spring of 1993. That summer they began ministry in Khabarovsk, Russia, a city in Siberia. Dr. Yi, a retired cardiologist, taught medicine at the Khabarovsk Medical Institute and practiced medicine in a local hospital.
Dr. Yi also arranged for more than 20 doctors to come to that city to carry out short medical projects. Medical equipment, supplies, and textbooks were sent to the city through his work with various Christian groups. Baptist Press published an article about them on March 31, 1995.
Dr. and Mrs. Yi were found dead in their apartment on March 28, 1995, and it was determined both had been murdered.
Daniel Moon, then-director of Asian-American Church Growth for the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) at a memorial service for the couple, portrayed them as successors to Bill Wallace, whose life was taken while serving as a medical missionary.
Kim challenged those at the memorial and us today with the words: “We need to … mobilize Southern Baptists for the cause of His kingdom, and [for] evangelizing the entire world in our time,” according to an April 17, 1995, Baptist Press article.
Michael Stroope, Director of Cooperative Services International, shared at their memorial service, “These, our friends and colleagues, have passed from this life to the next with the greatest of hope, with knowledge of our Savior. They lived this life not for the purpose of making money or having fame, but the ultimate purpose: serving our Lord, being obedient to him, even to the point of death.”
Stroope also is quoted on the Yi’s home church’s website: “Look not to yourself, look not to your own feelings. Yes, there’s hurt, yes, there is loss, but there’s victory, victory in the gift given by God’s son, Jesus Christ, on a cross; victory … that will make an eternal difference.”
As the gospel is taken to challenging places, lives will be taken for the cause of Christ. Even before the death of Dr. and Mrs. Yi, May Anna Gilbert lost her life Oct. 2, 1990, on a hijacked airline as a Cooperative Services International representative, according to a listing of Southern Baptist violent deaths overseas that appeared in Baptist Press on Jan. 3, 2003.
Since the turn of this century, Southern Baptist workers, those of other groups, and especially national Christians continue to lay down their lives so that unreached peoples can hear the good news of the gospel.
Jerry Rankin, president of the Foreign (now International) Mission Board at the time, spoke at the Yis’ memorial service in 1995, according to Tidwater Korean’s website.
They “responded to a call from their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for an opportunity to proclaim a unique witness in an isolated place that for many years had been deprived of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Rankin said. “They went to Russia to share out of their skills and experience and meet some very destitute medical needs; but being there, their lives became an incarnational witness that touched others with the love of Jesus Christ … A multitude of people will have the privilege of knowing the glory of God’s salvation because Dr. and Mrs. Yi were willing to bear their cross and be obedient to God’s call. May we do no less.”
At the time of their deaths, Dr. and Mrs. Yi were two of more than 500 Korean missionaries serving in the former Soviet Union, according to the East-West Church & Ministry Report for the Spring of 1995. It was my privilege to participate in a partnership between New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist IMB workers in Moscow a few years ago.
We learned there was a great openness to the gospel in that area in the early 1990s, resulting in many becoming disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and continuing today to reach others with the gospel there.
What lessons may we draw from a couple willing to proclaim Christ thousands of miles from their church family in Virginia? Dr. Chu and Mrs. Yi demonstrated a spirit of service. They responded to a need in a Siberian city whose people needed to hear the gospel.
They ministered in the medical community and served as a bridge to obtain help for the people.
Another lesson in addition to a spirit of service is a spirit of surrender. Dr. and Mrs. Yi could have potentially spent many years of leisurely retirement in Tidewater.
Yet they were willing to leave the people they loved in obedience to Christ. That is where our paths crossed as we met them during our missionary orientation time in the spring of 1993.
Are we and Southern Baptist churches teaching the importance of surrender to Christ and His will for our lives?
Lottie Moon asked of Southern Baptists, “… why this strange indifference to missions?” (The New Lottie Moon Story, by Catherine Allen, page 172). That surrender should include all that we have: Our possessions as well as life dreams and goals. Will we spend our lives taking the gospel to the unreached in our community or another continent?
The third lesson is the spirit of sacrifice. Dr. and Mrs.Yi had the same spirit of sacrifice as another missionary from Virginia from another century: Lottie Moon. Catherine Allen in her book on Lottie Moon’s life mentions a letter from Lottie Moon to the head of the Foreign Mission Board. Lottie Moon said of missionaries: “We are so weak – weak in numbers – none of us are strong …. Some of us may break down or die.” (The New Lottie Moon Story, by Catherine Allen, page 172). Those were prophetic words for what would happen to the Yis as they died sharing the gospel.
Speaking at the memorial service for the Yis, Daniel Moon said, as noted on Tidewater Korean’s website: “They were in the arms of our Lord Jesus Christ, and willing to make the supreme sacrifice.”
They joined the ranks of those whose lives were taken unexpectedly while proclaiming the gospel to the nations. Let us honor lives given in the Lord’s service.
Dr. and Mrs. Yi demonstrated a spirit of service, surrender, and sacrifice.
Are we willing to demonstrate these characteristics of a disciple of the Lord Jesus so others may become His followers?
Philip A. Pinckard, Ph.D., is director of the Global Missions Center and Professor of Missions at NOBTS.