Edinburgh church honours Scot who helped Christianity thrive in Korea
Published on 13 January 2023 3 minutes read
An Edinburgh church is holding a special service to celebrate the legacy of a Scot who played a major role in introducing Christianity to Korea.
The event at Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church on Sunday will give thanks for the life of Rev Dr John Ross, who translated the New Testament into Korean.
The joint service at 10.30am will bring together Scots, people of Korean and Chinese heritage, feature special guests and be live streamed.
Jaekook Lee, pastor of the Edinburgh Korean Church, will speak about the missionary's importance for Korean Christianity and Dr Alex Chow, a senior lecturer at New College in Edinburgh, will speak about Ross's life and world Christianity.
Rev Dr John Stuart Ross will give a theological perspective in relation to mission during Ross's day and in the here and now.
Born in Balintore, Easter Ross in 1842, Dr Ross was a Gaelic speaker and gifted linguist with knowledge of 11 languages.
He worked as a missionary in Northeast China where he established Dongguan Church in Shenyang, founded a Bible school and quickly realised that outreach could be best done by local Christians, not western missionaries.
Dr Ross produced the first translation of the New Testament in Korean, a language he learned from traders who crossed the border from the then closed country and travelled to Mukden, now Shenyang, in China.
After his return to Scotland, he served as an elder at what is now Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church between 1910 and 1915 when he died.
He is buried in nearby Newington Cemetery and there is a plaque on an inside wall of the church which regularly welcomes Korean visitors.
Rev Dr Sandy Forsyth, minister of Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church, said: "Our service is to mark the 150th anniversary of Dr Ross's arrival in China by celebrating his life and legacy.
"It will mark his 38 years as a missionary in Northeast China (then Manchuria) and his pivotal influence on Korean Christianity, in conjunction with two local Korean congregations - Ross Chapel and Edinburgh Korean Church - and the Chinese Evangelical Church which worships at Mayfield Salisbury.
"We are delighted to be sharing this service with our brothers and sisters in Christ of Korean and Chinese heritage, with our Christian faith and the work of John Ross as the common connections.
"It is through his life's work that we are brought together to worship and share fellowship as one; united in Jesus Christ and our love of God beyond any differences of ethnicity or language.
"That, of itself, is truly inspiring."
Dr Forsyth said he believed that the missionary's work "speaks powerfully" to the church in Scotland now, as it faces change and seeks to understand how to engage in the mission of God.
"Ross's approach to mission was not only that scripture should be in a language that local people could understand, but also that it was the local people who should spread Christian faith and lead churches, not the missionaries," he explained.
"That understanding of mission remains relevant now - of engaging in a faith which is grounded in the rhythms of everyday life and expressed by local people in their context."
Presbyterian involvement in Korea came through the work of Presbyterian Church of the USA missionaries, who expanded their work in Manchuria into Korea in the 1880s.
Today, the Church of Scotland enjoys a partnership with The Presbyterian Church of Korea and The Presbyterian Church of the Republic of Korea.
Sandy Sneddon, Associate International Partnership Support Manager for the Church of Scotland, said: "John Ross played a pivotal role in the history of Christianity in Korea.
"He is revered there for this landmark achievement and also in Northeast China."
Speaking about the Church of Scotland's partnership with Korean churches, Mr Sneddon said: "Our main focus in recent years has been to join with hundreds of faith-based and civil society organisations in Korea and around the world to support the Korea Peace Appeal.
"This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of fighting in the Korean War, yet the Armistice has never been converted to a full peace treaty.
"The Korea Peace Appeal seeks to End the Korean War and establish a peace agreement.
"It seeks to create a Korean Peninsula and a world free from nuclear weapons and nuclear threat; resolve the conflict with dialogue and cooperation instead of sanctions and pressure; break from the vicious cycle of the arms race and invest in human security and environmental sustainability."
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The service will be available to watch later on the church's YouTube channel.