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The Spirit Moves West: Korean Missionaries in America
Rebecca Y. Kim
Oxford University Press, 2015
256 pp., $26.95
A Case Study of Reverse Missions
Confession: I tortured some of the Korean students in my classes by asking repeatedly if they had ever heard of University Bible Fellowship (UBF) as I began to read Rebecca Y. Kim's The Spirit Moves West: Korean Missionaries in America. My students responded "no" regardless of how I framed the question. One of my current research projects, utilizing primary sources and social network analysis software, concerns the burgeoning of Protestantism in Korea at the turn of the 20th century. My first doctoral dissertation (in sociology) was a case study on second-generation Korean American ethno-religiosity. Confession: Before reading Kim's book, I had never heard of UBF, which turns out to be "the largest nondenominational missionary-sending organization in South Korea." Accordingly, I was intensely curious to see how Kim would connect UBF with one of her central questions: "How did a small country where only 1 percent of the population was Protestant a century ago, become a Protestant powerhouse sending missionaries across the globe, including the United States?"
The Spirit Moves West provides an interesting perspective on reverse missions within the context of the de-Christianization of the West or the de-Europeanization of Christianity. These themes are familiar to those who have read Philip Jenkins, Mark Noll, Scott Sunquist, Andrew Walls, Stephen Warner, or the 2013 report from Gordon Conwell's Center for the Study of Global Christianity, "Christianity in its Global Context, 1970-2020." Kim claims that whereas during the 20th century almost all missionaries were from Western nations, today more than half are from the global South.
Kim is correct to note that "American missionaries were instrumental in the modernization of Korea" at the end of the 19th century. The impact of the first Protestant American "missionaries" such as H. N. Allen cannot be overstated. Although the particulars of the Shufeldt ...