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Ten Unique Korean Virtues That EM’s Aren’t Teaching Our Kids (But Should Be): Virtue 4 or Part 9 (If You’re Still Counting)

After a long hiatus, I thought it would be good to start off September with an article that has been somewhat of a series by Pastor Eric Foley. Feel free to check out his previous entries. These articles are generously provided by Eric Foley as they are only available otherwise if you get a subscription to some Korean publication for pastors. Feel free to comment as I’ve promised lively blog action to his kind article submission!


Virtue 4: Passionate, whole-being prayer

I still remember the first Korean morning prayer service I ever attended. It was at Calvary Korean Presbyterian Church in San Diego. My future wife invited me. As an American pastor who had conducted prayer services in American churches for many years, I was very interested to see how Korean Christians prayed.

Most of the prayer service seemed very similar to what we do in American prayer services. The Korean Christians opened by singing a few hymns. Then one of the Korean associate pastors preached a short message. After that, one of the Korean deaconesses turned the lights off while another Korean deaconess turned some soft music on. The Korean congregation and I knelt on cushions and began to pray.

It was quiet for about thirty seconds…and then the service became very different than any American prayer service I had ever participated in in my whole life!

That’s because, from behind me, an older man suddenly cried out in a loud moan:


I thought he was having a heart attack!
I jumped straight up in the air in surprise and looked to the left and to the right for one of the other morning prayer participants to join me in helping the man. But no one jumped up to help, because they all started crying out:


It was then that I realized that Korean prayer is very, very, very different from the prayer that happens in American churches!

So many of my favorite experiences with Korean people have occurred in prayer. When I preached at Hanulsan Prayer Mountain, I remember Pastor XXXXXXXXXXX crying out again and again and again, in his deep, thunderous voice, all throughout the night:


It made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up!

Sadly, I’ve never experienced anything like that in a 2.0 congregation. That’s because, tragically, 2.0’s pray more like Americans than Koreans.

2.0’s almost always tell me that they are embarrassed by what they see as the emotionalism and exaggeration of Korean prayer. So they reject Korean prayer in favor of learning to pray like Americans, who quietly and sweetly mumble prayers like this:

“Lord, we just love you…we just want to thank you for letting us worship you and stuff…we just ask you to be with us and guide us and be our Father…we just ask you to forgive us for not loving you more…we just… we just….we just…”

This is why American Christians don’t have morning prayer very often: Our prayer is so boring that everyone in the congregation would just fall asleep!

American pastors teach their congregations that prayer is simply talking to God, and 2.0’s love this definition. It feels more intimate, more personal, more casual…more American.

But here is the interesting thing: I run into far more Koreans than Americans who have an intimate relationship with God. I run into far more Koreans than Americans who pray daily. I run into far more Koreans than Americans who rely on God instead of themselves. That tells me that there is more value to Korean prayer than emotion and exaggeration—and there is less value to American prayer than 2.0’s think!

We are raising a generation of 2.0’s who don’t know how to cry out to God. They can only whisper to God, and they don’t even seem to do this very often. Passionate, whole-body prayer is one of the most important Korean Christian virtues, and it is being lost with every passing year. How many 2.0’s do you know who pray passionately? How many 2.0’s do you know who regularly cry out to God.

This must change. Next month we’ll offer you specific suggestions and practical help on how you can draw upon traditional Korean Christian cultural practices to enable the Korean young people in your congregation to learn to pray passionately and with their whole bodies and hearts. Until then, please feel free to e-mail me at ericpfoley[at] Since, unfortunately, I don’t speak Korean, you may wish to speak to my wife at hyunsookfoley [at] or (719) 360-1819.


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

9 responses to “Ten Unique Korean Virtues That EM’s Aren’t Teaching Our Kids (But Should Be): Virtue 4 or Part 9 (If You’re Still Counting)

  1. daniel so

    David — Thanks for picking up this conversation again. Lots of thoughts — sorry if my comment is kind of long 🙂

    For many people outside of the Korean American community, their first experience with this type of fervent prayer can by an incredible experience — Bill Bright also comes to mind.

    While I am glad to see Eric recognize and affirm the value of this kind of prayer for the broader church, I think it is important not to overgeneralize. Many 1st gen KA churches do not pray in this particular style. In fact, of the Korean churches in San Diego, Calvary is probably the church that prays most in this particular manner.

    I think it’s also important to point out that there are plenty of 2nd gen KA churches that pray in this fervent, ‘crying out’ style. The EM of which I was a part during my college years very much prayed in this vein.

    I am a big believer in being able to pray in many different ways. Insisting that one way is inherently ‘better’ than another is treading into dangerous territory. Any kind of style of prayer can become mindless routine if we become over-familiar with it.

    I think I understand Eric’s heart. I would also love to see more 2nd gen believers pray with passion and conviction, and to root their entire being in God. I think the key is to communicate the *heart* of passionate prayer, not just the outward style. I would even argue that the initial rejection of this style of prayer of their parents’ generation is an important part of identity formation and forging their own path.

  2. elderj

    My pushback then is from where do the 2nd generation learn to pray if not from their parents? We don’t typically see this radical disconnect between prayer style among Whites, so I think there is something to it. I suspect that there is a bit of embarrassment that is actually unhelpful in identity formation.

    Clearly I agree that the key is communicating the heart of passionate prayer, but I believe that style and substance are more related than we care to think.

    Unfortunately what usually happens is that many in the 2nd generation end up not really praying at all.

  3. I’m really feeling this vibe…

    There are some things from KA church legacy that we (2nd gen) can dispense with – this is not one of those things.

    I was discipled in college by a 1.5 KA pastor – he was Americanized in all BUT prayer. He, along with his colleagues managed to transfer this legacy from the 1st to 2nd gen. He was a bit of a drill sargent but nonetheless I DID learn to pray from him – Funny thing is, he never preached a single sermon on prayer.

    I agree w/elderj – there is by and large a radical disconnect – it’s not the emotionalism that needs to be emulated – it’s the depth, the longevity, the early rising. I can’t say enough about how I feel about this and my generation.

    In all, I agree – we need to preserve this legacy. I am so saddened by how weak it is (in my experience of Kam ministry). A friend of mine was once personal secretary to Paul Yonggi Cho. I probed her for details: He was daily up at 3 or 4am – and ALWAYS the first at morning prayer. In the office, he was never in his chair. Whenver she stepped into his office his bald head was bobbing up and down under the table, hunched over the chair. I can tell you he wasn’t eating a sandwich or picking his nose down there, I think it is clear what he was doing. This vivid imagery leaves a burning impression on my mind of what kind of pastor I strive to be.

    Sorry this is long but there is one last thing that I’ve always felt but never had the pulpit to say: Prayer can never be conferred thru teaching it verbally. It is a muscle and so needs to be taught thru training. I had hundreds of teachers who blabbed on in their sermons of the virtue of prayer but never learned a single thing about it from them in person. That’s not to say that I was a bad student; honestly they just sucked in prayer. They did not carry the true legacy of our parents.

    But my life was changed by those who prayed much and exemplified it much – they didn’t so much teach us how to pray as much as they dragged us along – wake up, let’s pray, no we’re not through yet, another half hour, no we’re still not done yet. It was almost torture but in the end the difference was clearly noticeable – I could even tell in my friends when they had been much practiced in prayer.

    I agree w/elderj – style and substance are interconnected.

    And I think the conferrence of the legacy cannot be taught with words, but only through training by bi-cultural bridges who understand what prayer ought to be…

  4. daniel so

    Elderj — Great insights. I am with you — if the rejection of passionate prayer is from embarrassment, then we as 2nd gen believers have failed miserably. I think I was picturing people I have known who have wanted to pursue Christ whole-heartedly but, because they grew up in this environment, almost felt like it was a routine (just like *any* prayer or worship style can become).

    Unfortunately, I have known many 2nd gen believers who have been hurt by the 1st gen church. They have seen pastors and elders put in the long hours of passionate prayer but neglect their families or otherwise not live in close connection with God. I am not saying that it is right to reject this kind of prayer outright because of hurt or frustration — that would be wrong — just that it is important not to overgeneralize and believe that this kind of prayer always leads to transformed lives.

    Wayne — I totally feel you on this. I have had very similar experiences. I have a great deal of respect and love for the pastors I have known whose prayer life has been passionate and unrelenting. I can only hope to follow in their footsteps.

    I would agree that the 2nd gen Korean American church does lack the spiritual power of the 1st gen in large part because we do not have a strong foundation of prayer. There was a time when I first became a follower of Christ that I prayed exclusively in this style. These days I still pray in this way (in particular, in intercessory prayer) but I also find other methods and styles of prayer necessary and helpful as well.

    With the students in my youth ministry, I am constantly urging them to pray out loud. Maybe not “tong-son gee-do” style, but at least to verbalize their prayers because the unfortunate reality is that silent prayer usually equates to sleep time (both in the church and personal settings).

    This is an important and necessary dialogue for the 2nd gen church. It would be amazing to see it lead to an awakening of prayer among 2nd gen believers and in our churches…

  5. David – this article/discussion has galvanized some thoughts that will become a sermon for a retreat for 2.0’s I’m asked to speak at. I’ll be quoting extensively from this blog and the original source. Just wanted to give you a heads up…

  6. daniel so

    Wayne — Are you going to go all bootcamp on them? 😉 Seriously, though, I really appreciate what you wrote about emulating “the depth, the longevity, the early rising” of our first-gen predecessors in prayer.

  7. Thanks Wayne for the heads up. I’m honored that you’d use the blog as reference. Please also give credit to Eric Foley. I’ll post his follow up to this article soon so that you and others might glean more as well.

  8. dude, this is the Northwest. Bootcamp wouldn’t fly out here – they’d prefer a roundtable forum over coffee and jazz. Nuff said cuz they’ll be reading this once I’m thru w/them 😉
    Hey you fellas need to hit me up if ever in Vancouver, BC…

  9. Esther Bak ⋅


    Being a 1.5 generation, I totally understand what you are saying about the Korean prayer. I have seen it and done it. I definitely see the value in it. There are times when you just need to cry out to God. On the other hand, I also have talked to people that unless you “cry” out like that, they feel like they didn’t really pray. I don’t know about that. I have experienced the the Holy Spirit’s presence in an American prayer meeting that I attended. They meet monthly to pray for missionaries overseas and for two hours they did nothing but praying in a conversational style. It was so real, sincere and ernest. I think you gotta balance it out. In the end, I think God really doesn’t care how we pray as long as we pray with all sincerity and faith.

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