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The Rev. Karockas Watkins at the entrance to Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea.
Courtesy photo
The Rev. Karockas Watkins at the entrance to Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea.

Membership 800,000
Decatur pastors worship
in world's largest church

By Melanie B. Smith
msmith@decaturdaily.com 340-2468

The Rev. Karockas Watkins and the Rev. Harold Coomer of Decatur say an October visit to the world's largest church left them amazed and changed.

Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, runs like a Swiss watch, with seven Sunday services, translations into several languages through headphones and a ministerial staff of 264. Each service had its own 150-voice choir, orchestra, directors and praise team.

The church has 800,000 members, and 14,000 people were on the campus when Watkins and Coomer visited.

The Rev. Karockas Watkins, left, and the  Rev. Harold Coomer, both pastors of Decatur churches, said their visit in Seoul to the world's largest church was 'mind-boggling.'
Courtesy photo
The Rev. Karockas Watkins, left, and the Rev. Harold Coomer, both pastors of Decatur churches, said their visit in Seoul to the world's largest church was "mind-boggling."
The management of so many people was fascinating, said Coomer, pastor of Austinville Church of God, and Watkins, pastor of Emmanuel Church. When one group filed out of a service, a new crowd was coming in while singing "praise and worship" music in the Korean language.

But most of the service was surprisingly traditional, they said. The choir wore robes and sang anthems. The pastor wore robes. The congregation sang hymns.

The Rev. Cho Young-gi (David Cho), the church's founder, preached at the service the Decatur men attended. Cho's message on happiness was solid but not electrifying, said Watkins and Coomer.

The pastors heard the sermon translated into English through headphones. Others listened in Spanish, French and other languages, reminding the men of a United Nations session.

Members also worship in other sites and in "cell" or house churches. Thirty-two thousand children attend Sunday school, the pastors said.

After the worship, Coomer and Watkins said they chose to go to an hour-long briefing in English. They said the staff member, a California native, was "gripping" in telling all about Cho and the ministry, which includes a big newspaper that carries good news. A video told the story of the church's start by three people, Cho, his wife and his mother-in-law. Staffers also gave sessions for visitors who spoke other languages.

The pastor, Cho, spends three hours a day in prayer, the pastors said. Coomer said the pastor's philosophy is to pray, listen and obey.

"The church is the size it is because of prayer," said Watkins.

One in 20 people in Seoul attend Yoido Full Gospel Church, they said.

Prayer

The Decatur ministers' experience didn't end with the worship and follow-up session. The men took a bus trip to Yoido Church's Prayer Mountain, a site about an hour away. The church runs buses to its retreat center every 30 minutes during daytime hours, the pastors said. There they entered a domed church building that seats 7,000, where people were praying, some wailing and crying.

The pastors said they spent three hours there, praying themselves. They agreed that it took an hour to "get the flesh out of the way" before they felt they were communicating with God.

"I got convicted by God for not praying enough. Now I try to pray two hours a day, and I've got our people (at Emmanual Church) to start, because what you saw there was phenomenal," Watkins said.

On the mountain are what the pastors described as grottos, three feet high and just big enough to go in and close a door, they said. People would go in and pray and cry as long as all night.

"They're not ashamed of their prayers. They cry, scream, gesture," Watkins said.

The place seemed powerful and not for show, they said.

They didn't plan to spend the night but ended up doing so when they missed the last bus of the evening on Sunday. They paid $6 each for bunks — comfortable ones — in a nice but basic hotel, they said.

Coomer said he talked with a 39-year-old Korean woman in the lobby of a more lavish hotel on Prayer Mountain. An oral surgeon, the woman was in distress because she did not have a husband and children, which she longed for. Coomer said he prayed for her and felt led to encourage her to wait on God. She cried, saying that was just what she'd been reading before she traveled to Prayer Mountain.

It turns out that Watkins and Coomer heard one of Cho's last sermons as pastor. He announced his retirement, and the church chose his successor in November. The Rev. Lee Young-hoon, who currently pastors the church's mission congregation in Los Angeles, will become pastor.

On mission

Also on their mission trip, the pastors got to preach in two churches in Shenzen, China, a city of about 10 million. In one church, about 50 people met in a garage, said Watkins and Coomer. The other church met in a rented room on the campus of a university.

In the Philippines, the men held a crusade with Presley and Thea Watson. Presley Watson, 26, is a Decatur native, and his wife, Thea, is Filipino. About 1,000 came each night, and the Presleys gave food to everyone. Two Muslims and a city mayor were among 600 people who came to Christ; a paraplegic boy began moving his arms and legs when Watkins prayed for him, said the pastors.

Coomer said he saw a passion for Christ in the Asian countries they visited that most American Christians lack. What he saw made him want to stay, he said.

"They center their lives around the kingdom, and not the kingdom around their lives," Watkins said.

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