North Korean church leader Kang Yong Sop dies

New Year's greeting by Kang Yong Sop

The Rev. Kang Yong Sop, chair of the Central Committee of the Korean Christian Federation (KCF), passed away in Pyongyang on 21 January 2012, at the age of 80. I have known  Kang for more than 20 years. On the same day his death was announced, I received a New Year’s greeting card bearing his signature.

Rev. Kang Yong Sop at a WCC Consultation in Hong Kong 2009. (Photo WCC)

Rev. Kang was the son of another Protestant pastor, with family links to Kim Il Sung. Prior to his ordination, Kang served as North Korean ambassador to Romania. He was a member of the Supreme People’s Assembly and on occasion chaired sessions of the SPA. As KCF Chairperson, Kang led numerous delegations to foreign countries, including Canada on at least two occasions. He forged links with overseas churches and the ecumenical movement, attending three Assemblies of the World Council of Churches, as well as participating in numerous church-related events where both North and South Koreans were in attendance.

Under his leadership the KCF became active in humanitarian projects, building noodle and bread factories and distributing food, clothing and other items donated by churches abroad. Two Protestant church buildings exist in Pyongyang, as well as the KCF headquarters and a theological school for training deacons and pastors. Bongsu Church, the larger of the two, has recently been rebuilt, financed by South Korean churches.

Rev. Kang placed priority emphasis on peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula. Although he had the outward appearance of a stern disciplinarian with unshakable loyalty to the DPRK regime, on a personal level he often showed remarkable flexibility after hard negotiations. He was able to use his family links to the DPRK leadership to assure a measure of security for the KCF. He is credited with significantly raising the profile not only of the small (approximately 13,000-member) Protestant community, but also of the Catholic and other religious faiths.

Following here is an article on the death of Rev. Kang issued by the World Council of Churches. We also provide links to messages of condolence by the General Secretaries of the WCC and the National Council of Churches in South Korea. (Please note that in reference to North Korean personalities, CanKor uses the naming convention and spelling preferred by North Koreans themselves.)

WCC expresses condolence over Kang Young-sup’s passing away

On behalf of the member churches, the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit expressed deep sorrow over the passing away of Rev. Kang Young-sup on 21 Januray, a great Christian leader, whose efforts for the reunification of the Korean peninsula have been significant throughout his life.

Kang Young-sup was the chairman of the Central Committee of the Korean Christian Federation (KCF), and had a long standing relationship with the WCC. He actively participated in several ecumenical programmes for peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula initiated by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.

“As a patriotic religious leader in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Rev. Kang Young-sup played an important role in nation building, as well as in working for peace and reconciliation on the divided Korean peninsula,” said Tveit in his letter to Rev. Oh Kyung Woo, general secretary of the KCF.

Tveit acknowledged Young-sup’s great contribution to the ecumenical movement and admired his commitment to peace and reconciliation in the Korean peninsula.

“We thank God for the life and witness of Rev. Kang Young-sup. We convey our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family, and to the members of Central Committee of the KCF,” stated Tveit in the letter.

The National Council of Churches in Korea also expressed sorrow over Young-sup’s passing away, and reaffirmed their commitment to continue with his mission for peace and reunification in North and South Korea.

“Remembering his desire, the NCCK will do its best in our journey toward peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula as the great task of our nation through continuous cooperation in solidarity of the KCF,” said Kim Young-Ju, general secretary of NCCK in his letter to KCF.

Read full text of the WCC letter

Read the full text of the NCCK letter

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