The practice of Tongsung Kido
July 5, 2017 / By Rev. Dave Masland, Director of New Faith Communities
One of the reasons I was most excited to make the spiritual pilgrimage to Korea with Bishop Webb and the rest of the extended cabinet was to experience first-hand Tongsung Kido, an aspect of early-morning prayers in the Korean Methodist Church context. I was not disappointed. In fact, the experience had a profound impact on my life, and the way I think about my prayer practice!
Every single morning, 365 days a year, Korean Methodists gather at 5 a.m. for a prayer service. Yes. 5 a.m. Every day.
At Bupyeong Methodist Church, somewhere between 500 and 700 people gather for early-morning prayer each day, including a 65-90 member choir! The service starts with high-energy hymn singing… with everyone clapping and singing fast-paced versions of two or three familiar hymns.
Then, a pastor reads a short passage of scripture and offers a brief (5-10 minute) reflection/sermon on the text, with a choir anthem in between. Next, another hymn is sung. And, immediately at the end of this song, everyone raises their hands to the sky and shouts at the top of their voice (in Korean), “Help, Lord! Help, Lord! Help us Lord!”, and then breaks into LOUD extended prayer! This time of vocal prayer, shared by hundreds, is what is known as Tongsung Kido. And, it has an impact on everyone in the room. The honesty and emotional expression to God draws you in!
Tongsung Kido literally means, “Cry out with loud voice” or simply, “pray out loud.” It is a tradition that started more than 100 years ago, at a moment that the Korean Church points to as a time of profound spiritual awakening. It was when 1,500 people gathered for a meeting, and while in prayer, first opened up honestly to one another about their sins and their desire to seek God’s help. Suddenly at that meeting, the Holy Spirit moved, and the church began to grow exponentially. Since that day, Korean Christians have practiced this very Pentecostal form of prayer. Everyone seeks to pour out their heart to God, whatever they are feeling and fearing and longing for. And, everyone expects the Spirit to speak and move among them!
After the initial shock of the VERY loud prayers of people around me receded, I was able to enter into the experience. I found myself freely admitting to God things that I often hide from God, for whatever reason. My fears for the future (both personally and professionally) came to the forefront of my mind, and I poured them out verbally, and asked God for help.
My anger about injustice in the lives of my friends and coworkers in the planting movement emerged, and I asked God for help in ways I never had before. My gratefulness, always a part of my daily prayer life, simply took on greater depth of emotion expression. But, I also found myself raising to God some disappointments I have had in recent months, and asking God why. I was honest with God, more honest than I had ever been. And, by the end of the prayer time, I found myself feeling lighter, and closer to God. It was therapeutic, and healthy!
As the week went on, I found myself thinking of things I wanted to bring to God the next morning… and looking forward to that time of open honest prayer with 500 friends. Each day I went deeper with God, as the layers of hidden-away emotions came to the surface, and I emoted honestly what was going on inside me. And, each day, I felt more at peace, and more at one with God.
I do not know if we will ever be able to replicate Tongsong Kido in the American church… or even if we should try. Americans tend to be much more reserved in our prayer lives, especially in public. In addition, I think I will always crave silence in my own personal prayer time. However, after this experience, I also know that I will also weave in times of loud, vocalized prayer… using my whole body to say to God what is really going on. I know now that there is great value in Christians getting brutally honest with God, and pouring out our true emotions, no matter what they are. My prayer time will never be the same.