Tongsung Kido (A Unique Korean Prayer)
May 10, 2017 / By Pastor Yohang Chun, Oswego First UMC
Before I came to the United States from South Korea, to study, I had some concerns. One of them was, “How will I survive without Korean food? Can I live with only American food?” Fortunately, since coming to the U.S., I have become well-adjusted to American food culture.
However, as time passed, I missed Korean foods, like kimchi. So, my wife and I went to Korean markets, bought Korean food items, cooked them, and were able to enjoy Korean food.
In the same way that I adjusted to new food, I experienced the same process with my spiritual life in this country. Since I moved to the U.S., I have learned a lot of good and different things, not only from seminary, but also from several churches where I served. That is, I have been exposed to many good spiritual and church cultures and learned from them. Those experiences are amazing blessings to my ministry and me.
However, sometimes I miss some of the spiritual disciplines found in Korean churches. One of them is prayer life. Did you know that there is a unique form of prayer in Korean churches? Can you guess what this prayer is?
A unique and special Korean prayer style is called Tongsung Kido. Tongsung means, “cry out together loudly,” and Kido means, “pray.” So, Tongsung Kido means, “praying together out loud.” This unique form of Korean prayer is an important part of prayer life among the spirit-filled prayer life of Korean Christians. Personally, I think that Tongsung Kido has value as an example of a fervent and earnest way of crying out to God.
If you have a chance to visit a Korean church and see Tongsung Kido, even in public worship, you would be surprised. Some of you might think, “What is going on in this public worship service? Are they crazy? They are out of control! What makes them pray together loudly? Why don’t they pray silently?”
However, when you know about the history of the Korean church, as well as its current situation, you understand why Korean Christians have no choice but to pray in this unique style.
According to Korean church historians, Tongsung Kido has a strong connection with the idea of Han, a term used to describe an experience unique to Korean people. Han is typically defined as an unresolved resentment or emotional pain that is carried by a person; it is a kind of internalized grudge. Han is frustrated hope, the collapsed feeling of pain, resentful bitterness, and the wounded heart.
In fact, it is better to understand Han among Koreans through a socio-historical contextual lens: Koreans have experienced many tough times throughout their history, such as the Japanese colonization (1909-1945), the Korean War (1950-1953), and the institutionalized oppression caused by the military dictatorship(1961-1992). Because of these painful experiences, Koreans held Han in their hearts for a long time.
In these situations, Korean Christians prayed to God with their pains, sufferings, and broken hearts. They couldn’t pray silently and quietly. Rather, their pains, tears, and bitterness mixed with Han made them cry out to God loudly: “Lord, please come to us! Listen to your children’s outcry.” Through this unique form of prayer, Korean Christians have poured out their pains, bitterness, and wounded hearts before the Lord and asked God to listen to their prayers.
Generally Tongsung Kido is performed as follows: during worship, usually at the time of special prayer request, the minister or the worship leader will call the congregation to pray in unison. The whole congregation joins together to pray aloud, individually at the same time. Sometimes, in the beginning of prayer, the congregation may shout, “Lord! Lord! Lord!” in unison, as a cooperative sign of engaging in prayer. Usually the congregation is given a specific amount of time to pray, with a common theme of petition. At the end of the time allotted, the minister’s closing prayer finishes Tongsung Kido.
Tongsung Kido reminds me of the passionate prayer the Israelites put forth to God in their hopeless situation in Exodus 2:23b-25: “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”
I hope you now understand this Korean prayer practice, Tongsung Kido, better. If you have the chance to visit a Korean church, why not join in this unique form of prayer, and try some delicious Korean food?
Editor’s Note: If you have a unique prayer practice in your culture, we’d love to hear about it. Send us a description of it to News@unyumc.org with “Prayer in my Culture” as the subject line.