On September 14 this year, Dr Yonggi Cho, founder of Yoido Full Gospel Church, returned home to be with the Lord. Kong Hee, senior pastor of City Harvest Church, shares his memories of the man he calls his spiritual father and senior pastor.
It has been a year of loss. In February this year, City Harvest Church mourned the passing of Dr Kim Sunghae, the wife of Dr Yonggi Cho. Seven months later, on Sep 14, Dr Cho graduated to heaven.
City News talks to Pastor Kong about his relationship with Dr Cho and his favourite memories of his spiritual father.
CITY NEWS: Pastor, we’re so sorry about the passing of Dr Cho. You were so close to him. Can you share with us what happened the period leading up to his death?
Pastor Kong: On Sep 6, Dr Cho’s second son Samuel texted me to say that Dr Cho was in critical condition, and to please pray. The next day, he video-called me from the ICU and said, “My dad’s so much better. The doctor says he’s going to be okay.” Samuel asked me to pray for Dr Cho, and for the first time since the onset of COVID-19, I was able to see Dr Cho “live” online. He looked very sickly and I encouraged him before praying for him. Then, a week later, early in the morning on Sep 14, I received a text that Dr Cho was gone.
Wow. How are you feeling now, Pastor?
I’m saddened by his death, but I have no doubt Dr Cho is enjoying heaven. Two Sundays before his death, some intercessors in Indonesia were praying and one of them had a dream that Dr Cho’s “house” in heaven was almost done. He texted me to say that God is ready to take Dr Cho to heaven. The intercessor had no idea Dr Cho was in the ICU. On Sep 14, the morning of his death, at around 2.30am (Singapore time), the intercessor saw in a vision that Dr Cho was in heaven. Less than four hours later, Dr Cho passed on.
What is very encouraging is that in the vision, the intercessor saw Jesus coming to Dr Cho with two white horses. Jesus asked him, “Cho! How’s your church?” To that, Dr Cho replied, “Lord, the church is very good, because it was never my church to begin with; it was always Your church.” Jesus then gave him a big smile, lifted him up on the other horse and they both rode away. And they were very close and very happy. That was the morning he died.
What’s even more interesting is this: That night, the intercessor had a dream. He dreamt that he was walking past Dr Cho’s house and Dr Cho called for him. He then said, “Please tell Kong Hee not to be sad. I’m very, very happy. And tell him that his house is in the process of being built, and it’s very near mine. We will be neighbours one day!”
Pastor, can you tell us about your first encounter with Dr Cho?
The first time I saw him, it impacted me very greatly. It was in 1982 and I was in JC 2. At that time, I had never read his books before, but many years earlier, my Sunday School teacher had shown us a movie reel featuring Dr Cho preaching to 200,000 people at an outdoor event. It was so impactful because in those days, the biggest church in Singapore only had 300 members.
Dr Cho came to Singapore that year for a five-day evangelistic rally. It was the largest Christian event in Singapore since Billy Graham’s in 1978. I was a counselling supervisor, meaning I had to oversee a team of counsellors. It rained every day but just before the service each night, the rain would stop at the right moment. About 40,000 people came to the National Stadium every night.
One of my assigned tasks was to look after an Indonesian who had flown in from Jakarta. He was totally paralysed from his waist down. I had to carry him and place him on a wheelchair, then wheel him to the stadium track, and after that, I would carry him back to the van. Each time I carried him, his two legs felt like rubber bands—they were limp and had no strength or life in them. On the last night, I couldn’t believe my eyes because while I was writing down the names of the new converts, I saw this Indonesian man walking hundreds of steps up the stadium to the stage to testify that he was completely healed. I just stood there, awestruck, with tears streaming down my cheeks.
That was my first encounter with Dr Cho. From that day, I fell in love with his ministry. I still remember the message he preached that night: “Twentieth-century Adam, where are you? Are you in sin? Are you in sickness and disease? Come to Jesus tonight!”
That must have been such a transforming experience. When was the first time you actually spoke to him?
Since 1982, I had opportunities to exchange pleasantries with Dr Cho on a couple of occasions when we spoke in similar Christian events. In 2004, however, I was in Taiwan for a conference. Dr Cho was the main preacher and I was the second preacher. He was speaking on two nights and I could only stay one night.
The organiser asked me if he could do anything for me. I said, “I would like Dr Cho to just lay hands on me to bless me.” He replied, “Come early tomorrow and wait for him.” Dr Cho’s meeting was at 7.30pm. By 5pm I was waiting inside the guest room. Dr Cho was known for always being an hour early for everything. So, I did not want to be late to meet him.
True enough, at 6.30pm, he showed up. The moment he walked in, he said, “Kong Hee, how are you? I watch your programme every week!* You are fasting too much and you must eat more!” I was so blown away. “You even know my name, and watch me on TV! And you even know about my fasting!” At that time, I had just come out of a 40-day fast. So we chatted a bit, and then he asked, “What can I do for you?” Because he was going to prepare for the service, I replied, “I don’t want to disturb you, Dr Cho. I just need you to bless me and pray for me, and I’ll be out of your way.” Then I knelt down and he prayed for me, and thereafter, he went to preach.
After the service, as we were leaving the stadium, I was walking a little behind him and his entourage. As he approached his car, he pulled me aside, away from his entourage. He leaned towards me and said, “Kong Hee, I am a prophet of God. I can see your future and it is great. God is with you. Don’t look for me. When the time is right, I will come to you. I will be your friend.”
What an amazing encounter. When did he become your friend as he said? What was he like as a person?
The next year (2005), he invited me to be an honorary board member of Church Growth International, one of the premier Pentecostal ministerial fellowships in the world. From that time on, we became inseparable. I accompanied him on many of his trips to Japan, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the US, and Australia. Dr Cho and his wife invited me to preach in many of his Full Gospel churches throughout South Korea, three to four times a year.
He was the most amazing man in my life. I have never met anyone like him. I had previously heard that he was very driven, but I had never seen him lose his temper—not once! He was always very cool and calm, and very patient under pressure. One time, we were at a Christian banquet and a very famous businessman who had seriously maligned him showed up. As he walked towards Dr Cho’s table, we were all holding our breath wondering if he was here to create a scene. But Dr Cho welcomed and let him sit next to him at the main table, and they chatted happily for an hour! To me, Dr Cho’s ability to forgive was simply amazing.
Dr Cho was a man of prayer—long prayer! It was super boring to travel with him (smiles). He always stayed in his room for hours, praying. He prayed three to five hours every day. He was also very simple. Wherever we went, I would go to Koreatown to look for Shin noodles and kimchi. One of his aides would carry a Bunsen burner on every trip, and we would cook noodles on mess tins for him.
Dr Cho never behaved like a “celebrity pastor”—he never acted or lived like one. He lived in a simple home. His clothes were nice, but they were made by simple tailors. He was not into branded products. He lived and ate simply. Before he died, he gave most of his money to charities. If the fruit of the Spirit is the character profile of Jesus, then Dr Cho was the closest to Jesus of all the people I have ever met in my life. He was, and still is, my model.
When it comes to relating to people, including his enemies, he always believed the best of anyone. I have never heard him utter anything crude or salacious; he had nothing worldly in him, and he never allowed himself to behave in a worldly way. He was the godliest, most Christlike person I’ve ever met. All these years that I have known him, I have never seen him getting angry. Dr Cho gave me hope that it’s possible to be a successful minister of the gospel and still be totally Christlike in thought, word, and deed.
You’ve said that Dr Cho and Mrs Cho suffered a lot. What did you mean by that?
Dr Cho had to undergo a severe trial because of his eldest son. Mrs Cho herself was maligned and mocked at because she stood by her son. When many begged her to disassociate herself with him, she said, “What mother would forsake her son, especially when he had been rejected by all, even if it was for the right reasons?” Because she gave him refuge, many accused her of being an accomplice. Whenever I read Hebrews 11, I think of Dr Cho and Mrs Cho. They were the “Abraham and Sarah” of our generation.
It may seem ironic to some that for a man of such great faith as Dr Cho, he encountered many troubles. What’s your take, Pastor?
Dr Cho was both an enigma and a paradox. He was strong in the teaching of faith. His ministry was filled with amazing, jaw-dropping miracles. Once, he was in a car when he saw a man flagging down his car. He stopped the car and the man was Jesus, who came in and sat in his car, and over the next hour, Jesus told him what he needed to do. He had encounters like that. He built the world’s largest church and the world’s largest prayer mountain. He held the world’s largest prayer meetings with a million people coming to pray. He was not someone who was flippant or presumptuous. He had many encounters with the Lord, and had powerful visions and dreams.
Many years ago, he was struggling with prostate problems, and he was suspected of having prostate cancer. It was hard for him to conduct a service because he had to constantly go to the toilet. One day, Jesus showed up in his room and said, “I’m giving you a new prostate gland so you don’t have to keep going to the toilet every few minutes.” Instantly, he was healed. He went back to the doctor and there was absolutely no prostate problem. He was a man given to such miracles—he was very strong in faith!
He believed wholeheartedly that if one follows Jesus and obeys Him, one will be blessed in this life. Yet he was an enigma: he also believed that if you live for Christ and the gospel, you will suffer a lot. And the more victorious you are, the bigger your sufferings will be. One of his favourite passages was 2 Corinthians 4, where Paul says, “I carry death in me so that the life of Jesus may flow.” Dr Cho even wrote a book on suffering. If, as a Christian, you cannot accept suffering, the life of Christ cannot flow through you. The more you suffer, the more you will experience and minister divine life.
How do you square a belief in sufferings with a belief in healing and financial blessing? Dr Cho could. Without Mrs Cho and him, I would never be able to understand 2 Corinthians 4 because I have never seen a couple suffer like they have suffered for the gospel.
That’s really moving, Pastor, particularly in light of all you have been teaching us this past two years since you came back. Can you share with us what Dr Cho did after you came out?
In my nearly 20 years with him, his unconditional love for me was the thing that impacted me the most. When I was released in 2019, to many people, I was “radioactive”. Some of the sentiments out there were: “Let’s wait and see if his own church still wants him”, “Let’s wait and see if he’s still got the fire”, “Let’s not get too close to him.”
On the day I was released, he sent me a short video. By then, Dr Cho had advanced Parkinson’s Disease and he couldn’t talk clearly. So he used a whiteboard and wrote, “Please come home to Korea.” I was so touched. So three weeks later, I flew to Seoul to see him. I just wanted to have a fellowship meal with him. But instead, he said, “You’re not just going to have dinner, you’re going to preach this Sunday at my time slot in Yoido Full Gospel Church.” At this time, I had not even preached in CHC yet!
I was not prepared. I was very nervous—I had not been in front of so many people for many years. I had not held a microphone for a long time. I had not been on stage for years—except to release a short public statement that weekend I was released. Dr Cho encouraged me, “Kong Hee, you will be okay.” So I went to church, and he personally introduced me: “Here is my son, and he has come home. I want you all to really welcome him.” The applause from the packed congregation was thunderous. When I finished, he came up and he told the people, “Were you blessed by the grace of God today?” I had never seen him introduce a speaker or wrap up any service in the 40 years I followed his ministry. But he wrapped up the service that day and called the congregation to pray for me. Who would do that for someone who just got out?
What was it like, the final time you were with Dr Cho?
Between August and November 2019, Sun and I went to Korea three times. November was the last time I saw Dr Cho and Mrs Cho, and Dr Paul Kim (the executive director of CGI) was also there. We were all together having dinner, then we sang hymns in their home. In February 2020, we had planned to be with Dr Cho on his birthday—Feb 14—but COVID-19 happened. Mrs Cho then had a fall, leading to an edema, requiring an emergency operation. Then she had a stroke. In the midst of her stroke, Dr Cho also had a stroke and he lost his ability to speak. Dr Paul Kim died in October 2020, Mrs Cho died in February this year, and now, Dr Cho. I have lost three of my closest friends in the span of a year. It is heartbreaking.
Dr Cho was so different pre- and post-Parkinson’s in terms of his ability to speak and articulate. It was difficult for him to string a sentence together, to continue preaching the way he did. Every time he preached, it was excruciatingly difficult but he would power through every sermon because of his love for God and his congregation. Here again, he was a contradiction. He said, “I believe in healing for my Parkinson’s, but at the same time my Parkinson’s also helped me to depend more on God.” He said, “On the one hand I want to be healed. On the other hand, it’s the Parkinson’s that helps me to lean on Jesus every moment.” I love Dr Cho so much. I miss him. But I know that he and Mrs Cho are now having such a wonderful time with Jesus in heaven.
THE LIFE OF DR YONGGI CHO
“As air is the breath of life, so prayer is the breath of faith.” ~ Rev Dr Yonggi Cho (1936-2021)
Rev Dr Yonggi Cho, founder and senior pastor emeritus of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea, died on the morning of Sep 14, 2021, at the age of 85. He had been in hospital for treatment since suffering a stroke last year.
Dr Cho was a dear friend to City Harvest Church, and a beloved spiritual father to CHC’s senior pastor Kong Hee and his wife Sun. They became acquainted many years prior, and Dr Cho first came to CHC as the keynote speaker at Asia Conference 2010.
CHC enjoyed a close relationship with Dr Cho and his wife Dr Kim Sunghae, who passed away earlier this year in February. Their visits to CHC were always highly anticipated, and time after time, Dr Cho would bring a powerful word in season to the church. After each sermon, the church would be revived in its hunger for relentless prayer, or fired up to hold on to their faith—even if it is one percent of faith, as Dr Cho famously taught.
Dr Cho never failed to encourage CHC, in good times and in bad. This was felt most acutely during the past decade when the church went through trial and testing. When he could not be physically present, he was sure to send a recorded video, through which he would speak life into the church.
Despite his reputation as the “Pastor of the world’s largest church” and the leader of the global network, Church Growth International, Dr Cho was a gentle, genuine, humble man who lived his whole life by the Holy Spirit.
Born in Ulju in rural Korea on Feb 14, 1936, Dr Cho, the oldest of five children, grew up in Busan, where the family moved to following the Korean War.
He struggled with ill health as a teenager and contracted tuberculosis when he was 17. Given four months to live, Dr Cho heard the gospel message, and came to believe in Jesus. He was completely healed—doctors found no trace of infection in his lungs. Since then, Dr Cho committed his whole life to God and to ministering hope to the world.
In 1956, he entered a Full Gospel college in Seoul to study theology. It was there that he met Pastor Choi Ja-shil, a fellow Assemblies of God pastor. In 1958, they started holding services in Pastor Choi’s home, with just two people in attendance. Undeterred, they reached out to the community, helped the poor, prayed for the sick and persisted in preaching. Soon, their service saw 50 in attendance, and they started holding services in a tent in Pastor Choi’s backyard. By 1961, they had a congregation of 1,000, which led to them setting up their first church building in Seodaemun, the Full Gospel Revival Center. In 1965, Dr Cho married the daughter of Pastor Choi, Kim Sunghae.
The congregation continued to grow, until it reached 10,000 in the 1970s. While looking for a new place to build their next church building, Dr Cho was led to Yeouido, then a deserted island set in the Han River. By faith, they bought the land, which at the time did not even have a bridge connecting it to the city. The new building was dedicated in 1973, and in the years to come, saw the congregation grow to nearly a million. Today, Yoido is Seoul’s banking and finance district, and Yoido Full Gospel Church is located across from the National Assembly of South Korea.
In 1976, Dr Cho founded Church Growth International to teach the principles of evangelism and church growth to pastors worldwide. He travelled widely to preach and teach, bringing faith-building messages as well as practical lessons on cell group ministry and church growth.
In 2008, Dr Cho retired, and Rev Dr Lee Young Hoon became the senior pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church.
Dr Cho is deeply missed by all at CHC.
* Harvest Time was a 30-minute show on Daystar Television