From Soju to New Wine: A Skeptical Brit Uncovers a Different Jesus in Korea

Tom and Jesus-5
Part 1 of Religion in Korea

I had never been challenged in this way by the church in England, where things are more about experiencing tradition as opposed to experiencing relationships.

Essay By Tom White

On January 2011, I touched down in Busan and was swiftly ushered through customs, tossed into the back of a van, and driven across the Geoga Bridge to Geoje Island. Like any good job in Korea, I was thrown straight into the mix at school off the back of a twenty-odd hour flight.

Nine hours later, I was staring into the bottom of my first shot of soju. The Korean party had started! After a night of constantly falling in and out of sleep in my dive of a motel room, I was back at school the next day ready to do it all over again.

My school issued me a desk between two Americans. On my left was a guy, Jonas, a certified math teacher and Christian author. On my right was Tara, an ex Peace Corps member, who had lost her Christian identity after three straight years of partying.

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The first few months passed and were a bit of a blur. Geoje is a beautiful island, but it has a dark side. It is home to Samsung Heavy Industries, which employs hundreds of wealthy westerners on short and medium term contracts. Most of its employees are middle-aged men who were away from their families for months at a time.

Driven by boredom and their penises, there was an ever-growing demand for Filipino hookers and the island is full of them, all trafficked here illegally on “singing” or entertainment visas to satisfy Samsung’s dishonorable personnel. I lost count of the number of times I walked down the street and saw a fifty-something year old guy arm-in-arm with a girl in her twenties. There was always awkward tension as we crossed paths, with no one really wanting to make eye contact.

I had enough of rubbing shoulders with these perverts, and in a sense I was approving their wrongdoing by downing Jäger Bombs that they had bought for me. I began to question what made their behavior wrong. I mean, it’s obvious that it was wrong, but who sets the rules?

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I woke up on Easter Sunday hung-over as usual, but obliged to go to church since Jonas was preaching that day. Tara knocked on my door and woke me up and we headed out, neither of us too enthused.  But, what the hell, I was pretty used to going to church with my parents on the “big” occasions.

Neither of us were particularly blown away by the message, but a fire had definitely been stoked a little in Tara’s heart and I was curious to know more. She was able to provide clear, concise reasons why she had been a Christian growing up; something I had never encountered in England where the average age of a churchgoer is about sixty-five and the guy at the front wears a dress.

I decided to pick up a Bible and give the book of Matthew a read, my main focus being on getting to know who Jesus was. I coupled this with watching some online sermons that Tara hooked me up with and started to attend Jonas’ church more regularly. I wasn’t necessarily looking to believe in anything, but I began to realize that discovering if Jesus was telling the truth or not is of the utmost importance to anyone.

I had never been challenged in this way by the church in England, where things are more about experiencing tradition as opposed to experiencing relationships. For the first time, I came to the conclusion that rationality is just one finger of a whole hand (along with things like logic, morality, spirituality etc) of explanations that this world gives for our existence. I was intrigued enough to dig a little deeper. As I continued to be challenged by the Word, I started to notice that the promises offered by God were coming true in my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was to become a Christian and devote my life to Christ shortly after.

Fast-forward to March 2012 and I got a job in Seoul. This time, instead of being presented with a shot of soju on arrival, the woman I was replacing asked me, “Are you a Christian?” Her name was Tanya. She was an Aussie and came across as very outspoken so I did not intend on following her up on the invitation she extended to go to her church.

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Two days later, it was Sunday and I decided to go and look for a church in Gangnam that I had read about online. Trying to make it in time for their 12 o’clock service, I bundled through the doors around 12:05 and was seated to the right side of the stage. As the music played and people sang, my eyes scoured the room searching for any potential friends. Finally, they landed upon a familiar face… Tanya! “What on earth was she doing here?” I thought. It was then that I realized I had gone into the wrong church (or had I?).

The message that day was called “Rejoice In Repentance,” and was preached by New Harvest Ministry’s (NHM) lead pastor, Doug. It was very timely for me as I was coming into a period in my Christian walk where I was becoming more aware of sin in my life, but not really sure how to combat it. Doug was to become a great friend and mentor to me (as did Tanya), with one of the main aims of the church to follow The Great Commission and “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

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Like a lot of churches in Korea, NHM is extremely passionate about investing into its members’ lives. Of course, you can just show up on a Sunday and that’s it, but there is also the opportunity to meet like-minded, open, honest people of all ages that are willing to share in the joys and struggles of living abroad. It was my first chance to really be able to experience Christian community and hear other believers’ points of view.

NHM also provides a nine-month Discipleship Training program, which assists Christians in reading through the entire Bible and teaches on church leadership principles. My application was accepted and it was through that program that I was able to discover that the God described in the Bible is still very much the same God today. In our church, we have been fortunate enough to encounter prophecy (prediction of the future), answered prayer, overnight healing of incurable diseases, among many other “unexplainable” things.

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Recently, I hosted a fundraising event to raise awareness on sex trafficking. God was using my experience on Geoje Island as a way to stoke my own fire and bring positivity and enlightenment to dark areas. I continue to feel a strong conviction to tell as many people as possible about the modern day slavery that occurs in most of the sex industry, in the hope that one-day, we, as a people, are able to end it.

By God’s grace I was able to meet him despite rocking up to church hung-over every week, but I don’t think that same grace would have been afforded to me had I continued down that path. The turning point came when Jesus went from just a revolutionary historic figure in my mind, to the love of my life. I would encourage anyone to ask themselves question, “Who was Jesus?”

Christianity in Korea has completely changed my outlook on life. No longer do I just “live for the weekend”, but I live for Jesus. Every day I want to become more like him. Sometimes it feels like an uphill trudge as opposed to a downhill glide, but I have peace in the knowledge that I know I am heading in the right direction. In a country full of sex, soju and surgery (not to mention nuclear threats), I have never slept easier.  And that girl I mentioned before, Tara… she is also now living for the Lord and we are going to be married on August 8th.  God is good!

For more information or advice on churches in Seoul, feel free to get in touch with Tom at

Click here for more information on New Harvest Ministries.

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For more personal stories of faith in Korea, please click here.


22 Comments Add yours

  1. Congrats on finding the love of your life…Jesus. And your fiancee. Have we met? Possibly. I try to do activism work in Seoul against human trafficking. You might know Victor and Stephanie. Be good to meet up if you like. ^^


    1. BMBEWE says:

      God bless you man!You know at times we ask ourselves why God sends us to some unthinkable places on the planet and we are often short of answers, but he has it all figured out and well planned for us, for he says, his plans are for our prosperity and not distruction.


    2. YT says:

      Thanks for your kind words. Yes, I know Victor. Not sure if we have met or not, but you can catch me any Sunday at the 12pm service @NHM 🙂


  2. Darth Furious says:

    When exactly were you “skeptical”? In reading this, I see no skepticism at all – just a guy who was raised in a church finding a cooler church to attend. An actual skeptic would feel the need to investigate claims like “overnight healing of incurable diseases” a good bit more assiduously.


  3. bigeeee says:

    I would really like to know more on how to help fight and bring awareness to the trafficing going on here. I recently met a juicy girl in near where i am. I have been seeing her (at her club) since February. there was no prostitution going on at her club, and she was incredibly proud of that fact. Sadly her life was really one of slavery. Never able to go outside without the watchful eyes of others or the boss. Never allowed to talk to who she wants. The litany of freedoms taken from her was insane. Locked in an apartment with all he other girls from the club etc. Recently the club was shut down. All the girls were transferred. She wanted to go back to the Philippines but she was transferred i was told. They took her phone from her. As i sit here, i dont know where she is, if she is ok or anything. Its frightening. I communicated with some of the other girls from her club. They think they would never be transferred to a bad place (meaning prostitution) but i dont understand why that are so sure about that.
    As much as i love korea, this aspect of it, and korea (and the westerners) refusal to really look at it and fight the evil it is, has really bothered me. This year especially.
    I would really like to know how to fight this stuff and to raise awareness of it all.


    1. YT says:

      Thanks for your response. A good place to start would be by attending one of the Hope Be Restored meetings at Onnuri Church near Seobinggo (Jungang Line). There you will find lots of people passionate about tackling this issue. You can check them out and find out about upcoming meetings @ They also update on various other events going on in Seoul to help end it. Good luck and hope to see you there sometime.


  4. Sceptical Brit says:

    Come on, Sceptical Brit? That’s a bit rich. I’m sure he’s a nice and well meaning guy but his story is one of incredible credulity.


    1. Very few people convert to a religion after they are twenty – even fewer Europeans make that claim. Perhaps his story seems credulous because it is written after the fact.


      1. Sceptical Brit says:

        I think maybe you misunderstand me. I’m not saying his story is lacking credibility. I fully believe that he got into Jesus the way he says he did. What I mean is that he himself is credulous, that is to say; he exhibits an overeagerness to believe as it seems to me that at no point does he question anything that he is experiencing.

        The icing on the cake though was this comment:

        ‘In our church, we have been fortunate enough to encounter prophecy (prediction of the future), answered prayer, overnight healing of incurable diseases, among many other “unexplainable” things.’

        Does this not warrant the least bit of sceptical enquiry? I wonder if he would even know where to start.


        1. Yeah, I understood what you are saying.

          You pointing out that comment actually reinforces my point. Once you convert and accept that God created the universe, Jesus died and rose from the dead, and that the bible is infallible, those other things aren’t too hard to believe in. From the outside looking in, I think a huge flag would go up cause that stuff sounds crazy. However, speaking from experience, those things make a lot more sense after a person is saved.

          The skeptism comes before conversion. Once someone converts and experiences God it kind of changes the rules. I’m not saying logic is ot the window, but the existence of a loving God would change how someone perceives the world.

          So, I think the lack of skepticism you perceive isn’t because it wasn’t there, it just doesn’t seem like it was since he is writing in hinsight after his conversion experiences and undergoing an intense discipleship program at his church.


          1. Sceptical Brit says:

            I suppose I wouldn’t have commented had he not called himself ‘sceptical’ whilst omitting any mention of sceptical enquiry or questioning along what was for him an important journey. From the beginning to the end of his story he appears more than willing to believe, in fact it’s evident that he already did, so to read his description of himself as a ‘sceptical Brit’ was a bit riling.

            Either he really was sceptical, in which case the story isn’t an honest account of his journey, or he wasn’t sceptical and the title is misleading. Either way, the vibe is one of a slightly obsequious promotional piece, which of course it is.

            But, yes, I do see what you’re saying now. It looks like we both had crossed wires there. I’ve spoken to quite a few apologists about this and a common line of thinking is that ‘once you accept the supernatural then all things are possible.’

            The problem with this is the absence of any verifiable evidence and the contradictory nature of the world around us. While the resurrection is an article of faith and is improvable either way, things such as prophecy, curing incurable diseases and answered prayers *are* falsifiable and suffer from a dearth of verifiable evidence, which of course shouldn’t be the case if these occurrences were as commonplace as to happen seemingly everywhere, including this small church in Korea as the OP suggests.

            There’s a lot to be said about all of these claims and the arguments against them are not simply naturalistic and scientific but also philosophical. To believe that in one’s particular church people can see the future and cure incurable diseases is not scepticism. Indeed one can be a Christian, believe in the resurrection and still recognise that these things are most likely not really happening. The same goes for Biblical inerrancy which is a purely modern concept and also, frankly speaking, a retrograde force within Christianity.


            1. :). I could say a lot. This is not a piece trying to prove God or argue apologetics. I just asked people to share their religious experiences in Korea as others will relate. As far as your wealth of verifiable evidence, go put that to good use on an apologetics site.


              1. Sceptical Brit says:

                I said exactly the opposite. There isn’t a wealth of evidence, but that’s the OP’s problem, not mine.

                This article actually was posted on a Korea focused apologetics site. That’s how I came across it. Anyway, that’s me about done now. Good luck with your blog, no hard feelings. 🙂


                1. I am the op. It was put on an apologetics site? Why??? There are no arguments.

                  When I said wealth of information, I was referring to your claims on prophecy and healings as being falsifiable. It seems like you have information on those two things.


    2. YT says:

      Thanks for your comment. Hopefully in answering your question I will also hit on a few of the points made further down the page too.

      You are absolutely right to point out that the article doesn’t really convey my skepticism and thanks for pointing that out; it is something I will have to be more thorough about in the future. In saying that though, I wanted to keep the piece entertaining, fast-paced and in drawing upon every critique I had (some that I still have) I felt like it certainly would have slowed the article down somewhat. It also was not designed to be an apologetics piece.

      Just for your reference, I did take in evidence from a wide variety of sources and continue to do so though. In fact, next month a few other guys and I will go through a book that opposes Jesus. The discipleship course I took wasn’t just being spoon-fed Biblical knowledge, but was fourteen guys sat around really trying to dissect pieces of the Bible that we didn’t understand, or were somewhat questionable.

      Maybe I wasn’t clear but I didn’t grow up in a church. I just attended every now and again. I wasn’t seeking familiarity in Korea. If I had, then I would have just stuck with the booze and women. My point is, I didn’t go in search of Jesus, he just came to me. After assessing all the options on the table, I found Jesus to be most true. Apologies for not laying out those other options in more detail, but I’m happy with the piece and hopefully it goes some way in showing how I met Jesus.


      1. Let me add I told him to take some of that stuff out! It’s kind of my fault!


  5. bigeeee says:

    That and skepticism isnt the point of this article, so why are you focusing on it?


  6. Karen J. Cravy says:

    Loved this! Very close to how Jesus came after me too! I was just looking for info about South Korea. Instead, you fired up my faith! Thanks and God bless you!


  7. Ulick Magee says:

    that bird looks creepy – obviously, our friend Tom here has been ‘invited’ into a freaking cult~ judgmental piece of shit!


  8. Korea was good to me too. I got baptized there, while teaching in Wonju, in Gangwon province, in August of 2011, and did a lot of growing up as a Christian in my year and a half there. Thank you for this post, it brought back a good deal of memories.


    1. Thanks. I wish we had more entries on this subject. I wanted to give expats in Korea who practice religion a positive voice.


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