Colonel Harold Voelkel speaking to North Korean prisoners

In June of 1950, the North Korean army crossed the 38th Parallel and massively invaded South Korea. A week later Harold Voelkel, who was a missionary to South Korea and, upon the invasion relocated with his family to Japan, received an invitation from the U.S. Army to come back to Korea to be a military chaplain among South Korean troops that had been integrated into under-strength American military divisions.

Within months, General Douglas MacArthur cut the North Korean army in half with his swift Inchun Landing, and the United Nations forces captured 150,000 North Korean prisoners-of-war (POWs). They were taken to Koje Island off the southern coast of the peninsula and divided into 10 camps of 15,000 men each.

Though trained in theology at Princeton Seminary, Harold Voelkel’s passion was evangelism. When he heard that 150,000 Koreans were cooped up in POW camps he recognized an unparalleled evangelistic opportunity. Requesting a transfer, he immersed himself in reaching out to these men, a task for which he was superbly gifted. They were amazed to hear an American in a military uniform speaking the idiomatic Korean he had learned through 20 years of preaching in country villages and teaching in Bible schools.

More and more meetings followed, very soon attended by up to 10,000 men. The words of hymns and Gospel songs were written with large letters on sheets of newsprint and then held up by men strategically placed in the crowd. One of the favorites was “Jesus Loves Me.”

Harold gave frequent invitations to receive Christ, and more and more men responded. To his surprise, he discovered that some of them were already Christians, forced into the North Korean Army, others innocent passersby, swept into the ranks of the POWs. There were even some church officers: 9 Elders, 18 Evangelists, 35 seminary students, and even a seasoned Pastor!

These leaders, along with some local pastors he was able to invite into the prison camps, began to help him with follow-up counseling sessions for the new believers. They prepared new Christians for baptism, requiring a careful written examination to insure full understanding of the important step they were taking. He calculated that some 15,000 men found Christ during less than three years they were prisoners.

When the Christians among the prisoners heard talk of possible repatriation to North Korea at the end of the war, they began to draw up petitions written in their own blood that they would rather die than return there to live under Communism. Ultimately, the United Nations allowed each prisoner to decide for himself whether he would or would not return to North Korea. Over 60,000 stayed in South Korea and helped form one of the strongest and largest evangelical Christian churches in the world.* Maranatha!

*Jack Voelkel, “Behind Barbed Wire In Korea” (Edited).

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong, they are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me, The Bible tells me so.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.