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Raising the Banner in Korea:
An Early Bahá'í History

by Barbara R. Sims

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Chapter 3

3.       Letters from the Guardian in the Early 1950s

      Among the first servicemen who went to Korea during what has been called the "Korean Conflict," from 1950 to 1953 when an armistice was signed, were Lt. Col. John McHenry, Lt. Jacob Davenport and Lt. Donald Witzel, who was there from April 1951 to June 1952. It was through Lt. Witzel's efforts that the first Korean formally enrolled in the Faith, in


1951. His name was Mr. Choi Woo Yong. He worked in Lt. Witzel's office as an interpreter as he could speak several languages.

      In those early years the pioneers sent letters and reports sometimes directly to the Guardian and also to Miss Agnes Alexander, who had been appointed Auxiliary Board Member in 1954 by the Hands of the Cause in Asia. Korea was a part of her jurisdiction. The pioneers also sent reports to the Asia Teaching Committee of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States. Below, parts of letters are quoted which were written by, or on behalf of, the Guardian in answer to letters addressed to him concerning Korea. This correspondence documents the heroic efforts of the small band of devoted and dedicated American servicemen and pioneers.

      When Shoghi Effendi was informed of the enrollment of Mr. Choi a letter was written on his behalf to Lt. Witzel, as follows:

      Dear Bahá'í BrotherNovember 8, 1951

      Your letter of September 5th took some time to reach our beloved Guardian, but brought him real joy. (The enclosures were also received).

      He was deeply moved to hear of the young man who has, through your example and kindness, embraced the Cause of God, and he feels this is an event of real spiritual importance for that miserable and war-torn land.

      Please convey to this new Bahá'í brother the loving greetings of the Guardian, and assure him that he is praying for him, and for his family, wherever they may be, in this world, and in the next.

      To be the first native believer is a great distinction and privilege. He hopes that Mr. Yong [Choi Woo Yong] will cling fast to the Faith he has found, at such a bitter moment in his life, and he will carry its light to other receptive, disillusioned and suffering souls.

      May Bahá'u'lláh bless you for your steadfastness and for your devoted services to His Cause.

      With warmest Bahá'í love,

      R. Rabbani

      [In the Guardian's handwriting]

      Assuring you of my loving and fervent prayers for your protection and for the success of every effort you exert for the promotion of our beloved Faith.

      Your true brother, Shoghi

      In 1952 the second Korean declared his belief in Bahá'u'lláh, Mr. Kyung Koo Hyun, a young man of 18, who, according to Lt. Witzel, read incessantly. Mr. Kyung wrote to the Guardian and received the following answer which was the first -- and only, as far as is known -- letter written directly to a Korean believer:

      Mr. Kyung Koo Hyun,August 5, 1952

      It is with great joy that our beloved Guardian received your letter of


May 28, which he has instructed me to answer on his behalf.

      It is strange and wonderful to think that out of the bitter misery of the Korean war, the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh should have been brought to that distant land by Bahá'í soldiers. It shows us that the Plan of God for this day goes forward in spite of the blindness and hatred afflicting the human race today.

      The Guardian is planning as part of our world-wide Bahá'í Crusade, to start during the next year, to have some of our writings translated into Korean. This will enable the Korean Bahá'ís like yourself and our dear brother Mr. Choi, to teach this glorious Faith to your fellow countrymen with greater ease.

      You must never lose heart; the ordeal of humanity is not yet over for alas, men have not yet learned the Plan of God for them, and still cling to their selfishness, their blind nationalism, and prejudices. But they will through suffering and disillusionment, learn that the Plan of Bahá'u'lláh is their only hope, and gradually they will turn to it more and more.

      In the meantime you have the privilege and blessing of having seen and recognized the Truth, and you will be able to share it with many other hungry young people.

      You may be sure that the Guardian will remember you and surround you with his loving prayers.

      With warmest Bahá'í greetings,

      R. Rabbani

      [In the Guardian's handwriting]

      Assuring you of a most hearty welcome into the Bahá'í fold, of my loving and fervent prayers for your spiritual advancement, and for the success of every effort you exert for the progress of our beloved Faith in your native land.

      Your true brother, Shoghi

      In the same mail came a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to Lt. Witzel, as follows:

      The news your letter of May 28 conveyed brought great joy to the heart of the beloved Guardian and he has instructed me to answer you on his behalf, and I am also enclosing his reply to Mr. Hyun [Kyung Koo Hyun] which you will please deliver to him.

      Through the purity of your heart and your great dedication to the Faith God has enabled you to confirm two souls in the Cause there. This has brought great happiness to Shoghi Effendi, as it marks the beginning of our Bahá'í work in Korea -- the beginning of its successful spread.

      When the plans for the next ten years' intercine teaching work are formulated, Korea will be one of the objectives, and these two young Bahá'ís will find assistants in the form of pioneers and literature reaching


them. Meantime, you should do all you can to strengthen the roots of their faith, so that, if and when you are forced to leave them, they will be strong enough to go on alone, at least temporarily.

      [Signed by R. Rabbani, August 5, 1952]

      After Lt. Witzel's tour in Korea, he had a tour of Army duty in Japan, where he and his wife Mignon were successful in bringing several Tokyo residents into the Faith. In May 1953 Lt. Witzel and Lt. Col. John McHenry took a short trip to Korea (by U.S. government aircraft) and met Mr. Choi and Mr. Kyung and tried to get teaching started. In later years Mr. Witzel was appointed Counsellor for Central America, where he and his wife were pioneering.

      A letter written on behalf of the Guardian to the Witzels in Tokyo:

      He [the Guardian] was deeply touched by the two letters by the new believers of Korea, and the spirit of loving devotion which they portray. He wishes you to send them his loving greetings, and to assure them of his prayers in their behalf. He hopes they will be inspired to intensify their teaching efforts, so others may be quickened by the spirit of Bahá'u'lláh, and an Assembly be formed in Korea.

      He wishes you and the friends in Tokyo to keep in close touch with the friends in Korea. In fact, he wishes the Tokyo Assembly to undertake, as one of their direct responsibilities, the assistance of the work in Korea. This will keep the Center in Korea (and even enable it to develop into an Assembly) until such time as more American pioneers are sent to Korea.

      Under all circumstances, the foothold the Faith has in Korea, should be maintained, and developed. The Guardian has also written to the American NSA about the importance of this matter.

      [Signed by Leroy Ioas, May 25, 1953]

      Several other Americans who contributed greatly to the development of the Faith in Korea went there immediately after the Korean War. William Maxwell was stationed in Korea with the U.S. Army in May 1954. He was released from the Army the next year, 1955, and stayed in Korea teaching at a university in Kwangju, becoming the first resident pioneer in Korea, not counting those attached to the U.S. military. He was appointed Auxiliary Board Member in 1957. In 1959 he married an American pioneer to the Caroline Islands, Miss Mary Hill, and the two stayed in Korea until 1963 when they returned to the United States. Mr. Maxwell pioneered to several other countries, and was appointed to the Continental Board of Counsellors for Northwest Africa in 1967. He and wife pioneered again in Korea from December 1990 to March 1993.



Letters written on behalf of the Guardian to Mr. William Maxwell:

      He [the Guardian] was immensely pleased over the gathering of the American and Korean friends together; and he feels that this marks a new milestone in the progress of the Cause in that country...

      Please convey his warmest love and assurance of his prayers, to the Korean friends and to the other Bahá'ís there. There is a great future for the Faith in that area, not only spiritually, through the spread of the Bahá'í Teachings, but in the material world too, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá has foretold. Therefore, he urges the believers there to encourage the people, and bring them into the Faith, at the same time using discretion, so as not to cause any opposition at this stage.

      [Signed by R. Rabbani, December 4, 1954]

      It is very fitting that this contribution is made in behalf of the friends in Korea. The establishment of the Faith in that country, under such difficult conditions, is a distinct victory for the Faith. The Guardian feels that the spirit is right for the expansion of the Cause in that country; and he hopes you and all the friends will redouble your efforts, in order to bring about the establishment of at least one Spiritual Assembly by 1956. The suffering of the friends in Persia has released a dynamic spirit; and it is up to the friends in the free parts of the world to seize this opportunity to win new victories for the Faith. This will serve as a compensation for the suffering and for the apparent harm which has been done to us in Persia.

      The beloved Guardian assures each and every one of the friends in Korea of his appreciation of their devoted services. He is praying for them; for their spiritual development; and for great success in their teaching work. He sends each of you his loving greetings.

      [Signed by Leroy Ioas, July 2, 1955]

      The Guardian feels your decision to pioneer in Korea is very highly commendable, and for the moment would seem more meritorious than making the pilgrimage. He therefore fully approves of your decision, and greatly values the spirit of sacrifice and devotion which it shows. He feels sure you will be guided and confirmed in your work in Korea... The Guardian has received very glowing reports of the wonderful accomplishments of the Conference in Japan [the Asian Teaching Conference at Nikko, Japan]. He feels that this Conference marked a new point of development of the Faith in Japan, as well as the entire general area. The spirit of confirmation is reaching all those who arise to serve the Faith; and he is sure divine blessings will come upon every one who attended the Conference and took part in its deliberations, and who will now go forth to win victories for the Faith.

      [Signed by Leroy Ioas, October 19, 1955]


      The Guardian was happy to learn that you are still in Korea and that you are able to continue in the teaching work of that important country. He knows that wherever you are you will carry forward the pressing requirements of the Faith with vigor and enthusiasm but he feels that Korea and even Japan particularly need the help of yourself and other American pioneers at this time.

      [Signed by Leroy Ioas, August 18, 1957]

      Mr. William Smits arrived in Korea for a tour of Army duty in June 1954. His tour having finished, he left Korea in the summer of 1955 to return to the United States. In early 1956 he went again to Korea as a pioneer until 1965.

      A letter written on behalf of the Guardian to Mr. William Smits and Mr. William Maxwell follows:

      He [the Guardian] was overjoyed to receive the wonderful news you conveyed of the progress being made in Korea, of the activity of the dear Korean believers, and the fact that new souls are being interested.

      He was particularly glad to receive the pamphlets printed in Korean, an achievement of which he is truly proud.

      Please express on his behalf to the Korean friends who assisted in this work his deep appreciation of this historic service they have rendered the Faith, and tell them that he is praying for them in the holy Shrines, and that, through them and with your help, their fellow-countrymen may come to hear of the Faith, and receptive souls be found who will arise to serve it.

      [Signed by R. Rabbani, March 12, 1955]

      Mr. John McHenry III, son of the aforementioned Lt. Col. John McHenry, arrived in Korea in July 1957 after he was released from the U.S. Army in Japan. He had written to the Guardian for guidance and the Guardian directed him to Korea. He was appointed to the Auxiliary Board for Protection in April 1963 by Hand of the Cause Miss Alexander. In 1964 he and Miss Pak Ok Soon were married. She was a member of the first Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Taegu, 1963. Mr. and Mrs. McHenry III left Korea in 1966 and returned in 1969 at which time he was appointed the first Counsellor in Korea. In 1974 they left permanently.

      A letter written on behalf of the Guardian to Mr. John McHenry III follows:

      He [the Guardian] is very happy you can arrange your affairs so as to return to Korea, and you may be sure that he will ardently pray in the holy Shrines that the way may open for you to find work and be able to settle there.


      The phenomenal progress the Cause has made in that area is practically exclusively due to the services of young American Bahá'ís who are in the Armed Forces. Indeed, it is a great victory won by Bahá'í youth.

      [Signed by R. Rabbani, March 18, 1957]

      Miss Lecile Webster did a tour of duty at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul and was very active in teaching. She was there by mid-January 1956 and left in the spring of 1957. She was elected to the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Seoul in 1956.

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