Eugénie Baccot

Documentary Photographer

The Stupor and Splendor of a Mega-Church

With one-million faithful, a church that seats up to 26,000 people, a television station, a daily newspaper, a training facility, a nursing home, a hospital: American and Brazilian Mega-churches have nothing over Korean Evangelical Yoido Full Gospel Church. It is the largest in the world. It has star-status in Korea which is now home to more Christians than Buddhists. Yoido contributes to the strength of Korea, a country that sends more missionaries throughout the world than does the United States. Behind this empire is the true "success story" of David Cho Younggi, the pastor who founded it in 1958 upon the smoldering rubble of the Korean War (1950-1953). Alongside the recovery of the nation, Yoido extended its impressive influence, fueled by the iconic personality of its pastor. Whether in India or the Philippines, at each trip he appears in front of nearly a million evangelists. The key to this rapid expansion? The organization of the church into "cell groups", small collectives organized upon their common laity. A model in the field, it has been replicated numerously by other evangelical churches. The influence of Yoido therefore is not limited to Korea as the Pasteur has been welcomed in 72 countries (from Africa to Fiji). The church too has sent 700 missionaries to 63 countries. But at 72 years of age, at the peak of his fame, Dr. Cho had to pass his bright torch. In 2008, Dr. Lee Young Hoo receives from the grip of Cho the "torch of the Holy Spirit." Since then, the charismatic pastor has fallen rapidly from favor. Last November, the Council of Elders of Yoido met in a "prayer meeting for the correction of the Church" and denounced the Pastor's embezzling: of up to $500 million for himself and his family. The pastors system became the headlines of all Korean press. A forceful blow which has shaken the most powerful church in the world? Observers are skeptical and are anticipating on a bright future for this impressive institution. This is a reportage at the heart of Yoido's evangelical empire.

(trans. of text by) Ariane Puccini // freelance journalist //