When I was growing up, my dad traveled a lot with his job. Sometimes, we couldn’t go, and he would be gone from six months to a year, and then he would come back with lots of gifts and stories. He went to the Orient twice. He was great with jokes, and after coming back from the Orient once, he said, “I went to visit the old wise monk who had me contemplating my belly button.” There is a long tradition of wisdom in the Orient, and people from the west seem to be awed by it. We have a tendency to add these guys to our movies and TV shows. Remember “The Karate Kid”? His next door neighbor was one of the old, wise Japanese guys, “Wax on, wax off!” Did you see the TV series “Once Upon a Time?” At one point, they spent a lot of time in China town talking to an old Chinese man in a mysterious Chinese shop. How about Dr. Strange? He was sick, and there was no cure, so he went to the Orient and not only got a cure, but it opened up a world to him that was unearthly that no one else even knew existed. These old wise Oriental men know how to change people’s lives. I know someone who is considered like that by those around him here in Korea. My daughter and son in law both have studied with him, and they are both in awe of his knowledge and wisdom. My son in law recommend I interview him for my blog so you guys can learn about him too. The Koreans know about him. He has been mentioned in several of their books. The ironic thing is his name is “Om.”
You must realize that we are talking about Korea, not China, Japan, Thailand, or some other Oriental country. The old wise man is uniquely Korean with the ancient wisdom of the Koreans and he follows Korean culture. Which means that he doesn’t dress in the ancient robes, but he dresses in suits and ties everyday, and he cares very much about his appearance because he is Korean, and that is what Koreans do. He is old, but he accomplished not looking old like many Koreans do. He has worn the old traditional master’s hat, but he doesn’t wear it everyday. His family was sent from a Chinese emperor many, many generations ago to teach the Chinese symbols in the Korean royal court. He has carried on the tradition of his family, and he is still teaching those Chinese symbols. When they were sent from China, the family name was “Jang,” however, they were forced by law to change their family name. There is a law in Korea that you can’t have the same name as the King, and a King by the name of Jang came to power, so the family had to change its name. The are related to a famous philosopher in China named Jang Ja.
He grew up in a hanoak, a traditional Korean house, in Busan, S. Korea. His family was Buddhist. However, when he was in high school, in 1972, he was doing what he has done his whole life, reading everything he can get his hands on. He found a Bible and read it. He knew it was right and became a Christian. He believed by June of that year, and was baptized on October 1, 1972. The people were so happy with his understanding that they put him in a Bible teacher right away. Because of his family, he had learned something that many modern Koreans don’t know. You see, the Chinese characters are no longer used in Korea, but he had been taught to use the Chinese characters almost from birth. When you read a passage with Chinese characters in it, it has a larger meaning than just reading words. The Chinese characters have a meaning beyond the words, and he could read those Chinese characters. He had a deeper understanding of the everything he read than most people, including the Bible, because he understood those Chinese characters. He was the first Christian in his family, but now, many of them are Christians because he led them and taught them.
He went on to two different universities where he studied Oriental Philosophy, Korean Philosophy, Buddhist Philosophy, Chinese Philosophy, Theology, Western Philosophy, and Confucian Philosophy. He became a professor and a preacher. Even though many Korean authors like to mention him in their books, he has only actually written one book. When I asked him what his book is about, he said it is a discussion of many things: of history, of language, of religion, and of philosophy. He is well known for his “Hanmoon” classes. “Hanmoon” is the version of the Chinese characters that the Koreans use.
You see, when I was in Japan, I learned that they had literature that was so old that no one could understand it. The old Kanji (the Chinese characters they use in Japan) were used. Modern Japanese can’t understand those books. It is the same in Korea. They have old books that modern Koreans can’t understand. They would love to learn from the wise teachings of their predecessors, but they can’t read the old “Hanmoon” (the Chinese characters the Korean used to use). However, Mr. Om can understand these old Hanmoon characters so well that he teaches them at a university. He has read these old books that the others can’t read.
In fact, when I asked him if he had wisdom for us, he said, “Read, read, read, and read some more.” He said, “When you read the Bible, read it with the knowledge of Hanmoon.” I asked him if he had studied Greek and Hebrew since that is what the Theology students in the west do if they want to understand the Bible better. He said he had, but it never helped him as much as the Hanmoon.
When he tells everyone to read, he is doing what he recommends. He told me he gets up at 2:00 every morning. The first thing he does is reads three chapters of the Old Testament, and then three chapters from the New Testament, and prays for about an hour. After that, he reads one book a day about many, many topics. He knows what is going on in the world, and he knows what the ancients thought too. He doesn’t have time for TV, but he does listen to all kinds of music, and he really enjoys the classical music from Europe. He mentioned Mozart and Bach.
He teaches 6 hours a day, five days a week, which is 10 classes, at Seong Kyun Kwan University in Seoul, S. Korea. He teaches Hanmoon to masters and doctorate candidates. He has about 24 students in each class. These students are not majoring in Hanmoon, but they are majoring in things like Theology and Philosophy, and they need to learn to read the ancient books, and he is teaching them how to read the ancient books.
My daughter took one of his classes, and her understanding of Hanmoon shot her understanding of Korean up off the charts! Foreigners just don’t learn to do with Korean what my daughter has learned to do.
Professor Om decided to give me a history of the church of Christ in Korea because he is a member of the church of Christ. He said it began in North Korea. The preacher was Dong Sok Gee who was born in 1890. He said the next church of Christ began in Seoul. The preacher then was Lee Kong Shik, born in 1910. After that, the next church of Christ began in Busan. The preacher who began that church was Kim Kwan Pyeong, born in 1920. After that, Om Sam Seop who was born in 1956, came from the church in Busan to Seoul and helped to begin the church of Christ in Hychang dong in Seoul, S. Korea. The Mr. Om I am talking about is the very Om Sam Seop who was the first Korean preacher at the Hyochang Park church of Christ where the American missionaries came. He says he has helped to begin other churches too and preached at several others. He gave me a list of nine churches where he has been the preacher.
His handwriting is really hard for me to read, or I would list some of the churches. He and Professor Shin Bae Park, the head of the Theology Department and a former President of Korea Christian University are sharing a pulpit right now. Professor Om Sam Seop also teaches Bible classes at that church where Shin Bae Park, the head of the Theology Department and other Theology professors come to be taught by Professor Om. Professor Om Sam Seop also said to me that Professor Shin Bae Park teaches Greek classes for them, and recommended I come and study there. However, it is clear across Seoul from where I live, and I already attend two different churches and teach a Bible class. Physically, I just couldn’t do it. The important thing about Professor Om Sam Seop is that in Korea, he is considered the professor of professors. His Hanmoon and his excessive reading has set him apart. They all look to him for knowledge and wisdom, and because he has been able to access all the ancient texts the others can’t, he can give them what they want to know. He is trying to teach others how to do what he can do. He really sees a lot of value in reading, reading, reading, and reading some more. He really sees a lot of value in reading the Bible with the knowledge of Hanmoon. He has access to ancient knowledge and wisdom that very few have access to. This is what an old, wise Korean man looks like. He doesn’t “contemplate his belly button.” He contemplates the wisdom and knowledge that very few have access to, and he is trying to share it with others. Does it surprise you that the old wise man in Korea is a Christian?