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[Newsmaker] Founder of Yoido Full Gospel Church Rev. Cho Yong-gi dies at 85

Late Rev. Cho Yong-gi (Yoido Full Gospel Church)
Late Rev. Cho Yong-gi (Yoido Full Gospel Church)
Pastor Cho Yong-gi, the founder of Yoido Full Gospel Church, died at the age of 85 at Seoul National University Hospital on Tuesday.

He had been hospitalized since July 2020 after suffering a brain hemorrhage.

The pastor emeritus of Yoido Full Gospel Church is known for establishing and developing Yoido Full Gospel Church as the world‘s largest church.

Cho started a church in Bulgwang-dong, western Seoul, on May 18, 1958, with the late Rev. Choi Ja-sil, who died on Nov. 9, 1989.

Through the evangelic efforts of Cho, the Yoido Full Gospel Church grew dramatically, exceeding 700,000 church members in 1993 and becoming the world’s largest church according to the Guinness Book of Records.

Cho was born on Feb. 14, 1936, in Ulsan, South Gyeongsang Province. When the Korean War (1950-53) broke out, his family moved to the southern port city of Busan.

When attending Busan Technical High School, Cho started showing talent in speaking English. Using this talent, Cho had the chance to interpret for Kenneth Tice, a missionary of the Assemblies of God, an American Pentecostal denomination, when he was in his second year of high school. Cho was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis that same year, and while helping Tice, Cho‘s Christian faith became stronger. After graduating high school, Cho enrolled at Full Gospel College in Seoul in 1956, according to Yoido Full Gospel Church.

He met Choi while studying and the two co-founded the church after Cho graduated from the seminary in 1958.

Cho married Choi’s daughter, pianist Kim Sung-hye, in 1965. Kim, who became president of evangelical Christian school Hansei University in 2001, died in February this year.

As the tent church grew, Cho established Seodaemun Church in Seodaemun District, western Seoul, in 1962. In 1973, the church moved to Yoido, becoming the current Yoido Full Gospel Church.

According to the church, it grew even more exponentially following the relocation, with its congregation exceeding 100,000 in 1979 and 200,000 in 1981.

Cho served as the President of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship from 1992 to 2008, and devoted himself to missions in developing countries.

Cho also contributed to evangelism in Korea through diverse channels. In 1988, he founded Kookmin Ilbo, a Christian daily newspaper. He also established Good People, a non-governmental organization, to promote human rights, environmental health and child welfare in Korea and abroad the following year.

As an author, Cho wrote several books, including “I Pray Like This” and “The Spiritual World of the Four Dimensions.”

Cho appointed Lee Young-hoon as his successor and stepped down from all positions at Yoido Full Gospel Church in 2008. However, he and his family later faced criticism for maintaining their grip on the church, controlling the budget and management of the church as well as dozens of its affiliates.

In 2013, he was accused of malfeasance, along with his son Cho Hee-joon, involving some 13 billion won ($12 million) from the church. In 2017, the top court upheld the charge that Cho instructed church officials to buy unlisted stocks of his son‘s company at prices more than two times the market value.

Cho was also accused of embezzling some 80 billion won from the church but prosecutors dropped the charges in 2016.

Cho’s funeral will be held at 8 a.m. on Saturday at Yoido Full Gospel Church. Rev. Kim Jang-hwan, chairman of the missionary radio station Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC) Korea, will preside over the funeral, according to the church.

By Song Seung-hyun (