By Wallace Mawire
On Sunday, 20 November 2022 the largest number of students ever to complete the theological course presented by Shincheonji Church of Jesus graduated at a special large-scale ceremony at the Daegu Stadium in South Korea.
According to Tan Young Jin, the head of the Zion Christian Mission Centre, the Bible education institute of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, this is the largest number of graduates from a single Christian educational facility, making it the world’s largest theological institute.
A total of 106,186 students from more than 82 countries have graduated on Sunday. Students from 23 African countries graduated with 1,445 from South Africa, 169 from Namibia, and 37 from Zimbabwe.
For safety reasons the number of people participating in the completion graduation ceremony in Korea was limited to 80,000. Approximately 300,000 people participated online and offline via a YouTube live broadcast in nine different languages.
According to Shincheonji it has taken all precautions to ensure the safety of students and participants at the Daegu Stadium to ensure a day of great celebration for all. “In preparing for this event, safety comes first, second and third,” a spokesperson from the church said. “We have created a cooperative network with local government agencies to disinfect the venue properly (to meet COVID-19 protocols), check for safety, traffic management and operating a control room to monitor the event with police and the fire department.”
A total number of 14,000 safety personnel have been allocated by the church to maintain order inside and outside the stadium. Four hours were allocated to participants for entering and leaving the stadium to prevent overcrowding and to ensure safety for all. About 180 medical staff and four ambulances were on standby in case of an emergency. The church emphasised that safety of all was a top priority due to the large number of participants.
The graduation ceremony consisted of praise and worship, congratulatory speeches, prayers, and a commemorative address by the Chairman of Shincheonji, Man-Hee Lee, followed by a special congratulatory performance, tassel turning and an award ceremony.
Among the graduates a total of 522 Christian pastors (37 from Korea and 485 from other countries) have completed the theological course. The number of pastors have increased significantly compared to previous years. The fact that students could join classes online during to the COVID-19 pandemic was the biggest contributing factor to the increase in student numbers.
“I have only learned traditional theology in seminary school, but never knew much about the book of Revelation in the Bible,” Heo Jung-Wook, one of the pastors who graduated said. He explained that he only used to teach his congregation members easy words and concepts but not the full Bible. “I repent that I was a sinner who added and subtracted from the word of God. I learned true theology that leads me to heaven, and not the studies of mankind.” He thanked God for the opportunity to learn the truth and the chance to live.
D Jackson, another pastor who represented the overseas graduates said in his graduation speech that currently 294 members of his church, including the pastor in charge of two other churches, have completed the entire course from introductory, intermediary through to advanced level (the study of Revelation) and have graduated on Sunday.
After the negative effects of the pandemic on the world economy, Shincheonji believes that having this large-scale physical graduation ceremony will boost the local economy. The church is hoping that its use of local transportation, accommodation and meals for 100,000 people will provide work and financial aid to local residents.