David Yonggi Cho (목사님 데이빗 조) is a Korean Christian minister. He is Senior Pastor and founder of the Yoido Full Gospel Church (Assemblies of God), the world's largest congregation with a membership of 1,000,000 (as of 2007). Cho still conducts two services of the seven the church holds a day; they are so heavily attended that people often must arrive an hour early to have a seat.
He was born on February 14, 1936, in Ulju-gun, now part of Ulsan metropolitan city. The son of Cho Doo-chun and Kim Bok-sun, Cho was the eldest of five brothers and four sisters. He graduated from middle school with honours, but his hopes of a university education appeared thwarted when his father's sock and glove business went bankrupt. Subsequently, he enrolled in a cheap technical high school to learn a trade. At the same time, he began frequenting an American army base near his school, and learned English from soldiers whom he befriended. A keen student, he mastered English quickly, and became an interpreter for the commander of the army base, and also for the principal of his school.
Raised initially as a Buddhist, Cho converted to Christianity at the age of 19, after an unknown girl visited him daily telling him about Jesus Christ, after he was diagnosed with terminal tuberculosis. One day, she knelt down to pray for him and began to weep. He was deeply touched and told her, "Don't cry...I now know about your Christian love. Since I am dying I will become a Christian for you." She gave him her own Bible and said to him, "If you read it faithfully you will find the words of life." He subsequently had a series of spiritual experiences, including what Pentecostals call the Baptism of the Holy Spirit - during which the believer experiences glossolalia - when he saw Jesus in a vision. Believing that God had called him to the ministry, Cho began working as an interpreter for the American evangelist Ken Tize. In 1956, he received a scholarship to study theology at Full Gospel Bible College in Seoul. While there, he met Choi Ja-Shil (최자실), who became his mother-in-law and a close ministerial associate. He graduated in March 1958.
In May 1958, Cho held his first worship service in the home of his friend, Choi Ja-shil. Only Choi and her three children attended the service, but the church grew rapidly and soon reached fifty members. Cho and church members began a vigorous campaign of knocking on doors and inviting people to come to church, and within three years, it had grown to four hundred members. In 1961, the church purchased its first plot of land at Seodaemun-gu.
The church's expansion program suffered a setback in January 1961, when Cho was conscripted by the South Korean army. He asked John Hurston, an American missionary, to pastor the church in his absence. Cho's service in the army was short-lived, however. He required surgery for a serious intestinal illness, and on the grounds of ill health, he was discharged from the army after just seven months of service.
Following his military discharge, Cho immersed himself in his pastoral work once more, despite continuing ill health. A 1500-seat auditorium was constructed on the plot of land at Seodaemun. It opened in November 1961. The church soon outgrew its premises: by 1964 it numbered three thousand. Soon afterwards, Cho had married Kim Sung-hye (김성혜), the daughter of Choi Ja-shil, on 1 March 1965. In the meantime, Cho had been continuing to overwork, and suffered a collapse in 1965. Realizing that the work of leading a large congregation was too much for one person, Cho divided the city of Seoul into twenty zones, or "cells," as he called them, and began training leaders for each cell, who would hold services for worship and Bible study in their homes during the week. Cell leaders were encouraged to invite non-Christian neighbours to attend, to learn about Christianity. Each cell leader was required to train an assistant, and when cell membership reached a certain number, the assistant leader would form a new cell, taking about half of the old cell with him or her.
The success of this concept of cell multiplication surprised even optimistic church members. By 1968, the church numbered eight thousand members; in addition to weekly cell meetings, the church was holding three Sunday services. Even three services proved insufficient to accommodate all members of the church, however, and Cho decided to purchase a larger property on Yeouido Island, in the Han River, which flows through Seoul. At that time, Yeouid Island was little more than a sand dune, but Cho saw its potential. With the island due to be developed by the Deputy Mayor of Seoul, and with many government offices and companies planning to relocate there, Cho saw the island as an ideal central location for a church.
Economic problems delayed the construction of a church on Yeouido (Yeoui Island, but in 1973, the new ten thousand-seat auditorium was completed. Its first worship service was held on 23 September 1973. In the same year, Prayer Mountain, a sanctuary where individuals can lock themselves away in small cubicles for prayer and fasting, was established. Expanded in 1982 to accommodate ten thousand people, Prayer Mountain is now visited by more than a million people each year, including some ten thousand foreign pilgrims. The church continued to grow exponentially; its membership reached 400,000 in 1984, and 700,000 in 1992. In the 1990s, Cho decided that rather than expanding further, the church should establish satellite churches in other parts of the city. Goals for the decade of 2000-2010 include the establishment of some five thousand satellite churches and five hundred prayer houses, similar to Prayer Mountain.
Mr. Cho has been awarded The Family of Man Medallion by CCCNY (The Council of Churches of the City of New York) in Brooklyn, New York on May 18, 2005. The Family of Man Medallion is awarded to "individuals who exemplify excellence in the use of God-given talents in the service of humankind." Since the beginning of the council in 1963, the Council has presented the award to recipients such as the former U.S. presidents: John F. Kennedy; Dwight D. Eisenhower; Richard M. Nixon; and Jimmy Carter. The award was also presented to John D. Rockefeller III. Dr. Cho is the twenty-fifth person and the first Asian man to receive The Family of Man Medallion.
CCCNY President Calvin Butts who presented The Family of Man Medallion said, "We decided to honor Dr. Cho because of his fervent efforts to preach the Gospel to the world. He planted a church with only five members in 1958, and he is still ministering to that church which has become the biggest church in the world. He is a man of God who continues to preach the Gospel throughout the whole world, bringing many souls to Christ. He has also written inspiring Christian books."
Brooklyn, Bronx in New York City also proclaimed May 18 as "Rev. Dr. David Yonggi Cho Day".
Cho is G-12 (Charismatic) Also spiritual leader of Cesar Castellanos G-12 Founder and Leader.[clarification needed]
Cho has fueled a considerable amount of theological controversy. Others, who are opposed to the Brownsville Revival in Pensacola, Florida, look with disfavor on Cho's avowed support for that movement. The Rick A. Ross Institute, a non-profit organisation dedicated to giving public information about religious groups it considers to be strange or cultish, has claimed that the church promotes a mixture of KoreanShamanism, Christianity and Cho's own ideas.
Many of Cho's detractors are not Charismatics, but they are by no means his only critics: At one time, his own Korean Assemblies of Goddenomination suspended his ordination while they investigated his theology. Many suspected him of a cultic orientation. As his church grew, riding on the economic growth of South Korea itself, most mainstream denominations became admirers of this church, which is called 'Pure Gospel' Church in Korea (cf. Full Gospel Church in USA). This implies the Gospel of the apostolic tradition may be somewhat deficient and is to be complemented by his own gospel such as health-wealth-prosperity. He is supportive of Pentecostal sects from Asuza tradition, including speaking in tongues.
Cho claims that some of opponents' arguments are supported by false accusations. In one of his books, he referred to an article in the Korean press alleging that he had, in a sermon, condoned ancestor worship — a charge he strongly denied. The journalist responsible later publicly apologised under threat of criminal prosecution, as character defamation is a criminal offence under South Korean law and not a civil libel matter. Some damage had been done, however, and these accusations were partly what triggered his denomination's investigation of his teaching. Cho's books take a very strong stand against Buddhism and Shamanism, but some critics like to say that, even so, he is still subtly influenced by ideas inspired by the very ideologies he opposes.
Several years ago, he became in focus of controversy by refusing to relinquish his post when his term ends. A compromise was made for him to stay in power for a few more years to "assist" the new pastor to break in.
In 2003, Jung Gui-Son, a Korean-born soprano who allegedly was working for a opera company in Paris, France, published an autobiographical novel, Madame Butterfly in Paris, which depicted an extramarital love affair between Jung, a single mother at the time, and Cho.
In 2004, Sisa Journal published an article questioning various aspects of Cho's works such as improper handling of money and the exemption from the mandatory military duty for his sons. Cho's oldest son is the head of Nextmedia which publishes a number of newspapers includingSports Today, a tabloid known for its raunchy articles, and there have been persisting allegations of the church offering money being used to finance the son's business according to the Sisa Journal article.
In April, 2011, Cho was accused of nepotism by pushing his relatives to assign to key positions of the church after his retirement.