Born in the farming village of Kan-Ri, Korea, in 1902, Kyung-Chik Han grew up attending church and studying the Bible. Feeling a strong call to serve his nation and people through science, Han studied at Korea’s Soong Shil University, receiving his Bachelor of Science in 1925. Han’s sense of calling changed dramatically, however, following his work one summer vacation translating a book with the missionary William Blair. It was over the course of that summer that Han concluded that “it was good to study science and serve the people, but there is a need to see a fundamental renewal of the people. In order to see a renewal of the people the Gospel must be spread.”
This new sense of calling led Han to the United States in 1925 to study liberal arts at the College of Emporia in Kansas, which served as preparation for his theological studies at Princeton Seminary from 1926 to 1929. Following his studies at the Seminary, Han hoped to pursue a Ph.D. in church history, but his plans were once again altered dramatically when he contracted tuberculosis while working to pay for tuition. Advised to rest in order to recover, Han spent much of his time reading and praying. During this time of prayerful contemplation Han concluded that if God granted him health to return to Korea and share his faith for even just a few years, he could die happily.
God granted Han renewed health, and he returned to Korea in 1932. Soon after his return, Han was ordained by the Presbyterian Church of Korea and served as the pastor of the Second Shineujoo Presbyterian Church, which developed and grew under his leadership. In 1945 Han founded Young Nak Presbyterian Church in Seoul. Begun as a gathering of twenty-seven refugees from Soviet-occupied Korea, Young Nak (“Everlasting Joy”) grew tremendously so that in 1992, when Han received the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, the congregation numbered 60,000—the largest Presbyterian congregation in the world—and had planted more than 500 churches in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Today, the Young Nak Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles is composed of more than 5,000 members. Han served as pastor and pastor emeritus at Young Nak Presbyterian Church in Seoul until his death in April 2000.
Han was honored as a Princeton Seminary Distinguished Alumnus in 1985 for his work in Korea, and a chair—the Kyung-Chik Han Chair in Systematic Theology—was established in his honor under the Seminary’s fifth president, Dr. Thomas W. Gillespie. The Kyung-Chik Han Chair was the first chair at an American seminary to honor an Asian leader and was occupied for thirty years by Professor Sang Hyun Lee, Princeton Seminary’s first Asian American faculty member.