Our Missionaries: Otto and Elizabeth DeCamp
Our church’s interest in overseas mission began at its inception 100 years ago. Mission-giving preceded the construction of the church building, and it has continued to be an important part of our budget ever since. In the early days of the church, it was the practice of the denomination to encourage congregations to sponsor particular missionaries, and agree to pay all or some of their support. These missionaries would establish a personal relationship with the congregation, often visiting the church to explain their work. The missionaries were considered part of our church’s ministry and their names appeared along with the rest of the church staff in the weekly church bulletin.
One such missionary was Otto DeCamp, who was sponsored by our congregation for over thirty years. Rev. DeCamp was born in Seoul, Korea , the son of Presbyterian missionaries. After graduating from Princeton Seminary in 1936, Rev. DeCamp immediately accepted a call to the foreign missions and was assigned to Chungju, Korea , where he worked in churches and Bible institutes. Christianity had been introduced into Korea in the 1880s, and by the 1930s it had seen widespread growth due in part to a mission policy which encouraged self-government and self-propagation by the Korean Christians.
Rev. DeCamp’s ministry was a difficult one, as it spanned both World War II and the Korean Conflict. In 1940, he and another missionary were arrested for removing a Shinto religious shrine placed by the Japanese authorities in the Presbyterian mission’s compound. After three months of hard labor in a Japanese prison, he was released and deported. Six months later Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor. Rev. DeCamp would not be able to return to Korea until after the war.
In 1948, Rev. DeCamp returned to Korea , this time with his wife, Elizabeth, herself a missionary nurse, and their four children. Rev. DeCamp began plans for a radio ministry, but these plans had to be put on hold with the start of the Korean conflict. With his family evacuated to Japan , Rev. DeCamp continued on alone, ministering to the refugees and those wounded in the war.
It was not until 1954 that Rev. DeCamp realized his dream of a Christian radio station. With the support of the National Christian Counsel of Korea , radio station HDKY began operation in Seoul, broadcasting not only religious programs but also those of a cultural and educational nature. It was the first independent radio station in Korea .
The radio ministry flourished, but in 1961 a military coup took over the government and occupied the station at gunpoint. Although government guards remained, the station was allowed to continue its programming. During this period the station actually gained in popularity as it was the only station not required to air government propaganda. HDKY is still operating today, now part of “CBS” (the Christian Broadcasting System of Korea) with television and satellite stations around the country.
Today, it is estimated that Christians make up 28% of the population of Korea . The Presbyterian churches of Korea have over a thousand of their own missionaries active in foreign countries, including our own. Korean-American churches now make up one of the fasting growing groups in our own denomination. As a congregation, we continue our support of Korean missions through our support of the Siloam Eye Hospital, a Christian hospital providing free treatment and surgery to needy patients in Korea .
After thirty-seven years of mission work, Otto and Elizabeth DeCamp retired to California. Upon their later passing, their son, Jim, a Presbyterian pastor in Wisconsin, wrote of his parents’ challenging life in this way:
“Living within them by His Holy Spirit, [the] God of redemption was their comfort and strength, ‘an ever-present help in time of trouble.’ … Theirs was not a private faith; it was for all who would receive. And for the proclamation of this Good News, they gave the best years of–indeed, their entire–lives. ‘To God be the glory–great things He hath done.’”