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In Session: Christianity in Korea Beyond the Korean Nation-State
4: The World Vision Korean Orphan Choir: Songs of Faith, Joy, and Gratitude
Friday, March 26, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Katherine In-Young Lee
University of California, Los Angeles, United States
In the late 1940s, Reverend Bob Pierce traveled to East Asia with the intent to evangelize. His stay in Korea coincided with the outbreak of the Korean War, during which time he witnessed widespread poverty and devastation. Compelled by a desire to assist children who were orphaned as a result of the war, Pierce began an international campaign to raise funds for abandoned Korean children. Under the auspices of his newly formed World Vision organization, Pierce’s ministry worked to set up and support orphanages throughout Korea. In 1960, Pierce established the Korean Orphan Choir, with members selected from World Vision sponsored orphanages. Choristers learned repertory that consisted of Christian hymns and American and Korean folk songs. In 1961, thirty-four “sober little charmers” embarked on a tour to the United States to sing for their charitable American sponsors. While other Korean children’s choirs had proceeded them, the Korean Orphan Choir was linked to World Vision and served as a sonic emblem for the evangelical Christian humanitarian organization. This presentation focuses on a 1963 album the choir recorded with American folk singer, Burl Ives. Examining this album and the broader discourse surrounding the choir, I analyze the affective sounds and themes of orphanhood, gratitude, and Christian piety. In doing so, I argue that the performances of religiosity by children played an important role in World Vision’s faith-based humanitarian campaigns in South Korea.