A high school student in Seoul, South Korea, introduced to the gospel by a classmate, studied it and found it to be true. But at his age, he needed the permission of a parent to be baptized.
Elder Won Yong Ko, sustained as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy during the April 2005 general conference, explained the dilemma he faced at that time, and the ultimate, positive outcome.
After careful consideration, he said during a Church News interview, he decided it might be best to seek permission from his mother. "I asked the missionaries to come to my home after 10 a.m., when my father would go on a walk," Elder Ko said.
Before the missionaries arrived, he told his mother, "You may have some strange foreigners come to the home this morning. If they ask something, just simply say 'Yes,' and everything will be OK."
That afternoon, he asked his mother if she had visitors that day. He recalled, "She said, 'Yes, today I had two American young men visit. They spoke such fluent Korean. I was so impressed, I just said "Yes." ' That is how I got baptized. My mother didn't pay any attention to what the missionaries said, she was just amazed at what wonderful Korean they spoke."
Since his baptism on March 24, 1962, Elder Ko was a stalwart member of the Church in South Korea. He helped shore up the Church during persecution in the country's pioneering days and later thrilled to spread the good news of the gospel in his homeland while serving as a counselor in the Asia North Area presidency.
Though things were sometimes difficult for him after joining the Church, he said he always loved the gospel. "Whenever a principle was taught to me, I liked it very much," he said. "The principle of tithing, Word of Wisdom, the plan of salvation. Everything. To me, it's very sensible, very easy to understand."
He said he was prepared as a child to accept the gospel as he went to another Christian church with a housekeeper. "I attended summer Bible class and enjoyed it very much," he remembered. "The stories of prophets in the Bible sounded quite interesting to me. Also, the minister's teachings. Most of my knowledge of the Bible came from those days."
Though he quit attending that church during his junior high days, memories of it came back one night when his friend, who was working with him in the high school library, asked him if he would be interested in learning about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He went with his friend the next day to a Church activity and was impressed with the kindness of the members. Returning on Sunday, he met the missionaries and began taking the discussions.
"I already basically had faith about God and Jesus Christ," he said. "I believed they live." When introduced to the Book of Mormon, he felt it could be possible that the Savior could have visited other people in the world. He found the gospel to be logical and easy to understand.
Elder Ko was born on October 15, 1945, to Chang Soo Ko and Sang Soon Lee in Busan, Korea. Belonging to the Church in Korea in the 1960s was not easy. There were many misconceptions, often perpetuated by the media. But Elder Ko learned that the Lord honors those who honor Him. Being a member of the Church helped him through a three-year military assignment and later as he advanced from systems engineer for IBM Korea to president and CEO of his own firm.
His testimony helped him cope with challenges that came. One of the areas of persecution related to polygamy. Tired of the kidding he received from friends who accused him of joining the Church so he could have several wives, he finally started answering, "Yes, that is why I joined. But when I found out they're not practicing that anymore, I decided to remain a member anyway." Later, he said, many of his friends came to see the good in the Church.
After earning a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Seoul National University, he moved to Pusan on a career assignment. He returned to his Seoul ward occasionally, where he had served in the bishopric. On one visit, he noticed Eun Hee Kim because she was new to the ward, but said he didn't have any special feelings for her at the time. Later, he saw her in Pusan during a Church district sports day. He later took her to dinner and, since he was scheduled to go back to Seoul himself, they traveled together.
"I felt good about her, so the next Sunday I went to Church and asked the bishop about her. The bishop said, 'She's wonderful,' " he related.
Sister Ko said that, in the meantime, she had noticed the fine young man who visited her ward and thought he might be a good person.
Sister Ko didn't know much about the Church when her widowed mother invited the missionaries to their home. Her impulse was to avoid the missionaries, but she decided to stay and find out if the Church was as bad as she had heard. She said she prayed that she wouldn't be brainwashed. She found the Joseph Smith story to be believable and kept other appointments to find out more. She was particularly impressed when taught about the priesthood. She prayed that she could have a husband who could have the priesthood.
She was baptized and her prayer was answered a short time later when she married Elder Ko on April 1, 1978. They were sealed after the Seoul Korea Temple was dedicated in 1985. He says his wife and two children have been an important support. He also credits the Savior for sustaining him through callings and challenges.
“He didn’t have to, but Jesus Christ lowered Himself to a level that no one else has experienced so He can understand our suffering, challenges, and difficulties,” said Elder Ko. “He is truly our Savior and Redeemer.”
Sister Ko found out a year later, shortly after their first child was born, what it meant to marry a worthy priesthood holder when her husband was called as a stake president.
Almost since he joined the Church in 1962, Elder Won Yong Ko of the Second Quorum of the Seventy says he has struggled to fill his suits. But his challenges have not come from a telestial tailor.
“My callings have always been bigger than my capacity,” he said. “Each calling seems to be a bigger suit than I can fit in. But I have always tried.” Elder Ko said he must rely on the Savior as he steps into this new role and tries to fit into another suit that seems to be too big.
“I have not sought this call,” Elder Ko says. “It comes from the Lord, so He will help me if I will serve ‘with an eye single to the glory of God’ (D&C 4:5). I love that phrase. That is my commitment. That is my testimony of the last 40-some years.”
"I really appreciate the support and sacrifice of my family," Elder Ko said. "Somehow, my wife managed and she has always supported me. She took care of my children and they were faithful." (Their son and daughter each served full-time missions.)
Church leadership and executive positions in business kept Elder Ko busy, but he testified that those who put the Lord first in their lives can arrange everything else and will be blessed. He counts among his blessings participation in the first area conference in Korea in 1975, presided over by President Spencer W. Kimball, and being in Salt Lake City for April, 1981, general conference to hear President Kimball announce plans to construct a temple in South Korea.
After working long and hard to help build the Church in his country, Elder Ko later had the opportunity to spotlight it. As a public affairs representative, he arranged a press conference for President Gordon B. Hinckley's South Korean visit in 1996 and he escorted members of the South Korean media to Salt Lake City during the Church's Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1997.
Elder Ko has served as a stake president, a regional representative, and most recently as an Area Seventy, where he has been assigned as Second Counselor in the Asia North Area Presidency since 2003.
As a member of the area presidency, and later a General Authority, he emphasized his continuing interest in building up the image of the Church in his country, making sure the people of Korea know the truth about the Church.
Callings to the Second Quorum of the Seventy are typically for a period of five years.
Elder Ko was released October 1, 2011.