Friday, March 30, 2007

Live From Korea

What can I say? Two days ago I walked Kentucky soil, and now after literally an entire day in planes, trains, and automobiles and another overwhelmed in a culture that’s just pretty unbelievable, I type this laying down in a bed at a retreat center just outside of Seoul, South Korea. In another twist in this amazing year, I and the other domestic and international Beeson Pastors are being hosted by the largest Methodist church in the world, Kwanglim Methodist Church, who’s senior pastor is Chung Sook Kim, a former Beeson Pastor himself.

The day of travel to get over here was brutal. We left at 6am Wednesday morning from Wilmore, and we arrived 25 hours later (2 hours at the airport in Lexington, 1 hour flight to Atlanta, 4 hour layover in Atlanta, 15 hours on a plant to Seoul, 1 hour getting processed through customs in Seoul, 2 hours on a bus to the retreat center. Unable to sleep on the plane, I watched six movies (Little Children, Man of the Year, Black Diamond, The Holiday, It’s a Wonderful Life, and another movie I quite can’t remember) on the interactive entertainment system on the plane.

I rode next to a woman coming to visit her husband who is a serviceman who works on Apache helicopters up at the DMZ. In the six years they’ve been married, after one stint in Afghanistan and almost 2 more years in Korea, they have only lived together about 2 years and seven months. When he left the states, his youngest child was three months old. Now, he’s 25 months. His father has watched him grow up largely on a webcam. The woman said that he’ll be coming home in June, will be home two months, will go to Virginia for 90 days of additional training, and will immediately ship out for another 18 month stint in Iraq. This was her fourth, and final, trip to Korea to see her husband. All this to say that some people in this world make great sacrifices either for a cause, to make a decent living, or both. Anyhow, say a prayer for those who serve in the armed forces, and their families.

For a number of years Beeson Pastors have been coming to Korea largely because the former pastor of Kwanglim Methodist, Bishop Kim (Chung Sook’s dad) believes in the school. Currently there are 40 people from his church studying at ATS working on Masters or Doctoral degrees. Because he, and now his son, believe so fervently in the school, they host the BP’s by putting them up in their retreat centers (the church owns two) as a means of helping us learn something about Korean culture, and a thing or two about leadership…. which they know a thing or two about since their church numbers 35,000 members.

To learn about culture, today we went to the Seoul Girls Commercial High School, a huge school that teaches girls how to make it in the highly competitive business.

Though its eighty years old, in 1991 Bishop Kim volunteered the church’s resources to help turn the school into a Christian institution. Now the girls go to chapel, take Bible classes, and participate in a number of clubs (dance teams, choirs, and the like) that enable worship to take place at the school. Thus, while there, we got to hear a couple of the choirs sing, and see a dance team dance (videos to come later) in the context of a worship setting. But we also toured their state-of-the-art “internet business” room, experienced traditional Korean dress and the art of bowing in the equivalent of the school’s Home Economics class room, and painted our own Korean characters (with much coaching from the girls, like this nice young lady pictured here). For lunch, they fed us (I am not making this up) Kentucky Fried Chicken (cause we came from Kentucky… they must think we eat it every day). Here's the student who helped me make those fabulous Korean characters you now see.

The things I’ll remember most about the experience at the school was how polite and mannerly all of those teenage girls were.

I mean, maybe we just got to see the good kids, but the girls were incredibly kind and respectful to a degree, which frankly, you don’t see much out of American teenagers. Makes me wonder what the hyper-individualism we champion in the United States might be costing us in the way of a more civil and cooperative society. I mean the downside of freedom is that people are free act virtually anyway they please…. even as jerks. How much better off would we be if the elderly were praised for their wisdom and experience, and young people believed that adults had information they needed to make a better future for themselves, and thus should be given attention and honor? I can tell you first hand…. it’s in many ways a lot more pleasant.

Next we went to Kwanglim Methodist Church, where we went in groups of twos and threes with associate pastors in the church to a couple of their “home worship services”. The Home Worship Service is a once a year occasion where an associate pastor, Pastor Jo

(and an assistant of the opposite sex) comes to your home, and leads you in your own worship service. He takes prayer requests from the person or family being visited, talks through these issues with them, takes a special offering, leads some singing, gives a sermon, answers questions about that sermon, and then wraps up the service with prayer. Then the member who is visited brings out some food (some we recognized, but much of which we didn’t) and there is a short time of fellowship.

Just for the record, there are 11 associate pastors who pastor one district all their own. It’s their job to visit all of the members in their district at least once a year, which in order to pull off requires the pastor to make a minimum of 40 home visits a week. Since the associates help lead the daily prayer services at the church (at 5am and 6am every day Tuesday through Saturday), make phones calls to inactive members on Saturday night to invite them to church, and do some teaching in various studies and retreats they work a plenty. For example, our pastor, Jo, works from 5am to 7 or 8pm six days a week (that’s a minimum of a 70 hour work week). It is not an easy job, but it is incredibly important. Looking at Jo’s print out on each both families we visited today, I doubt if any pastors at any of the churches in the United States know more about what’s going among their church members than do the associates at 35,000-member Kwanglim, one of which was this young nine year old girl named Julie, shown here posing with Aaron.

Pastor Jo is a fantastic pastor. His district is located in the neighborhood where the church is located (hence, we were able to walk on a beautiful sunny day). He stopped in at all the business we passed to stop and say hello to a member of his flock who happened to work there. He keeps up with each family in his district so that when he gives his sermon at the home visit, it’s tailored to that family’s needs (think about… that’s 2000 sermons to write, every year). He believes in prayer, dedicating not only much of the visit, but much of his life (two hours a day) to praying for others, and to be directed by God. On our way back to the church, we stopped by a playground to meet his daughter (age 8) and his wife, who is expecting his second child very soon. He intentionally took us there so we (the Beeson Pastor who were with them, Aaron Wymer and I) could pray for his family and in particular, his unborn child.

How cool was it to get to do that?

Anyhow, when we went to do our first visit, he knew the woman, who had converted from Buddhism 20 years ago, we were visiting had a husband (a basketball coach at a local university) who didn’t believe in God. We knew at the second home we visited that the woman there had a nine year old daughter, and husband struggling in his business. And prayed for both people like the whole world rested on his words. I couldn't understand a word he said… but his passion was infectious.

Couple that with getting to pray for people who live halfway around the world in their living room, and saying the Lord’s Prayer in English while others prayed it in Korean, and you could not beat this experience.

We then spent an our with senior pastor Chung Sook Kim, who talked a lot about what it was like to follow his father, who pastored Kwanglim for thirty years, which was the time period the church grew into the behemoth it is today. Coupled with the challenge of following a legend (something I can sympathize with), Kim is now pastoring in a city where younger generations are rapidly becoming increasingly secularized. The influence of western culture and consumerism in this shift is unmistakable. Tonight, for example, for our first dinner in Korea, Pastor Kim treated us for a meal at Bennigans (yep… you just read that right. Bennigans).He explained that while he preferred Korean food, the restaurant has become one of the most popular for young people in Seoul because of the western atmosphere and food. Hence my eating chicken fajitas tonight for dinner. Since less than 20% of people under the age of 30 consider themselves to be Christian, and are looking more toward being non-religious, the old forms and practices (many like the Home Worship Service) which made the church huge, are now no longer effective. You can imagine how difficult this is for Chung Sook, who must live with in the shadow of a legend, and face the kind of carping a pastor faces when things are altered or changed. I enjoyed hit talking about the experience, and how slowly he’s trying to point the church in a new direction.

Tomorrow we head up to the DMZ, where this trusty blogger will spend some time praying for peace, not just here on the Korean peninsula, but throughout the world. I'll try to make an update tomorrow night (or day, or whatever it is).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

OH NO - LeBron did not play tonight due to "general fatigue" and unless Mello turns the ball over 2 more times in his game there will be no showdown of the brothers this coming week... SHOCKING