Reflections on South Korea

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A group of 40 doctoral students and 12 faculty from the Doctor of Ministry in Leadership and Global Perspectives program at George Fox Evangelical Seminary met in Seoul, South Korea last summer. The trip was one of three international advances they will participate in over the course of the three-year program, which caters to students located around the globe and primarily features online learning.

Highlights of the experience included visiting the largest Methodist church in the world, getting a private tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, and taking in the sights, sounds and people of Seoul, a city with a history that stretches back more than 2,000 years.

Read on for reflections from professor MaryKate Morse and student Sharenda Roam, in addition to photos and video from the trip.

Faculty Perspective: Beneath the Bridge – The True Wonders of South Korea

By Dr. MaryKate Morse

On my first day in Seoul, I got up early to exercise and found a walkway which ran along the Han River and traveled beneath many bridges. In the distance I could see the Olympic Torch Bridge and began walking towards it. The bridge was architecturally compelling and I really wanted to get some pictures. I shot photos as I got closer, but it wasn’t until I stood underneath the bridge that I was truly transfixed. Overhead the bridge’s roadway was packed with the sounds and smells of moving vehicles. Beneath I saw the telescoping support structures going deeper and deeper to the other side of the serene river.

The image is iconic for me because it captures my experience as a professor visiting South Korea with students for the first time. The casual tourist would probably cross this bridge several times and would never see the beauty beneath. For me the pillars spanning the river represent the wonder of the people. The stories told to us by South Korean pastors, leaders and innovators touched me and spoke volumes about their history, values and faith. They inspired me to think differently about my life and faith. A few of them are represented here.

Incarnational Presence – Rev Ji LL Bang is a 101-year-old pastor who served as a missionary to China in 1937-1957. He is revered as “living history” in South Korea. He chose to serve as a Chinese pastor rather than take support as a Korean missionary. He lived under 10 different Chinese governments. He prayed over us a blessing that has become my prayer: “Jesus came to be one of us. Now you go and be one of them.”

Sacrificial Vision – Dr. Chang Choi shared the history of the missionary-sending movement in Korea. Though at one time Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world, it has sent out more missionaries in the shortest amount of time than any other country. Koreans want to “give back” after benefitting from the sacrifices of others. Homer B. Hulbert is an example, a missionary who had put on his gravestone, “I’d rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey.”

Credibility and Creativity – Rev Bom Seok Kim, a missionary businessman, chose a downward lifestyle to help those without hope and to restore credibility to the church. The church has a responsibility to help those without jobs and honor, the disabled and marginalized. He started five companies in order to hire the disabled, homeless and refugees. Each company made $5 million. He said, “We became friends with the outcasts. What they want from us is jobs and love.”

Courage and Compassion – Myung Sook Cho, the vice-principal of a school for North Korean refugees, was on a mission trip to China and on her honeymoon when she met starving North Korean refugees hiding in China. She said, “I was born and raised in a slum area, so I knew what it meant to go to bed hungry. In China I met people worse off than me. I cried to God and asked what should I do? God said, ‘What about you? These people hurt my heart, what about you?’” Even though she was jailed in China, she continues to love and help North Korean refugees.

Resilience and Faith – Dr. Min Jung Kim is the author of six books on new believers sessions, chaplain to major businesses, and now a church planter. She said, “I am now known as an expert in new comers ministry. I really wanted to preach the gospel but no one would give me the opportunity to share the gospel. I was the oldest among the associate pastors in a church, and I had a PhD, but a Bible college student could preach but I could not. The only time I was allowed to go into the pulpit and share was for new comers so I made the best out of my opportunity. I met 4,000 new believers and from mouth to mouth my reputation spread and a publisher came and asked me to write. But to keep myself ready to preach I prepared one sermon a week for two years.”

Humility and Prayer – Rev. Joshua Choon-Min Kang is the author of 30 spiritual formation books in Korean and two in English, selling over 1.5 million copies. Though he is now planting a Korean church in Los Angeles, he was with us in South Korea. Pastor Kang is a man of immense status as a spiritual giant in Korea, yet he spent hours of his time making sure we had a life-changing experience. One morning we attended a 6 a.m. prayer service at the world famous Myungsung Presbyterian church. Wherever he went, people flocked around him, asking him to sign their Bibles. Throughout he remained a quiet and gentle man. When people are crossing over the busy bridge of my life, I want the pillars beneath to be like these of my South Korean brothers and sisters.

Student Perspective: One Day that Made a Lifelong Impact

By Sharenda Roam

“An-nyeong-ha-se-yo 안녕하세요” “Hello!” in Korean. Literally, this greeting means “Are you at peace?”

Peace manifested itself as I explored Korea with the George Fox Evangelical Seminary D. Min. Leadership and Global Perspectives Program participants. From the moment I arrived at the airport in Seoul where I was greeted by Korean students to the classes, gatherings, foods, people, sites and experiences, every detail was organized and transformational. Lifelong friendships formed as we learned and studied together. Knowledge grew as we listened to panels of Korean Christian leaders discuss the formation of Korean Christianity and its future. Hearts linked as we visited the DMZ and learned of the quest for unification with North Korea. And passion for a world beyond my own flourished as my heart embraced the Korean people. This experience changed me forever. Here’s a little story from one day of my trip.

A Korean man and his wife wanted us “to feel their hearts.” And so, they took us on a tour of the Daejeon metropolis of Korea. The salt and pepper haired 40-ish man was on a mission to show us the things he loved about Korea. All five of us hopped in a church van and sped for two hours on a highway to a small town where we ate kimchi in a traditional Korean restaurant. Next, we went to one of the many Café Bene coffee houses where we sipped on café mochas. With unfinished drinks we rushed outside where he was motioning for us to jump in the van to head to our next adventure.

He drove us past a sculpture park with giant stone art pieces and led us to the edge of a river where we climbed on a traditional Korean boat. As we floated down the river with other passengers listening to old Korean pop music we noticed a Buddhist shrine built on the hillside in the forest. We climbed winding wooden steps to the top, where behind the shrine was a cave with dripping mineral water that, since we drank it, will make us three years younger. After ringing a large Buddhist bell I probably wasn’t supposed to ring, standing on the edge of the hill where several women jumped to their death to avoid servitude to a new king, and bowing to an old woman who sat next to the colorful shrine, I raced back down the stairs to catch up with our group.

Next he took us to the Baekje Historical Museum to share this ancient Korean culture that existed as far back as 18 BC-660 AD and whose artifacts have been restored and recreated for future generations to remember.

I felt as if our young tour guide was helping us experience Korea through him as fast as possible. You see, doctors have done all they can for the cancer that plagues his body. And although his skin is pale and his eyes are beginning to hollow, he loves and lives and speeds through life to share all he is. He represents Korea for me; a country that has lived through the horrors of dictators and imperialism and still lives with humility, grace, beauty and vibrancy.

He is a deacon in his Presbyterian church, a direct result of Western Christian missionaries who came to Korea approximately 120 years ago. He is a successful businessman who specializes in home design. His wall panels decorate many of the sky-scraping apartments found in every major South Korean metropolis. He is a husband; and like many traditional Korean marriages, his wife diligently serves him. She seems to be treasuring this precious time with him. He introduced us to the variety of Korean beliefs – Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism.

Like many people on the streets and in the subways he is in a hurry, a hurry to embrace and experience all that Korea is right now. This is a golden age, a moment in Korean history without war, a celebration of traditional ways and modern technology, an enjoyment of cultural foods and French pastries. He is Korea – embodying the tragedies and hope, the ancient and new, the simple and complex, the dark and the light, the storms and peace.