Before I left for South Korea, many individuals were worried that I would not be able to attend church. Though a legitimate concern, many people believe South Korea to be a nation without a trace of Christianity in it. However, according to my personal research (the Wikipedia, ya’ll), about 30% of South Korea claims to be Christian (18% Protestant; 10% Roman Catholic).
And here’s my confession, though I knew that there was a growing population of Christians in South Korea, I was still worried that I would not be able to find a place of worship during my year here. Of course, Our Lord answered the prayers of my Church of Christ parents and my Anglican friends back home, and I was informed that a campus shuttle would be able to drop off those who wanted to
attend services at a local Methodist church. Thankfully our RA, a student at Jungwon University, got the shuttle driver to stop near the church.
Upon walking up the church steps, we were greeting by an enthusiastic older man who shook our hands. Being good foreigners, we gave insa (bowing and proper greeting) and entered the church. When we entered, many other churchgoers enthusiastically greeted us and shook our hands. Despite our language barriers, the church goers welcomed us with open arms and escorted us to our seats inside the church. Once we were seated, many others greeted us with smiles and nods. It felt very good to be welcomed, even though we spoke a different language and came from 6,000 miles away.
The service began with the singing of hymns. Though they were all sung in Korean, I recognized songs such as “Jesus Loves Me,” “When the Roll is Called up Yonder,” and “Rock of Ages.” I tried to phonetically read the Korean on the screen, but I decided it was best that I softly sing the English lyrics. The service proceeded with a scripture reading and a responsive reading, as seen in
many liturgical churches. The minister then began his sermon, and a fellow ETA who speaks Korean informed me that the minister introduced us formally to the congregation. During the sermon, the minister became enthusiastic and many of the congregants shouted “Amen!”, a word which sounds just like the English. Though I wasn’t able to understand the sermon, I felt comfort each time I heard the name “Jesus” in the Korean language. Perhaps that was all I needed.
After the sermon, a nice older gentleman (who told us when to stand up and sit during the sermon), invited us down for the Sunday potluck. Within moments, lots of attendees were saying hello and making eating motions with their hands. As we filed out of the sanctuary, we shook the pastor’s hand and he also invited us to eat.
Side story (but related to this story): In the present moment of my life, I am in “training” to become a third-order Benedictine nun with the Company of Jesus. As I try to determine how to live out the Benedictine values in my time abroad, especially hospitality, I was overwhelmed by the hospitality shown to us Fulbrighters this morning. For example: When we entered the dining area, we were all seated and given chopsticks and a spoon. Soon, congregants began to bring out our plates of food and made sure that everything was to our taste. I’ve experienced this kind of hospitality in the States, but I didn’t know what to expect abroad. These Christians abided by Leviticus 19:33, and sought to do right by those of us visiting in South Korea. As we ate, an man showed me how to use chopsticks and another woman sat with us and tried to learn more about us and why were in the country. The woman even scraped my plate. Sometimes hospitality looks like opening the door to a stranger, despite lots of cultural differences. Finally, at the end of our meal, a very old, bent over gentleman came up to our table and said “Have a good time and don’t leave Korea.”
I think I’m in the right place.
In other news:
I went walking in Goesan today with friends. We visited two pastry shops, Lotteria, and all the convenience stores. I love going into convenience stores here. In a the town of Goesan (it’s a Neon Kentucky, mind you), there are four Korean stores and a 7-Eleven. There are three places to get your hair done, and two fancy pastry places. And cabs. Lots and lots of cabs. I don’t understand how something so rural can be so bustling.
Also, we took a cab back to Jungwon. The driver turned off his music and turned it to a popular American song (Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”). I guess he thought four American girls would like the sound of a British songstress. He’s basically correct.
Tomorrow I’m visiting an all-girls’ high school in nearby town. I’m looking forward to it as I think about where I might like to teach after Departure Day (August 22nd).
Other events include a beach resort visit in two weeks, a visit to the DMZ, a weekend in Seoul, and teaching at Camp Fulbright (and English camp for Korean students). Will these weeks be busy? Yes. Will I be exhausted and sometimes cranky? Um, yes. Will it be totally worth it? Yes, yes , yes.