Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mission Experience in the Countryside

I only wish that I had a picture of everyone worshipping together. It was a really beautiful moment. At one point, we were singing a Korean song with a really beautiful Chorus. It had the word Hosanna three times and then a bunch of Korean. After we sang the chorus a few times, the female pastor of education asked that we go around the circle and have each person sing the chorus individually. It was really stunning to hear. When it was my turn I sang the first two Hosanna's and then began to mumble something where the Korean words belonged. The voice of the whole group surrounded me as the other young adults helped me with the words. When it came time for the final Hosanna they fell silent and allowed me to sing by myself. It was an object lesson for me.

This is the Methodist congregation we were helping. The church is in a very rural setting. Because the people's homes and lives are still very traditionally Korean, the church building also has to look like a traditional Korean holy place. Most churches in Korea look more like office buildings with red neon crosses than holy sites.

This is the exception. It won't be finished for a while yet. The pastor has plans to invite young adults who are searching for God's call to come and live in the church. The second floor on the right hand side of the building will be the library.

I found true community with my Korean friends. We cooked all of our meals outside on a fire. We lived in close proximity and shared life together. We sang our prayer of thanks while we served each other. It felt like a cross between a hippy commune and church as I know it. It was really beautiful.

We also worked on the large farm surrounding the church site. These boots are worn in the rice paddies. We worked for about 4 hours pulling weeds. I can add "rice paddy cultivation" to my list of useless skills. It was a lot of fun. We also worked inside the church building. I was finally able to put my masonry skills to use (I took a masonry class in High School, which had -until now- been useless.)

This is what my feet looked like after working in the rice paddy. I was so grossed out, but couldn't help thinking, "how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news."

The weekend was exactly what I needed. On top of this amazing experience I got to watch Transformers2 and spend a few hours at a spa (a very Korean experience that, when I have recovered, I will tell you all about.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dawn Prayer

I wake some mornings before dawn. I'm pleasantly nesting at the bus stop when the city street lights turn off from their long night of activity. The church bus doesn't come until 5:05, but I prefer arriving at the curb by 4:30. The small group of humble warriors puts on the most stirring and beautiful pageant every morning before the sun begins to shine. They arrive one at a time and shake hands and bow to everyone present. The four seats at the bus stop are always given to senior members. A fantastic game of musical chairs ensues as each congregant arrives and finds his or her place.

One woman always manages to catch my attention. Although her hair is dyed black (and she doesn't look nearly as old as some of the others), her voice gives away a hidden wisdom that could only come with advanced age. She hobbles on stiff legs. Her outfit is the atrocious mix of colors, patterns, and designs that only partial blindness or old age allow. Her outer-coat looks like a festive Easter egg hunt, her socks proudly declare the Union Jack under sandals. It reminds me of Marty Spires, who at 82 had earned the right to use any word without apology during Sunday School class - and often did.

As the bus approaches those gathered on the curb bow gently in unison toward it. This always seems strange and quirky to me. I like it though. The bus ride is short, picking up five other groups of unison-bowing congregants. We arrive at church at 5:30 for prayer.

Dawn Prayer is designed with older adults in mind. There is no standing and sitting and standing and sitting. We sing two or three old fashion hymns, the pastor preaches a short sermon, and then we go to the Lord in prayer. Our prayer time is really rather vocal. The paradigm isn't silent prayer, for sure. The chorus of the group prayer resonates like a symphony that could fill Carnegie Hall; rising and falling, swelling to a fury and then dissipating to muffled groans and gentle sobs.

The scripture today was from 2 Chronicles. Pastors who use these books too often tend to make me nervous, but this morning my voice was among the gentle sobs as my prayers followed these verses. The story is one of war, and the good guys have won and are returning with slaves in tow. A prophet, Oded, shares a message of social justice and liberation. He asks the warriors to free the slaves. "The men designated by name took the prisoners, and from the plunder they clothed all who were naked. They provided them with clothes and sandals, food and drink, and healing balm. All those who were weak they put on donkeys. So they took them back to their fellow countrymen at Jericho, and returned to Samaria."

In these days of scary news reports and uncertainty, this verse helps. Because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if war broke out; this is how the South Korean Christians would respond. The image of the old woman in the clashing clothes removing her wacky-tacky outer-coat to give to a soldier returning home without clothing runs through my mind as I internalize this scripture.

We pray for peace, but prepare to love at all costs and in all situations.
I'm still enjoying my time in Korea. Classes are going as well as can be expected. I've joined the young adult small group which has been a huge blessing. They are in the countryside this weekend working on preparing the grounds for the building of a new church. I hope to join them on Friday.

The weather is hot and humid now. Although the temperature hasn't been too terribly hot, the humidity makes life without air-conditioning almost unbearable. I was feeling sick last night and slept for 13 hours. I feel much better now.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

More pcitures

This is a picture of my last shred of dignity as it slowly succumbs to a painful death. This is Market Day, an outreach event for children learning English. My job was to pose with the families for a fun picture. It was a really succesful event and I got to meet a lot of new people, many of whom were parents of my students. Most of the pictures were actually fun and not nearly this sad.

All Asian kids are adorable, but this one might take the cake. He only speaks 3 sentences in English, but he sure does practice them a lot.

This is the other new missionary teacher, Molly. We traded shifts in the dignity loss/photography booth.

Do Hyun, a new friend. He goes to one of Korea's Ivy League schools. His major is German, primarily because he has already mastered English and French and after sampling all the languages his school offered he felt that German was the most difficult. He wants to be a missionary, pastor, politician, or diplomat. He can say this with a straight face - and Korean's aren't known for their sense of humor - so I guess he's telling the truth. He does the English translation for our church services and the only mistake he makes is saying Crucifacation instead of Crucifixtion. I'll correct him the Monday before I leave. It makes sermons much more entertaining.

This photo shows all of the kids at Market Day. While many of the students at our kindergarten and after school program came, we also made many new contacts. It was nice to see the Koreans from our church talking with each new family present. It was even worth the loss of any dignity I had left.

Just adorable.

Friday, June 19, 2009

It's been a long week. I moved into a new apartment, which pretty much changed the entire dynamic of my life.

My roomates are awesome and a lot of fun to hang out with. We all do our own thing, but when we get together we couldn't have more fun.

Our apartment is on the first floor, which is nice for a lot of reasons, however, because we don't use air conditioning we have to keep our windows open. Our windows overlook one of the apartment complexes playgrounds. Our apartment is very noisy. But, it's beautiful. I will post pictures when we get it decorated and how we want it.

The classes are going well, but I still want more Korean friends to spend time with. I'm very happy here, I enjoy my work and am still trying to get connected at church and in the community.

Because Americans who live here all work as English teachers, Koreans who speak English don't ever approach us to talk ... mainly because they feel that we would want to be paid for our time as they practiced their English. I don't feel this way and wish that Koreans would let me know that they speak English.

I'm adjusting to the food, but so far I only really enjoy expensive Korean food.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Big Meal and a Missionary Moment

Yesterday our small group of foreign teachers was treated to dinner. Korean barbeque is truly an experience. The table is set when you arrive. A small, round gas-grill resides in the center of a glorified coffee table. Everyone sits on the ground around the short table; the first 20 or 30 side dishes waiting for the eldest member at the table to take the first bite. The server brings a plate of raw meat to the eldest male at the table; he holds the responsibility of placing the meat on the grill. The youngest member of the table pours water for everyone and hands out silverware.

The side dishes are various and numerous. Kimchi is omnipresent, in various incarnations. As the meal continues the eldest male cuts the meat into smaller portions. When the main course is finished cooking everyone present begins constructing leaf rolls.

First you take a piece of lettuce, then pieces of meat dipped in various sauces, then you pile different side dishes on top of the meat. You roll the lettuce, meat, etc, into a ball and stuff the entire thing into your mouth. It’s very rude to not shove the whole thing into your mouth. All of the main course must be consumed before anyone may leave the table.

So, now that you know all of that, here is the fun story.

Our school began its first all-English all-subjects grade this year. Our first grade class is small, but so far very successful. The biggest problem we have encountered so far is the parents and grandparents. They are constantly hover around the school to make sure that their children are learning sufficiently. One grandmother in particular spends an extreme amount of time listening in. She even walks in the dirt behind the school to look in the back window. She has become somewhat of a running joke.

So we were very surprised and happy when we found out that she wanted to treat all of the foreign teachers to dinner. We were even more surprised and happier when we realized that we would be eating at a very tasty Korean barbeque dinner. So, we went and we ate … and we ate … and we ate some more. I ate so much that I was a little light headed, which I didn’t know happened. And yet, after all of this eating, there was still main course meat left on the table.

So, to remedy this situation, our Pastor began making very large lettuce, meat, etc. rolls and LITERALLY SHOVED THEM INTO OUR MOUTHS! I’m not kidding. Apparently publicly force feeding young adults is less rude than leaving main course meat uneaten.

Following our very large meal we were invited to the grandmother’s apartment for dinner. I’ve never seen a two-story apartment, a roof-deck dining room, or so much crystal. The apartment felt like a mausoleum, every floor and wall was granite or marble of some kind. The ceilings were mirror. The view from the 15th and 16th floors of the nicest apartment building in town was nothing short of breathtaking.

We found out later that the woman is a Buddhist, but is very happy with the fact that her grandson is going to a Christian school and is even willing to bring him to church on Sundays. The pastor made sure that we understood that we had made this contact through our language ministry and that God was doing great things in this woman’s heart.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Perfect Saturday

This morning Molly, Dillon, and I (teachers at Wesley Mission Language School) managed to roll out of our beds at 8 in the morning to go on a class field trip. We rode the school bus to Cheunon (Cha-non)with 25 kids in tow and watched Night at the Museum 2. It's a great movie with a lot of action, but it's still really kid friendly and funny.

After we returned from the field trip the American and Korean teachers all went out for noodles. I order jajeongmen, which tastes a little like french onion soup. It was pretty good.

Heong He (who we sometimes call Sabrina) took Molly and me to a really big mall. The mall was back in Cheunon, so Gin Ho gave us a ride to the bus station and we took a bus.

We went shopping for a while and then watched a very scary movie together at the cinema. We chose Burger King for dinner. We went to a different restaurant for dessert and had canned fruit in ice. They just dumped a can of mixed fruit into ice water and charged us 11 bucks for it! But, it was good and we had a great time (and now we know what to serve for dessert when Koreans come over!). Heong He speaks English very well and gave Molly and me a lot of insight into Korean life.

It was good to simply spend time with Koreans outside of the work environment!

The Korean teachers at our school are amazing.
He Young is like the director. She also handles discipline problems.
Bek Young (no relation) just got married and she and her husband and great to be around.
Heong He is just here until the end of the semester, which is sad because we are already so close - but she is moving to Seoul ... so we will always have a couch in the city!

P.S. When I re-read this it reminded me that I should explain Korean names. Korean names consist of 3 parts. The surname (last name) comes first. Kim is the usual surname, more than half of our students have the last name Kim. The next two parts are given names. They come from Chinese characters. So, for instance, He Young means Bright Sunshine and Bek Young means 100 Beautiful. Same given name, different meaning. Given names have no gender significance. It's a world of Pats. Surnames are common given names.

So, it's common in class to have

Kim Young Seong
Young Kim Seong
Seong Kim Young

It's really confusing ... like ridiculously confusing. But sort of fun.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why "Unconventional Missionary"?

I've realized that I should probably explain the title at the top of this blog.

When I first felt called to missions I always pictured grass huts in Africa. As I confirmed my call through mission experiences in Russia, India, and China, my picture of missions expanded.

Still, I figured that my first long term mission experience would be somewhere working with the poor or the unreached. God had other plans.

South Korea is anything but poor. In my three weeks here I have seen 1 homeless person. And this country is anything but unreached. South Korea is home to the largest Methodist, Presbyterian, and Catholic churches in the world. While more than half the population belong to faiths other than Christianity, the Gospel message is readily available for all of them.

South Korea is a missionary sending country. My purpose here is to encourage and support that movement. We teach English because it is the international language, but much more importantly we teach love. We model a missionary lifestyle for our students with the hope that our simple lives will inspire them to missionary action.

So, I feel that my time here is a little unusual. It's not what I had in mind, but so far it's been a great experience.

Just thinking...

Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.

Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.

If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies.

He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.

Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.

Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.

The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun.
Ecclesiastes 11:1-7

Pastor Jeong quotes this scripture often these days. In dawn prayer there is no interpretation, so instead imaginations float on deciphering what God has for us this day.

This scripture is so beautiful for this day; so harsh, and brash, and truthful; yet still unrelentingly beautiful.

The north and south imagery is breathtaking in the face of predictions (rumors) of war, and waiting for the hour of English news we receive each day, which, shockingly, suffices just as well without the other 23 hours of filler material we are accustomed to.

Or maybe it's the idea that we shouldn't rely on surrounding circumstances - that if we watch the wind we will never sow - to follow God's leading.

Or just the continued dawning of the revelation that I just don't get God. I don't understand how God operates in any tangible way. I don't know why God has me here. I don't think I will ever comprehend God in any significant way.

The sun is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun. Indeed it is. It's good to see the sun, rising and setting without any diffidence to me.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Here is my address

Here is the address I will use. It's the church's address, so make sure to have my name somewhere on the envelope/package. But, here it is in English and in Korean. If you feel like sending mail, you can just print the addresses out and tape them to the envelope/package.
Thanks, Michael.

Onyang Oncheon Methodist Church
Asan city, Chungnam-do, Oncheon2-dong #149-47, 336-012
South Korea

충남 아산시온천2동 149-47번지
온양온천 감리교회

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A day in my life, or "Pictures, finally."

Here is a pictorial directory of my Sabbath day in Asan City, South Korea.

This is my alarm clock. I brought my mom's alarm clock (circa 1970) but it is broken, so I bought a Korean alarm clock. It didn't have batteries in it, so I just prayed that it would be loud enough to wake me. It is. And several neighboring counties! I managed to find the loudest alarm clock ever produced. I have so far not managed to find any volume control on him, though.

This is my parking lot and further proof that South Korea is the safest place on earth. If you park another car in, you simply leave your car in neutral so they can move it in the morning. Isn't that nice?

All the parks have exercise equipment. Just a subtle reminder that this is the only Asian country with fat kids. So, uhmm. Hint -ity, Hint, Hint. In the background is our favorite Pizza place. Pizza always includes corn as a topping, which is just great.

Oh, did I mention I'm in Asia and take pictures of stereotypically Asian things?

This is church. Church is always this full. This is not a special Sunday. It was actually a little slack, since we only took in one new member. Last week we took in 5.

After church we gather for a large meal. It's really beautiful.

There's something about this picture that I love. Everyone is so giving here, so there's nothing special about serving in a food line once a week; but there's something about their attitude that we need to catch.

Here's the food. I try really hard to eat everything, but so far I haven't found any Korean food that I really love.

But honestly -if you didn't know- wouldn't you believe this photo was from a brain surgery post-op? Yep, I eat it all.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Things I've noticed

I've been in Korea for a week and two days. I still love it. Here are a few things I have noticed.

Kimchi, which is like a strange love-child of sauerkraut and Tabasco sauce, is a daily occurrence. It is practically an hourly occurrence. Koreans couldn't accidentally drink bathwater without a side of kimchi.

Korea might be the cleanest place in the world. The ratio of Koreans to Koreans-employed-by-the-government-to-clean-the-streets is 6:5.

Korea might be the safest place on earth. No one locks their apartment. One family in my building does, but they keep the key in a small bag attached to the door knob.

Everything about my life has a faint kimchi smell. It's like my own personal theme song, but in olfactory form.

My apartment complex has 5 security guards who do nothing. There is no crime here. However, on recycling day they are very busy making sure that everyone recycles according to the rules. Molly and I were yelled at by our security guard for throwing recyclables into the trash.

The church here does everything better than the church in America. Everything. Everyone tithes. I'm pretty sure that everyone gives above and beyond their tithe.

Koreans don't sleep. The average sleep time is 6-7 hours a night. Our pastor gets 3-4 hours a night. He wakes up at 3 for personal prayer before dawn prayer.

Older adults in Korea are adorable. All of them. They are the cutest people on earth. They crumple. The tallest Korean over the age of 65 has crumpled to 4 feet 3 inches. They all attend dawn prayer every day.

Little kids in Korea are cute but behave very badly. However, they get all of the naughtiness out of their systems when they are kids and they don't go through the sullen teenager phase that Americans do. It's a good trade off I think.

Koreans don't wear deodorant often, but the deodorant they sell here is definitely for Koreans. The deodorant stick is about a quarter of the size of American deodorant. It takes me 6 swipes to lather up my fat American arms with their skinny deodorant sticks.

Being force fed could also be used as a torture device to elicit information. I've had two meals at the same Japanese restaurant and both times the Koreans have given us so much food that we were physically sick for days afterward.

Monday, June 1, 2009


So, I tried to post once, but it didn't post.

Today was the first day of classes. My classes are ok. I'm happy with them, but I'm not thrilled. The last group of teachers. I think in a few days I will know my kids better and will be better able to assess them. I have one class that will be a real test of patience and one class with 4 middle school age girls who don't speak a word of English. It could prove to be a long 3 months.

I enjoy a lot of the food, but there is some food that I hate. Every few days we go to a restaurant that doesn't allow us to order. They just bring us food. I'm never happy with that idea.

I rolled my ankle on the way to church yesterday. It swelled up like a watermellon last night. I know I'm fine because I can walk on it without too much pain. My ankle was too big to fit into any of my shoes (either of my pair of shoes!) so I had to wear my flip flops. Church was good, but not nearly as good as dawn prayer every morning.

The pastor took us to a very expensive Japanese resaurant one of the church Elders owns. We ate so much food we could have popped. Every time we felt full they would bring out more food. The food was great, except for the last course - fish bowel soup.

Over all everything is great here. I'm getting a bed and my own bedroom on Thursday. That will be really nice.