Prayer for Peace on 6/25

Today, June 25th, marks the day commonly recognized as the beginning of the Korean War when international powers dragged the Korean Peninsula back into conflict, except this time within itself.  As part of my job with the NCCK, I come into contact with resources, liturgy, and prayers that they have created on behalf of the peaceful reconciliation movement. I would like to share this prayer with you today which comes from a service created by NCCK members for the peaceful reconciliation movement.

Oh Lord, who unites us with the joy of liberation, thank you for filling us with life and joy and for reconciling our divided hearts through [our common worship as Christians around the world and our common communion around the table]. The fellowship you have given us becomes our hope and promise while suffering from deep division between sister to sister, brother to brother, and neighbor to neighbor.

Lord, send us your Holy Spirit to overflow with the joy of reconciliation amongst our divided selves, and help us make our nation [and this world] to overflow with your will; in Jesus Christ, who unites us with the joy of liberation.


New Position: NCCK Reconciliation and Reunification Department

This week I celebrate the beginning of a new position for myself in addition to my role as a site coordinator alongside Hyeyoung. For Hyeyoung and me, our role as YAV site coordinator only accounts for 50% of our actual job. We spent the first year putting 100% of our time behind bringing the Korea YAV site up to speed, but now it is time for us to find the other 50% of our job. My regional liaison, Rev. Choon Lim, has made an offer to the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK)ncck logo description that I join their office, particularly working with the Department of Reconciliation and Reunification (RRD). At the moment, this means I will be traveling to Seoul to the offices of the NCCK for two nights and three days a week, then returning to Daejeon the rest of the week. Hyeyoung is still working on her other part of the job, so for now she is assuming a greater role as YAV site coordinator staying in Daejeon while I am in Seoul. This will add difficulty on her part as she will also take care of Sahn on her own while I am in Seoul. We will probably begin leaning more on other babysitters and caretakers while looking for daycare centers Sahn might attend in the near future. It will be difficult for me to not see Sahn for three days! Pray for us as we balance this.

ncck and us state dept

NCCK representatives meet with US State Dept April 2013

The details of my position will be slowly evolving as the months go by. For now, our hope is that I can facilitate more communication between the RRD and other reconciliation organizations around the world, as in Germany reunification organizations, the World Council of Churches, but also the PC(USA) denomination. There is hope that I can connect with the Office of Public Witness in Washington DC so they have a better understanding of the reconciliation movement among churches in Korea. The NCCK also hopes that I can facilitate more interaction between them and our US government in Washington DC. This activity will be of particular significance because more and more Korean organizations are realizing that they cannot hope to achieve reconciliation and an end to the Korean War on their own if other nations, especially the USA, do not participate in that same effort. I also hope to introduce more PC(USA) congregations to the reconciliation movement in Korea and its history. As the specifics of my role and tasks become clearer, I will post more updates. Perhaps the next time we visit the States on itineration we can stop by your church and I can give you a report!

Brief Snapshot of the NCCK: Several denominations in Korea created a council to work together in 1905 through the General Council of Evangelical Mission in Korea, just before annexation by the Japanese in 1910. This developed into the Chosun Christian Presbyterian-Methodist Council in 1918, which later transitioned into the Korean National Council of Protestant Churches in 1924. Eventually, this national council became known as the NCCK. Initially, the council focused on sharing the Gospel with Koreans and working on unity between the denominations. During Japanese Colonization, the council focused on the movement for Korean independence. After the Korean War 1950-1953, the NCCK worked on reconstruction of the church and society in cooperation with world partner churches. Through the 60’s and 70’s the NCCK struggled on behalf of democracy against the military dictatorships of South Korea, working on mission with the urban poor, farmers, and laborers. ncck peace campaignFrom the 80’s when official relationships with Christians in North Korea could be established, the NCCK pursued the peaceful reconciliation and reunification movement. This includes joint prayers along with the Korean Christian Federation in North Korea on behalf of peace every year around August 15th, the date of liberation from Japanese Occupation and the beginning of division under the competing systems of Soviet and US Occupation. They also continue to send food and medical aid to their partners in the North, visiting each year. We hope that my efforts will help strengthen communication and cooperation with world partner churches toward the goal of peace, reconciliation, and reunification on the Korean peninsula.

Current Member Denominations of the NCCK:

  • Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK)
  • Korean Methodist Church (KMC)
  • Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK)
  • Salvation Army in Korea
  • Anglican Church of Korea
  • Evangelical Church of Korea
  • Korean Orthodox Church
  • Korean Assemblies of God

A Child of Several Cultures

2014-05-18 16.17.03

Family pic in May 2014

White Person in USA: “Wow, Sahn is so beautiful! He looks just like his mother. You know, mixed children usually look like the (insert non-white descriptor) parent.”

Korean person in Korea: “He is so cute! Very good looking… he looks just like his dad.”

This is the majority of reactions when people in Korea or in the US meet Sahn for the first time. They generally comment on his good looks and then immediately declare how much closer he resembles either Hyeyoung or me. About 90% of the time anyone in the US made this remark, especially if the person remarking was white, they declared Sahn more closely resembled Hyeyoung. About 95% of the time in Korea, Koreans will declare that he looks like me (and to Hyeyoung’s dismay they sometimes add “That’s why he is so handsome.”). This experience reminded me how much we are conditioned to ignore the same old kind of thing we see everyday (facial features); whereas, differences jump out to us, and may even dominate our interpretation of reality. I feel the same way when I drive down the same street everyday to school or work, and eventually take little to no notice of the same old buildings and people I pass by. However, when one new business with a new sign pops up, I immediately notice and may also define that drive experience by the revelation of a new store or restaurant. So, US Americans mostly notice the features that resemble Hyeyoung’s Korean face, while Koreans mostly notice the features that relate to my white-euro face; each declaring Sahn mostly resembles the other ethnicity.

After we found out Hyeyoung was expecting a child back in the summer of 2012, we started talking and thinking more about what his experience will be like having a mostly white-euro-ancestry father and a Korean mother. While I worked with a project focusing on leadership among Asian Americans, I heard countless stories of 1.5, 2nd, and more generation immigrants dealing with the feeling of “forever between – neither here nor there.” They have grown up in the US and speak mostly English and maybe none of their parents’ native language at all. Their parents’ home country is almost completely foreign to them having grown up in US schools, with US pop culture, music, arts, and fashion.

Son of a Texan and a Korean; born in Chicago; living in Daejeon, so.... he's a wookie?

Son of a Texan and a Korean; born in Chicago; living in Daejeon, so…. he’s a wookie?

Yet they constantly received questions from other US Americans such as, “Where are you from?” “Chicago.” “No, where are you really from?” “I was born in Chicago, but I lived mostly in Oak Park, a suburb.” “No, you know what I mean. Where are you really from from?” Sahn will have to bear the burden of others’ assumption: as he does not resemble the normative image for US American white-euro-ancestry, then he must not truly be from the US, implying that he does not actually belong.

Korean children also bolster the notion that Sahn may never be accepted as Korean in Korea, as they constantly remark, “He looks like a US American.” We often respond, “But because his mother is Korean and his father is US American, then he is both a Korean citizen and American citizen. He even has both passports!” “Yes, but he looks like he is a US American.”

Tisha and Sahn contemplating lunch on retreat last fall

Tisha and Sahn contemplating lunch on retreat last fall. Sahn was a bit more chubby back then.

The most outlandish moment Sahn and Hyeyoung came across happened while out with our YAVs. Hyeyoung and Quantisha entered a pharmacy together, and despite the fact Hyeyoung was holding Sahn, the shopkeeper turned to Quantisha and asked, “Is he yours?”

We hope to be present with Sahn on his journey through identity as helpfully as possible. He must claim his identity for himself even if it ends up being “neither.” We hope to be able to equip him with the skills to engage all the various ways people in both Korea and the US might treat him for better or for worse.  We will affirm all the feelings that might arise when dealing with questions and situations as mentioned above: confusion, anger, pity, isolation, and whatever else may come. We hope he develops a firm connection and understanding of all those feelings. We will struggle to transform the world into a more welcoming community. We also know that much of his choices, how he engages the world, will be up to him in the end.

If you want to explore more about what life is like for children of various ethnic backgrounds or for 1.5 immigrants and beyond, I suggest picking up Bruce Reyes Chow’s book, But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations About Race. We are also using it to think about Sahn’s future journey with race, ethnicity, and identity.


20 Years of Saenaru: Connections Letter

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus the Christ! Although it is the most beautiful time of the year in Korea, many Korean people’s hearts are filled with sorrow and sadness due to the Sewol ferry accident on April 16th, 2014. Since the accident, most of the celebratory events have been canceled, and many Korean citizens are joining with one another to mourn the death of the innocent people on the ferry most of whom were high school students. Please pray for not only the families affected by the accidents but also the people of Korea who are mourning along with their neighbors.

2014-04-04 18.48.22As for our ministry, our family took a trip to the US from March 12th through April 14th to visit churches to share our ministry in Korea and also participate in the YAV Discernment Event in Little Rock where we interviewed the next set of Young Adult Volunteers who will be coming to Korea. We visited 9 states, 20 cites, and 20 congregations during our visit to the US. Yes, it was a very packed schedule, but we were blessed to have welcoming congregations and families who graciously hosted us providing us with beds on which to sleep. As we shared our stories and visions for the future with supporting communities in the US, we received overwhelming interest, curiosity, and many helpful comments and questions. Although we were exhausted at the end, trips like this truly remind us how God’s presence on our journey has taken the form of supporting communities in the US.2014-04-13 09.51.06

Recently our family along with 4 YAVs were privileged and honored to participate in the 20th year anniversary of one of our partner agencies, Saenaru Community Center. The center was established 20 years ago to serve as a soup kitchen for the homeless and hungry and as a children’s center for low income families. Rev. Su Taek Kim, the director of this center, founded this place as a Minjung church. Minjung literally means the mass of people, however, it can also be translated as people who have been socially, politically, and economically oppressed throughout Korea’s long history.

When Rev. Kim was in college, he was an active member of student groups who fought for the democracy of the country. He participated in numerous demonstrations to on behalf the people’s voice, and actively participated in the people’s movement seeking to promote democratization in the midst of a South Korean military dictatorship. He also spent some time in prison for his efforts on behalf of democracy. After graduating from college, Rev. Kim worked as a salary man at a government agency, but found little satisfaction in his work, mostly due to struggles against the corruption of the system. He decided to go to seminary to study theology. While in seminary, his passion for working with downtrodden people grew, so he was naturally drawn to Minjung theology. Upon graduating from seminary, he served in churches in Seoul here and there, but he ended up in Deajeon serving the under-privileged population. He considers Saenaru Center to be part of the Minjung Church Movement. The first floor of Saenaru Community Center serves as both a soup kitchen and as the sanctuary where the Saenaru congregation, including the homeless and hungry, worship every Sunday morning. The center has served about 2,000,000 people over the last 20 years and has earned a reputation among social service agencies as a model for other agencies in Daejeon area. He studied social work to continue his education while working with the center in order to learn more about the system of social welfare. He applied this education to his work at Saenaru immediately.

DSC_2378For the celebration of Rev. Kim’s 20 years of service, the attendees included friends, colleagues, but mostly the homeless and hungry populations that regular visit the Community Center. Kurt gave a sermon in Korean at the event and spoke about Rev. Kim’s humble leadership for the community. Kurt expressed how his leadership exemplifies the work of God who especially cared for the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners, the orphans, and the widows of the society, as in Psalm 146. During the service, our 4 YAVs and our family also sang a Korean hymn written to traditional Korean melodies. The celebration truly honored the work God has been doing in the Saenaru community through the minjung.

We pray that Rev. Kim’s example will also inspire you and your congregation to consider how the minjung in your community might represent the light of Christ for you. What can their perspective teach you about God’s message for our congregations? If your community is interested in joining us in learning these kind of lessons from our partners in Korea, we encourage you to support us through prayer, donations, and communication. For all those who already support us, we are truly thankful. May the light of Christ shine. Amen.

Peace in Christ,

Hyeyoung Lee and Kurt Esslinger

Jeju Island Study Trip Part 2: The Beauty of Jeju

This gallery contains 29 photos.

We are going to do this reflection on Jeju Island in four parts, I have decided; because I feel like I shouldn’t give you two Han-filled posts in a row. I will mix in some scenery before another sad story. You cannot help but feel something magical when you step onto Jeju Island. Mount Halla […]

Jeju Island Study Trip: Part 1

We take the YAVs on four big study trips/retreats during the one year they live with us in Daejeon. Our first trip was to Busan for the World Council of Churches Assembly. This time we went to Jeju Island. It is Korea’s largest island, and it hangs off the southern tip of the peninsula. It is known these days as a vacation/resort location, particularly for honeymoon couples. However, we went to learn about some of its darker history and some of the ways the islanders continue to deal with sufferings of the past. We spent 6 nights and 7 days there learning about the history of the island, it’s connection to the history of the mainland, and it’s unique culture that differs a bit from the mainland. I’ll cover different parts of our week there over the course of several posts.

Jeju April 3rd Peace Park (4/3 “Sah Sahm”)

jeju peace park group WEB

This memorial was created to remind us all of the massacre that began on April 4th, 1948 in response to an uprising against the US Military Government and the local leadership it set up in Jeju. Over the course of 7 years an estimated 20,000 to 30,00 people were killed or disappeared. Every single family on Jeju was affected by this massacre, and its ripples continue to influence lives today. I will try to give you a brief description of the context in this post. I will also direct you to other places where you can learn a bit more.

A Truth Commission to determine exactly what happened during those seven years was only created as recently as the year 2000 in the wake of a successful Korean Democracy Movement (1987) and did not conclude its efforts until 2009.

The Truth Commission found that the spark of particular unrest came from a March 1st, 1947 demonstration. The demonstration commemorated the March 1st Independence Movement that began under Japanese occupation. They also demonstrated on behalf of the hope for a unified country, thus in protest of the US Military Government plans to hold unilateral elections in southern Korea for a separate government. Korean National Police fired upon the demonstrators killing six and leaving six severely injured. Workers and farmers across the island responded with a general strike. The US Military Government and the Koreans they appointed in leadership on Jeju decided this was the work of Soviet/northern Korean communists so they moved to suppress the strikers. The group of islanders decided that only armed retaliation could break the suppression, so they attacked a police station on April 3rd, 1948. The US Military Government, it’s Korean appointees and the subsequent South Korean Government then began an operation that included brutal suppression of the entire island that lasted from 1948 until 1954; this suppression included torture, illegal imprisonment, mass executions, and disappearances. I will mark the most noteworthy aspects of those 7 years.

Jeju graves WEB

A statue at the grave site marking the 4,000 or so known victims whose bodies were never found.

  • Of all those killed or disappeared, the Truth Commission found that around 80% were attributed to government forces and only 12% were attributed to rebel groups.
  • The majority of the victims were between the ages 10 – 29 while 5.8% were under the age of 10 and 6.1% were over the age of 60.
  • The US Military Government and the Korean commanders it appointed approved a “scorched-earth” tactic, especially in the years of 1948-49. Before 1948 Jeju had somewhere over 400 villages. After 1949 almost 300 of those villages no longer existed having been burned to the ground.
  • The South Korean government revived an old law that the Joseon Dynasty had outlawed in the previous century: if you are convicted of a crime (especially against the government) then all of your relatives are shunned by the rest of the province shutting out job opportunities, land rental/ownership, and travel off of the island. Thus the entire island became wrapped into and affected by suppression of those struggling for democracy and others assumed to be associated. This public shunning continues to affect families today.
  • No evidence of a link to the Soviets or northern Korean forces were ever found, although that was the most common fear used to legitimate US Military Government and later South Korean government policy in Jeju.
Jeju mother statue

This statue commemorates a mother and daughter whose bodies were found in a snowbank having been gunned down by government forces.

Through all of this pain and sadness we get a sense of the 한 (han) of the people of Jeju. Han refers to a deep kind of unjust suffering and the scar it leaves on people. Nevertheless, the memorial also honored the bravery and the hope of those who finally came out to tell their story bringing the truth to light. We pray that their courage will give us the strength to struggle for peace and life in the face of death. The Island of Jeju has, since the end of the Truth Commission, been declared an Island of Peace for the future. May it be so.

Further reading:

Islanders Still Mourn April 3 Massacre – Article from the Jeju Weekly

Jeju April 3rd Peace Park website

Seeking Truth After 50 Years – A paper on the work of creating the Truth Commission

Advent Devotional: To You in Rome

Another devotion written for a friend. Thanks to Katie Snipes Lancaster for the images as well!

Romans 1:1-7 From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for God’s good news. God promised this good news about his Son ahead of time through his prophets in the holy scriptures. His Son was descended from David. He was publicly identified as God’s Son with power through his resurrection from the dead, which was based on the Spirit of holiness.

This Son is Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we have received God’s grace and our appointment to be apostles. This was to bring all Gentiles to faithful obedience for his name’s sake. You who are called by Jesus Christ are also included among these Gentiles. To those in Rome who are dearly loved by God and called to be God’s people, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“To You In Rome”

Rome was a very long way away from Jerusalem and the center of the early church. For the early believers, this disconnect proved to be worrisome at times. Paul could not simply hop over to give advice for every conflict, nor could he comfort them in person as the powers that be worked to suppress their community. They wondered, “How can we continue to maintain the light of faith when all around us seems dark?” Paul responds to their fear in the opening greeting of his letter.

winter snow candlelight when all seems darkHe says, the promise that brought Jesus to us came from a long time ago through a great many people before us. You are also a part of that promise! You have received that call and that grace!

This reminds me of when Sirius Black is talking to Harry Potter about his deceased parents at the end of the Prisoner of Azkaban.

He tells Harry, “The ones that love us never really leave us. You can always find them.”

He points to Harry’s chest and explains, “In here.” That is also how Harry produced his stag patronus to drive off the dementors.

No matter how disconnected you might feel from God, how dark the world outside seems, Jesus’ love for us will never really leave us. Even now we are filled with his grace and his light. This gives us our patronus. This is what keeps us going, keeps us fighting for justice, keeps us raising the light in the midst of darkness.