2014 in Review

I find it very interesting that people from 51 different countries actually came in to take a look at our blog here and there. Most of the stats aren’t particularly exciting, but there you go.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Advent Thoughts 2014

My mind is a-swirl with the mess that seems to be the state of the world at the end of this strange year. The world seems to be twisting and turning… but in which direction? Where shall we find the light in the darkness?

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.” Luke 1:46-55

The world was also a-swirl for this one woman legitimately afraid that her child might be the next one the authorities kill. Still! she grabs tight on to this hope; this promise of new life; a light that even the deepest darkness could not snuff out.

The US groans under the weight racial tension and the legacy of a racist system that was never fully dismantled. African American parents fear for the life of their children wondering if they might be the next to be assumed dangerous whether they have committed a crime or not. An increased gap in wealth inequality stretches our social fabric to rending point, multiplying racial tensions. The US has upgraded to cyber war with North Korea as comedians fail to grasp the consequences of ignoring the context and history of a war currently in progress. All of us here working on reconciliation and building bridges for peace across the DMZ are bracing for roadblocks to our efforts because of this movie, The Interview. Both the South and North envision absorption of the other as reunification policy, as the South just declared an entire political party to be illegal because a part of its constitution supposedly resembles ideas of North Korea. I can’t breathe. We are in desperate need for God to turn this world upside down.

And yet… and yet… none of this can completely extinguish the light of the hope of Jesus the Christ. A light for us when all other lights go out. The hope that God will help our work for reconciliation to continue; the hope that God will heal the wounds of US communities and bring understanding and empathy; the hope that even in the darkest night we can still press on. Even when all our earthly institutions crumble, all our efforts fail, and we have nothing left of our own strength we will have this light to hold on to.

light in the darkness

light in the darkness

So I grasp on hold, and I hope you join your hands with me.

May God bring peace through our broken world.

Amen.

Connections Letter: Advent and Reconciliation

Greetings to you in the name of our hope, the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ,

The Advent is here, and just like last year, it brings me thoughts of hope for peaceful reconciliation of the conflict on the Korean peninsula. I pray that as we celebrate the coming of the baby Jesus, we may also celebrate the coming of a peace treaty to a people living in the shadow of war for over 60 years. My work with the Reconciliation and Unification Committee (RUC) of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) has continued and has put me in connection with Koreans doing some amazing work. I would like to introduce you to one of them, but first I will update you on our current Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs).

Kalyn gets some advice on Korean chocolate from her housemate, Ye Eun.

Kalyn gets some advice on Korean chocolate from her housemate, Ye Eun.

Jordan and Kalyn have now moved well beyond the early honeymoon stage here in Korea, and they are currently knee deep in the struggle of learning Korea through Hannam University’s Korean language course. By the time you read this letter, they will have taken their first midterm and will probably be closing in on the end of the class. By the end of December, they will no longer spend four hours a day for five days a week in Korean language class. At this point in the year at their volunteer sites, they are still developing relationships with their co-workers and youth.

Now is a common time for homesickness to kick in. In fact, Jordan and Kalyn could use some of your extra prayers these days as they both are dealing with extended family illness back home in the States. In this coming year, the relationships they are developing will start to take hold and give them a source of support in Korea. So please keep them in your prayers!

Jordan conducts the Beop Dong Center youth orchestra at a neighborhood festival.

Jordan conducts the Beop Dong Center youth orchestra at a neighborhood festival.

For the other half of my work in Korea, I would like to introduce you to a colleague and friend with whom I have the pleasure of working in Seoul at the NCCK offices. Ji-Eun (Esther) Kim works as a kind of program assistant for the Reconciliation and Unification Committee. Actually, she holds this job by virtue of participating in a global volunteer program of the United Methodist Church of the U.S.A.

Ji-Eun grew up as a 3rd generation Methodist in Korea. When she attended Methodist Theological University in Seoul, she began to volunteer with student organizations addressing the issues of poverty, hunger, and the like. During this time she began to develop an understanding of God calling her to be a “justice seeker.” Her community there helped her to affirm the essential connection between “sharing the Gospel” and “social action,” in response to Christian communities who tried to teach that the two were mutually exclusive. When Ji-Eun sought to narrow her understanding of God’s call, she found a global volunteer program run by the United Methodist Church of the U.S.A. This program would help her discern the kind of justice that God calls her to work on, the type of people to work with, and the issue that connected most to her passion. This program bears a strong resemblance to our own YAV program! So, she went to Zambia worked with women and children as a gender justice intern, training leaders of churches in leading bible studies focused on gender justice for one and a half years. The second half of the program is one and a half year’s work in her home country, Korea.

Ji Eun (Esther) Kim and me at the NCCK offices.

Ji Eun (Esther) Kim and me at the NCCK offices.

Her return to her home Korea has provided the most acute opportunity for clarifying her passion and God’s call. She now works as a versatile program assistant for the Reconciliation and Unification Committee of the NCCK, compiling and building a reconciliation communication network, translating Korean into English, and various support in creating seminars and other events for the RUC. She will tell you how appreciative she is that I have come to work alongside her to help bear some of the load of translation! Academic Korean can be tricky to translate into English, in case you were wondering. At any rate, this work has confirmed her passion for especially striving for justice for the weak on the Korean peninsula through the peaceful reconciliation movement. Her current project is planning a Peace Walk for the NCCK RUC that will start at Jeju Island, the southern tip of Korea and walk up to the Northern border. You can also see an interview I did with Ji Eun about her work with the NCCK on this earlier post.

Ji-Eun told me that she sees the presence of God in the work that Koreans undertake to reach out and care for the weak and the suffering among them. God has instilled in her a passion for the pain of Korea suffering under a constant state of war, and for those crying out for freedom in North Korea. She is considering graduate studies in peace, war, and reconciliation once her term with the UMC program is finished, but she is also considering taking a full 3 year position as a mission worker for the Methodist Church as well. This advent season, she yearns for more vigorous progress in the movement for reconciliation. She says, “If I am a disciple of Jesus, I must work for the weak and struggle for justice.” We have much to learn for powerful women like Ji-Eun.

I thank you for your support of our assignment as mission co-workers to Korea, and Ji-Eun thanks you for the translation help. For those interested in adding your support and hopping on board this amazing journey, we welcome anything you have to offer. Especially if you are looking for somewhere to make an end-of-year donation and you haven’t found a place yet, please consider us! We have surpassed the amount we raised last year, but our target was higher this year and we still have a way to go before 2015 arrives. You joining our journey will be very appreciated! I pray the Prince of Peace be present with you and all those throughout Korea, amen.

Connections Letter: God is in Korea

Our 2013-14 crew at Seoraksan Park.

Greetings friends, family, and supporters,

An entire year of Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) in Korea with us has passed and a new set of young adults has already hit full speed in struggling to adapt to a new culture. Also, Happy Chuseok! The Korean Harvest Festival passed this past week (September :(…..), and Hyeyoung, Sahn, and I went to see the grandparents in Ulsan eating ourselves silly.

We did not have much time to reflect on our first set of YAVs since they headed back to the States in July because I started the new position taking me to Seoul for three days every week. Chuseok gave us a little bit of breathing time, however, and we feel very positive about our work and the future potential for this site. We have much work to do in terms of expanding the site and adding some diversity to the volunteer opportunities, but we have a solid foundation to work from.

Our 2013-14 crew at Seoraksan Park.

Our 2013-14 crew at Seoraksan Park.

We thoroughly enjoyed walking alongside Molly, Bennett, Tisha, and Eric this past year. We had the pleasure of seeing them grow and change as they encountered struggles and had to adapt to a life that stretched them to their limits. For years we will probably not know the full extent to which their time in Korea has affected them; however, they have already begun reflecting on their experience. During their last month here we took them on a retreat to Seoraksan Mountain Park on the Northeast coast. The view of the ocean is stunning, and the mountain trails gave us the perfect setting to take a breath of clean air and to let the events of a year sink in. At one point on the visit to the mountain, the YAVs left Hyeyoung, Sahn, and me behind to climb up a rather difficult path leading to a cave high above the feet of the mountain. When they came back down they exclaimed how majestic the view from the cave was. That moment in and of itself became a spiritual moment, and they each remarked how palpable the presence of God seemed to be there.

Coming down from the mountain, we spent some time asking them about their feelings having nearly completed their YAV year. One of the more striking reflections came from Bennett. He recalled how he spent his first two weeks in Korea convinced that he came here by mistake (though he kept that feeling well hidden from us!). The food and the signs in a different alphabet nearly overwhelmed him. Eventually he settled in to his life of Korean language class for the first half of the day and volunteering at the children’s center and soup kitchen the second half. By the time they all finished their semester of Korean language, Bennett began to see the change in relationships because of his increased ability to communicate with the children and the people eating and volunteering in the kitchen. Although a certain level of discomfort followed him throughout the year, he came to recognize that he “had a place” at Saenaru Community Center and that he was meant to be there after all.

Bennett in the middle of games at Saenaru.

Bennett in the middle of games at Saenaru.

Members of the community even commented on the difference of his presence. One person approached Bennett and said that, after several months, they realized he was not like the other volunteers that come in now and again from universities in order to satisfy volunteer hour requirements. They could see his devotion to the site, and they specifically thanked him for coming back every week all year. He was not able to pinpoint exactly all the changes, but the discomfort and struggle have changed him as a person for the better.

We hope to hear more and more from Bennett and the other YAVs as they head off on the next chapters for their journey. If there experience resembles my experience as a YAV many years ago, they will probably not fully understand the effects of a YAV year for some time to come. We do know for sure where they are heading this year! Bennett has chosen to take on a second year as a YAV in New Orleans, LA. Molly has also taken on a second YAV year, and she has begun her time in Little Rock, AR. Eric had already been accepted to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, so he has headed to Pennsylvania. Tisha has begun her studies at McCormick Theological Seminary. Two out of four already beginning studies in ministry is a pretty good percentage, while all four of them are already taking on leadership in the church community.

A view from Seoraksan Park.

A view from Seoraksan Park.

With our former YAVs and with the new YAVs recently arrived, we will continue to make the affirmation Eric made in a blog post earlier this summer, that “God is in Korea.” “God has been demonstrating all year how the gospel transcends all barriers of culture and language. Starting with attending the World Council of Churches conference last Autumn, where we worshipped and studied the Word with Christians from all over the globe, I have been becoming more deeply moved by God’s presence all year. I have been moved by the light of Christ in people I have met from Korea, America, Canada, Hungary, England, the Philippines, and Pakistan, who are all here in Korea to serve the Lord In various ways…. Even as the manifestation of faith in Christ is radically different in various cultures, the presence and message of God Himself in what I’ve seen of the world is profoundly constant. The gospel is truly a message for the entire world. Apprehending this has indeed increased my awe and wonder at our God….” Read his full post here.

We thank all those who continue to support our work in Korea helping young adult leaders to grow in confidence and faith. We invite all others who are interested in seeing this work continue to join our community and consider donating financial resources, prayers, or connect with us in other ways.

Peace,

Kurt Esslinger

Reconciliation & Unification Committee Work and Kurt

The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations NY office recently requested that I provide them with a video description of my connection to the National Council of Churches in Korea and its Reconciliation and Unification Committee (RUC). The Presbyterian UN office was putting on a seminar focusing on Korea, so that had our work here as part of it. They were hoping to connect with me over Skype, but the timing did not work out. So, I sent them a video message instead. Thankfully, my friend and colleague, Esther Ji-Eun Kim, was willing to help me out with the part explaining the activities of the RUC. She is an intern with the RUC through a program of the United Methodist Church (USA), so she worked for a year in Zambia and is now serving for a year in her home country, Korea!

 

NCCK Visit to Pyongyang and Joint Worship

ncck visit 2014-8(From an NCCK news article I helped to translate into English)

The 8.15 Joint Prayer Worship for Peace and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula was held at the Bong Su Church in Pyongyang with The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) and The Korean Christian Federation (KCF).

For this, the NCCK organized a delegation of 19 people from member denominations and affiliated organizations, and they visited Pyongyang from August 13th(Wed) up to 16th (Sat).

The first steps toward this joint worship service began with the proposal of the Declaration on Peace and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula at the World Council of Churches (WCC) Busan Assembly, and then the process for action agreed upon at the Bossey, Switzerland International Consultation on Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.

The National Council of Churches (NCCK) and the Korean Christian Federation (KCF), after the Bossey Consultation, held this joint worship prayer service at the Bong Su Church in Pyongyang keeping in mind the meaning of the 8.15 Week of Prayer for the Peace and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula, which was adopted by the churches of the world.

The NCCK visited Pyongyang with a delegation of 19 people including member churches, member organizations, along with women and young adult representatives on August 13th – 16th. Especially, in accordance with all that had been significantly discussed from the WCC General Assembly and the Bossey Consultation toward the extension of the exchange of women and young adults between churches of South and North, each church included the participation of two representatives from groups of women and young adults respectively. Also there was a delegation of women from the KCF, so they sought the possibility of an exchange of women between the South and North; therefore they held a discussion on the movement for reunification and the exchange and cooperation of young adults from the South and North.

ncck visit 2014-8 2The Joint Prayer Meeting began with masters of ceremonies and Rev. Kang Myung Chul (Chairperson of the KCF) welcomed the NCCK delegation with a message of welcome for visiting Pyongyang during a difficult time. He said that still, we have been connected as one in Jesus Christ even though we have not had opportunities to have frequent meetings. Also he mentioned that our gathering has a very significant meaning for creating a peaceful atmosphere, as peace and reunification is the path toward life, while distrust and war is the path toward a ruined country. We should not forget that we are one people and one blood even if we are divided by foreign powers. He said that Jesus said there will be blessings for those who work for making peace in the Sermon on the Mount. So we Christians, who have a calling for peace and unification, should reject all machinations of war which conspire with foreign powers, and we should rise up for the peace and reunification of this country. And he emphasized that carrying out the 6.15 Declaration and the 10.4 Declaration is the way toward peace and the way that our people might live. And he wished that this joint meeting could beseech God so that the peace and reunification of God would be realized immediately in this country.

ncck visit 2014-8 3Rev. Kim Young Ju (General Secretary of the NCCK) expressed gratitude to the KCF for inviting the NCCK delegation. And he said that to have a joint prayer for the purpose of making harmony and peaceful reunification is particularly meaningful, especially today, which is the day that we were liberated from colonial control. And we should meditate on the fact that the true liberation will be completed only when we have realized the peace and reunification of the South and North. For a long time, the churches of South and North Korea have done their best to work for cooperation around peace and reunification. The churches of the world have also given support and solidarity along with the efforts of the churches of the North and South. This is a good thing, but we should remember that we ought to be making an effort on our own as well, independent of foreign powers. We should not forget that the division of Korea after liberation came about from more powerful countries following their own interests, and we had no power to overcome them at that time. The North and South governments, through the June 15th (6.15) Declaration and the October 4th (10.4) Declaration, set out the practical provisions for peace and reunification. However, we have unfortunately not been able to follow through on those agreements. In this reality, we should fulfill our role as apostles of peace, and our task is to uncover the stumbling blocks toward making peace.

ncck visit 2014-8 4Bishop Jun Yong Jai from the Korean Methodist Church (KMC) preached a sermon titled, “From my Hands We Become One,” based on Ezekiel 37: 15-23; As the divided Judah in the South and Israel in the North became one people by the hands of God, so he believes that our country divided into the South and North will become one by the hands of God, and moreover he emphasized that we need more effort toward cooperation and exchange on behalf of peace and reunification.

Rev. Park Dong Il (President of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea) presided over the Eucharist where the South and North churches shared Holy Communion together as one community, and through this communion the people experienced becoming one, and they experienced reconciliation in Jesus Christ.

ncck visit 2014-8 5After that, Dr. Lee Un Sunn from Sejong University and Rev. Kim Hye Suk (KCF) read together the 8.15 Joint South-North Prayer for Peaceful Reunification, which was adopted by the churches of the South and North. The Bong Su Church choir and the delegates from the NCCK performed a special hymn. Especially the choir and the NCCK delegates experienced becoming one through the singing of the hymn. After that, the Rev. Cho Hun Jung (Chair of the Reconciliation and Unification Committee) and General Secretary of the Korea YMCA, Nam Boo Won, and President of the Korea YWCA, Cha Kyung Ae, gave a congratulatory address, and then the worship finished with a blessing by the Chairperson of the KCF. Then, the NCCK delegation visited the Pyongyang Theological Seminary and the newly renovated Chil Gol Church.

The North and South Churches hope that through this South-North Joint Prayer, the efforts for healing, reconciliation, and reunification of the people will bear fruit.