World Mission Budget Need

Some of you in the PC(USA) world have heard the news of the budget shortfall from 2014 that is going to affect our employing department, Presbyterian World Mission. You may have seen an article in the Outlook. You may have also read and signed in support of the letter written by past moderators of the denomination. If you have not, the basic gist of the situation is that if financial support for mission co-workers does not drastically change in the next two years, we will have to drastically change the way Presbyterian World Mission looks.Ten-Year-History-PMPF-1024x791

Many of you are strong supporters of us already. We cannot thank you enough for all that you have given to keep us going in this position. We have received prayer shawls from you, care packages with coffee, cards from Sunday School classes, and also financial contributions. Many of you already know that Presbyterian World Mission has quite a history of amazing feats. We are also trying to redeem some mistakes of the past and transform into a more aware participant in the globe that is truly helpful to our global partners.

Our Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) Program continues to bring in young adults from around the US and send them to sites all over the world including here in Korea. More than merely providing helpful “services”, these YAVs learn about the experiences, suffering, and hope of communities around the world. They go back to the US with a better understanding of how we in the US sometimes increase the suffering of others without being fully aware. They go back to the US with a better understanding of how to transform that relationship so that our government’s foreign policy and our community relations reverses our mistakes and instead build an environment for peace, shalom, and life in abundance for all. Next year Hyeyoung will also connect them to the Glocal Multi-Cultural Leadership Program of Hannam University so that they better understand the needs and hopes of the immigrant and migrant community in Korea.

My job with the NCCK is building bridges across the division of conflict in Korea. For the most part they have been focusing on reconciliation between North and South Koreans, but they hope to include US Americans in more of their efforts as well. The North still considers the US as its number 1 enemy. The US responds with derision and dehumanization throughout our media such as movies like The Interview. Most US Americans have not heard the history of the Korean Christian Federation, and thus assume they are “not true Christians” based on how much they lack resemblance to our limited understanding of Christian identity. I hope to build more bridges alongside the NCCK, and I hope to bring many of you with us to raise awareness of how this conflict came about, our role in it, and hope for re-humanization of each other and reconciliation. If anything, at least we can push together for a peace treaty to replace the armistice agreement. Read an overview of that work on this NCCK post, past activities, and also a current program here.

If this is the kind of work that you believe is important in this world, then I challenge you to affirm that significance with a financial contribution to make sure we can continue here, learn even more, and share that will all of you for years to come. If you have been supporting us already, thank you again! I also challenge you to consider whether you can increase that amount this year and to consider how to make it a recurring gift throughout our assignment. You may click on the donate button to the side or follow this Donate Link. The church as we know it is going to look very different in the coming years, but if we can put our energy and resources together in new ways, we can continue accomplishing amazing feats.

NCCK Young Adults Peace March

gangwondo barbed wire

This coming July, my partner, the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) is inviting Korean young adults residing around the world to participate in a Peace March week long program on Korea’s division, war, and hope for reconciliation. They are especially interested in Korean Americans (and Korean Canadians/Germans/Japanese/etc.) participating, and they have asked me to send a special invite to Korean Americans in the PC(USA). They hope this will be a significant time, the 70th anniversary of Korea’s division, for Korean residents in other countries to encourage their communities to join the movement for reconciliation on the Korean peninsula. It is VERY SHORT notice, I am afraid, so if you have this week free in July, please jump on this. Details below!

2015 DMZ Walkathon for Peace and Reunification on the Korean Peninsula

Christian Young Adults,
Harvesting Peace from the Site of Division

Dates: July 20(Mon.) – 25(Sat.), 2015
*The actual program will depart from Seoul around 7-8am Monday the 20th. Traveling from the US you should arrive in Seoul by Sunday the 19th. NCCK cannot provide accommodations the evening of the 19th, but we can suggest affordable options. The program will end upon return to Seoul around 10pm Friday the 25th.

Participants: Korean immigrant young adults aged 18-40 around the world including Germany, US, Japan, Canada, etc. Denominational affiliation is not necessary. (Korean citizens will be considered as potential volunteer staff)

Cost: $400 USD participation fee (negotiable) – airfare and flight reservations are on your own.

Registration: Please fill out this Peace March Application and email it to Rev. Kurt Esslinger at elfslinger [at] gmail [dot] com. Also direct any questions to me at that email.

Theme and Bible Text

Theme: Christian Young Adults, Harvesting Peace from the Site of Division

Bible Text: Ephesians 2:14-16 (NIV)

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

Program Aims:

1) To enable the young generation to reflect on the reality of the division through visiting the Demilitarized Zone area, “the symbolic place of the division”;
2) To provide an educational opportunity in which they can learn about the division system;
3) To empower the young generation to articulate on the vision and mission for peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula;
4) To encourage the young generation to seek ways to bring about their commitment to peace-building in Korea and beyond;
5) To build a global youth network for peace and reunification in Korea and beyond

Walkathon course: Cheorwon-gun ~ Inje-gun~Gosoung-gun, along the DMZ in Kangwon province. The total length of travel for six days will be approximately 112miles and in six days’ walkathon program, the participants will walk about 29miles. Activities will likely include worship, lectures, peace and reconciliation workshops, visits to DMZ unification observatories, significant sites of Korean War history, peace museums, Seoraksan mountain walking, etc. The program will be carried out bilingually in English and Korean.

* DMZ is the border between the northern side of South Korea and the southern side of North Korea. It bears much history about the division. It would be a very meaningful journey to travel along the DMZ line in Kangwon province as this province carries a painful division history. The total length of the DMZ is approximately 155 miles.

Background

In 1945 Korea was liberated from Japanese occupation. However, immediately after the liberation Korea was divided into the communist North and the capitalist South. Five years later this division became the major cause of the Korean War (1950 to 1953) in which more than six million people were killed and the entire country was completely destroyed. The consequence of the three years’ war was the solidification of the division system. Today Korea’s division is the only remaining case of the Cold War. The 70 years’ division has caused confrontation and antagonism between the two Koreas, bringing unbearable han[1] to minjung (grassroots people) in the two Koreas. There are still more than 120,000 separated families in the South Korea and their number is increasing as saetemin (North Korean defectors) are gradually on the rise. Pain and suffering among the North Koreans have been aggravated by the decades-long sanctions against the North from the international community. Moreover, the military confrontation between North and South Korea (and the US) is escalating as the daily reality of the Cold War rhetoric between two Koreas continues. Consequently the Korean peninsula can be a flashpoint at any time, threatening peace and security in the entire region and beyond.

God’s Shalom is not possible without a true reconciliation with our sisters and brothers. God requests us to reconcile with them first before we come to God for worship. (Mt. 5:23-24). Reconciliation with people is a prerequisite to reconciliation with God. True faith requires sincere commitment to the healing and reconciliation of the broken relationship among people. Reconciliation is a long process of true repentance, justice, forgiveness, and healing. It also requires us to accept otherness and respect the values of others.

The people of the two Koreas have committed sin against each other during the 70 years’ division, hating each other and even killing each other. For Korean Christians, therefore, the “mission for reconciliation and peace” is not an option but an urgent necessity.

One of the significant roles of the church today is to enable our young generation to experience the division and to encourage our young adults to be more attentive to the mission for reconciliation and peaceful reunification in Korea.

It is in this light that the Reunification Committee of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), in cooperation with partner churches in the U.S.A, Germany, and Japan[2], proposes a walkathon program, “DMZ Peace March for Peace and Reunification on the Korean Peninsula.” This program will provide a platform in which the young generation of Korea and overseas meet each other, reflect on the reality of the division and work together to find out ways to bring their commitment to peace-building in Korea and beyond.

[1] Han, a Korean word, is a deep feeling that rises out of all those unjust experiences of sufferings.

[2] The program is co-organized with the ecumenical partners of the NCCK which include: Ecumenical Youth Council in Korea (EYCK), Korean Reunification Committee of the United Methodist Church, Korean Church Association in Germany and Korean Christian Council in Japan. Kurt is participating as support staff on behalf of PC(USA).

Registration: Please fill out this Peace March Application and email it to Rev. Kurt Esslinger at elfslinger [at] gmail [dot] com. Also direct any questions to me at that email.

Connections Letter: Korea YAVs in USA

Greetings to you in the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace. I am writing to you from the road in Ames, Iowa, at the moment, where I am visiting churches here before I head on to Chicagoland and elsewhere. I always appreciate this time to tell the stories of our ministry.

One of those stories that has been particularly interesting for communities I meet here involves the Korea YAV Exchange Program that Hyeyoung and I have been able to get off the ground with Hannam University. This year for the first time four young adults from Hannam University in Korea are currently serving as Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) at YAV sites in the U.S.A. SooHwi is at our Denver, CO, site; SeongEun is at our Chinook, MT, site; HanByeol is at our Tucson, AZ, site; and JiHye is at our Atlanta, GA, site.

Before they were to come over to the States, Hyeyoung and I met with these four young women to talk about cultural differences, the purpose of the YAV Program, and to reflect on their hopes and expectations for a year of volunteering in the U.S. They were full of excitement and a sense of possibilities, but they also admitted they were quite anxious. None of them felt very confident in their English ability. We also sent cultural notes to each of the sites where they were placed to prepare the staff there for Korean cultural differences. Staff members at the sites were also concerned about whether they could offer placements that would provide meaningful work in light of the language barrier.

So far the four women are enjoying an amazing time and staff at all the sites tell us their work has been enriching despite the language barrier.

SOOHWISooHwi in Denver has connected with other immigrant groups in the Denver area to learn about their struggles in a society where they also spoke a language different from English at birth. She sat with them to hear about their struggles navigating the U.S. system, having only recently learned English. One striking observation that SooHwi, along with the other three Exchange YAVs, has made is that they have a feeling of powerlessness in situations with their fellow U.S. YAVs when everyone else around them is speaking fluent English. The native speakers are making decisions for the entire group while not fully realizing that the exchange YAVs cannot keep up and therefore have little power to share their concerns. This is a valuable lesson for all of us native English speakers when non-native speakers are influenced by the decisions we make. We cannot assume that a non-native speaker truly understands our conversation when we are speaking at full native-English speed. Are we making an extra effort to open a space for non-native speakers to feel safe to disagree? Do we give them time to translate our words and also to translate how they want to respond?

SooHwi now feels much more confident in her ability to rely on God to give her the strength to put her own thoughts out there even if they might not come out in perfect English grammar. Her fellow YAVs also have developed better skills for keeping themselves aware of SooHwi’s different ability to join in conversations and decision-making. These days they make more of an effort to listen to SooHwi’s perspective and give her more space to say what she wants to say.

HANBYEOLHanByeol was placed with Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona (CHRPA), and supervisors there were concerned about how to work with her despite the language barrier. There is also a stereotype of Korean women not being quite as strong as U.S. American women, so they wondered if she could physically do the work. After six months of volunteering in Tucson with CHRPA, HanByeol has been making quite an impact. Her supervisor at CHRPA shared this reflection: “HanByeol rides her bike eight miles to work every day, and now that it’s winter, she is learning how to diagnose and repair gas and electric furnaces with Dan. She has built steps and wheelchair ramps with Abigail and Hugh and has repaired roofs with Josh and Allie. And she is not a token helper here, but a full partner, a member of the team who contributes her labor and her worldview and is starting to joke around more and experiment with being sassy and she knows that people like her and accept her and she is letting herself be known by others….

“I know that she still misses home and family and that her brain is tired at the end of a day because she is learning language and culture and bicycle safety as well as furnace troubleshooting and ramp design. I do expect, though, that she will look back on this year and see that it contributed to her life, and I expect that we will all look back on this year of CHRPA and see that HanByeol contributed to all of our lives and the lives of our clients whose roofs she repaired and water heaters she replaced. And that is all we hope for, really.”

WHOLE CREWThis is a beautiful example of what mission work can look like where it is no longer the “powerful” countries sending mission workers to “needy” countries. Instead we all realize that we should all be sending and receiving mission co-workers so that we all both learn from each other and teach each other. This way we all become more helpful participants as people of faith in the global community. I hope you will join us in this mutual transformation by following these letters or our blog, or praying for us, or by sending in a financial contribution. Thank you to everyone who has already joined us. It’s because of your prayers and donations that we can continue this work. We can all learn to humbly walk with God a little closer together.

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