This is the text of the sermon Hyeyoung and I gave together on our itineration visits before we left the U.S. for Korea. It gives you a sense of our call story, and what we see as part of the purpose of our work in Korea. We gave this sermon as a team, so each section indicates who was speaking that part. We will soon be working on scheduling an itinerary for our visit to the U.S. in the spring. If you would like us to visit, or to hear an update of our work in a new sermon, please send us an email. We would love to talk about how you, your congregation, or you community can support our work in Korea with the Young Adult Volunteer Program.
(Kurt) – Who has ever been in a situation where you felt completely different from everyone else around you?
(Hyeyoung) – I have as well. When I was in my second year of college, I had the opportunity to live in the Philippines for one year, helping out Korean Christian missionaries connected to my home church. Up until that point I had never been to another country, besides growing up in Korea. And I had never felt before that I was so different from people around me. I was uncomfortable, and I felt frustrated, and I did not understand what people were saying, and they did not understand what I was saying.
Then, after graduating college, I came to the United States as an international student at McCormick Seminary. Despite my year in the Philippines, I still felt uncomfortable and frustrated again being with people who were different from me. I had a lot of questions about why people acted this way or that way. I’m sure other people also wondered about why I was acting this way or that way. Sometimes I felt isolated and alone when I thought that no one could understand me. One time in my ministry class, I burst out crying because it was my turn to talk about the subject and everyone was looking at me, but I did not know what to say or how to say it in English. It was a scary and embarrassing time for me.
(Kurt) – When I grew up in Texas, I stood out from the crowd a little bit. I looked a little different with even brighter red hair than I have now. Other youth came up with all sorts of names for me: carrot top, copper top, red headed step child. They let me know in subtle ways, and not so subtle ways that I did not really belong with any of the groups I was with at school. When I developed an eccentric sense of humor, or had thoughts that were more liberal than everyone else, they would point out how “strange” I was. I actually had someone come up to me and say, “You are strange,” and then walk away.
(Hyeyoung) – However, over the course of the year that I stayed in the Philippines, I was able to build a relationship with people who looked completely different from me. They slowly welcomed me. They wanted to know me and they even wanted to be friends with me. Then I realized that maybe it was me who was not opening my mind or my heart to them. Once I realized that, I became more comfortable and I was able to see aspects of life in the Philippines that I had missed up to that point. At McCormick as an intentional Christian community, students truly welcomed me and passed on the message to me that being different is not a bad thing. They even encouraged me to share my own thoughts and ideas, even when they were different from their own. They also encouraged me to celebrate my differences and helped me to value the uniqueness of my own perspective.
(Kurt) – I found a youth pastor at a local church, Rev. Mary Alice Lyman, who brought me in and showed me warmth, compassion, and nurtured my unique personality. Mary Alice and the youth group around me gave me a different message from everyone else, that the things that made me different actually made me beautiful, and the things that made me strange actually made me valuable. I belonged with them, and I belonged to God, not despite the fact I was different, but all the more because I was given unique gifts: to be able to sing to myself, to bask in sarcasm, and to fill others with energy and a passion for life. I stopped worrying about whether other kids were going to think I was cool enough, or whether some idea that came into my head would endanger my status with everyone at school. I learned to celebrate my own “Kurt-ness.”
(Hyeyoung) – I felt God’s presence through that group of friends and professors at McCormick. They were present when I was sad and lonely. They were present when I was happy and joyful. They were present to encourage me to become a better person. They were present when I was struggling with difficult questions. They were presents as agents of God to help me grow spiritually. So when I heard about the opportunity to serve in Korea as a mission co-worker last year, I felt that I had to respond to this call because I had received so much through my life, and it was time for me to give back as a servant of God to other young adults as they go through an experience of transformation.
(Kurt) – I began seeking out mentors in every step along my life. When I went to Austin College, a small Presbyterian college in Sherman, Texas, I met a campus minister, Rev. John Williams, who helped give form to what I began feeling as a call to ministry. He continued nurturing my differences as valuable. Then I realized that if I am going to reach out to people who are different from me and learn to value them, I need to learn more about people different from me. I need to put myself into situations where I am completely different from everyone else in the room. I decided to cross over an ocean and study in Scotland. There, I met the program directors taking care of students coming in internationally. They were kind and nurturing and eventually began to suggest that I also seemed pretty good at taking care of the people around me. After graduating college, I volunteered for the Young Adult Volunteer program, the YAV program, and went to England. There, my site coordinator, or supervisor, also showed me compassion and love. She nudged me in the direction of exploring my gifts for spiritual direction. In seminary, I went to study in Seoul, Korea for a year, and my colleagues began to say, “Kurt, I think God may be trying to tell you something.” I realized that all these mentors were beginning to play the role of Eli to me as Samuel. Samuel was hearing God’s voice, but not too sure of it, not ready to just follow the voice right away. So Eli helped him to discern that it was indeed God, that God definitely wanted him to do something. Well, I was a bit more stubborn than Samuel. I needed a whole bunch of different Eli’s over many years of my life to prepare me for when the PC(USA) national offices suggested that I apply with Hyeyoung to be YAV site coordinators and mission co-workers. Finally it was time for us to respond to the call…
(Hyeyoung) – Friends, we believe that you, too, are called. You may not receive your calls in the same way that Kurt and I received ours. Maybe there are friends and family around that can help you discern what God may be trying to tell you. We would definitely all like to receive calls from God as crystal clear! Even as clear as a text message stating specifically, “I want you to do this thing in this place.”
(Kurt) – Your call may not be to travel half way across the globe. Maybe your call is not about a job or a career or some other major life transition. Maybe you are going to receive a series of many calls throughout your life, and one of them is to walk across the room to a stranger you have never met before to say, “Hello! Welcome! I’m glad you are here. How are you doing?” and then to actually listen to their answer. Maybe one of your calls is simply to volunteer for a local organization on your free time. Perhaps you are already deeply involved in the work God wants you to do, but you have not yet understood it as a call from God. Discerning your call will never be easy. One suggestion to help is to seek out an Eli in your life, someone who will listen to your thoughts and your feelings about life and God. Find someone to help you see patterns in your experience without trying to define too clearly what they think you should do. Maybe an entire community can become your Eli, just as Hyeyoung’s group of friends became that for her. I also want to challenge you to be an Eli for someone else in your life.
(Hyeyoung) – A good sign that you are doing your call, is if you are passionate about what you are doing or if you get energy from what you are doing. For me, I am particularly excited about working with young adults who are looking for an opportunity to transform their lives. I can’t wait to be their conversation partner, their counselor, and mentor. I hope to be a spiritual guide for them as they struggle to figure out the next step in their lives and what God would like them to do. I am also excited about building meaningful relationships with global partners in Korea and PC(USA) World Mission, as well as Presbyterians in the U.S. just like you! It will be a joy to interpret the work happening in Korea to congregations back in the States, sharing with them God’s presence in our work, and encouraging congregations to recognize God calling them to become partners in Christ’s ministry there.
(Kurt) – I will particularly enjoy becoming a companion on the journey of these coming YAV’s as they cross over the boundaries of difference just like I did around my college years. I will get to introduce them to the intricacies of Korean culture and life. I will help them to learn the different ways that Koreans work to address the root causes of poverty, the ways they share the how Jesus Christ has transformed their lives, and the ways they work for reconciliation in a region of violent conflict. I get to help them understand that the things that make Koreans and Korean culture different are also the things that make them beautiful. The things that seem strange about the way Koreans live, also make them worthy of the love, compassion, and nurture of God. You see, the YAV program is different from a lot of other international volunteer programs because we are built to offer spiritual direction, helping young adults discern the way God is leading them through difficult and uncomfortable situations, when they are in a room where everyone else around them is completely different. This results in transformed PC(USA) young adults who come back to the U.S. and become amazing leaders in the church, thus transforming our denominations and our congregations! There are so many wonderful things to come out of the future of this ministry. That is the call as we have come to understand it in this stage of our lives: that we might become an Eli to young adults coming over to volunteer for a year in Korea.
(Hyeyoung) – Look around and see who might be an Eli in your life, and listen carefully for all the ways that God might pass on a message to you, be it through text message or through long conversations with dear friends. And don’t forget that you can be an Eli for someone else close to you, helping them discern the voice of God in their lives.