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

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