Connections Letter: God is in Korea

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

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