YAVs and Political Participation

“I learned more about the U.S.A. than I did about Korea while I was a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV),” has been a recurring theme during the four years we have seen participants come through the Korea site. In his self-reflective blog post, Simon Doong has arrived at a similar realization. Simon was with us last November when we walked past Gwangwamum Square in downtown Seoul the night 2 million people gathered with candles to demand a full investigation into then president Park Geun Hye’s alleged corruption and bribery. Simon and our four other YAVs noted that while living in the U.S. they had never participated in a public political demonstration. This began a conversation among them about their own political participation as U.S. citizens.

simon march 1

Hyeyoung, Lauren, Simon and other YAVs attend a March 1st Korean independence celebration and demonstration for “Comfort Women” survivors of WWII sexual slavery

While living in Korea, our YAVs have seen a president impeached and removed from office as Korea’s constitutional court upheld the National Assembly’s impeachment on March 10. Participating in a buddy and cultural exchange program through Hannam University (our main site partner) has given Simon and his fellow YAVs opportunities to engage in conversations with Korean young adults about how they are reacting to the news about their president. In a blog post earlier this year, Simon recounted how one of his “buddies” was feeling about the Korea situation and considered its implications. “I could sense his disappointment, frustration, and embarrassment at the whole ordeal. It made me wonder, what does this mean for our society? Even developed countries experience political issues. Maybe modern society hasn’t progressed as far as we like to believe.”

I believe this is part of what makes the YAV program so special. We do not focus on how young U.S. adults are helping poor and needy Koreans with their resources or intelligence. The Korea YAV site is also not simply a fun tourist encounter through which one gets to experience Korean art and food and have “something different” before going back to life in the U.S. to continue living as before. YAVs come to Korea to learn about and understand the world outside the U.S. better, to see what life is like for Koreans who are struggling against poverty, for justice in the system, and for reconciliation amidst a persistent conflict. YAVs take that new understanding back with them to the U.S. to share with their communities, families, and friends. They are not only better equipped to address similar issues in their home country, but they come to understand how our U.S. foreign policy affects countries like Korea. We hope that this better understanding leads to a healthier relationship between the U.S. and the Korean peninsula as well as other nations around the globe.

simon jeju talk

Hyeyoung interprets for Peace Village activists on Jeju Island with Simon and other YAVs

Simon added another reflection to his post: “Further, maybe I have been blind to the plight of fellow Americans in other parts of the country. As a YAV, I live in a house with four other American volunteers. Though we are from different parts of the country, we all are college-educated and committed to our work in Korea. We also share similar political views. Yet even in our small community we have communication issues. Sometimes people feel misunderstood or misinterpreted. This can cause them to feel alone. And we must work out those issues through dialogue and clear communication. It’s not easy. We don’t always succeed. Maybe these communication issues occur in our larger society as well.”

Simon’s story with the YAV program will not end when he finishes in Korea in July. He has accepted a placement at the New York national YAV site, where he hopes to work at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. It will be exciting for us to see Simon take all that he has learned about international relationships around the Korean peninsula and apply it to an international cooperation organization such as the UN. The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations explains that it “helps Presbyterians witness for justice and peace, in the name of Jesus Christ, within the United Nations community based on the policies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly.” Simon has experienced aid work at the city administration level in Korea working in ground level programs at the Seonglak Welfare Community Center and says he is interested in seeing what it is like to advocate for justice at the top international policy-making level. All of our YAVs have determined to be much more active in their participation in the U.S. democratic process after their experience this year.

*Since this was posted on the pcusa.org site, South Korea has held special elections and have elected a new president, Moon Jae In of the opposition Minjudang party. For his first few weeks he has been reversing many of his predecessor’s policies and is enjoying an approval rating of over 80%. We hope his efforts lead to a flourishing of democracy in the wake of its recent erosion.*

We are excited about the future possibilities for Simon and his fellow YAVs as they complete the rest of their year in Korea. We also hope that you will help us pray for them and for the Spirit’s inspiration in their continued discernment.

We thank all of you so much for continuing to support our work in Korea. Your prayers, support, and financial donations help to make sure we can provide this transformative work with a new group of young adults every year. You are helping us plant seeds that will one day bear glorious fruit for our entire global community. Please consider continuing your donation this year, or if you have never supported us before, we’d love to have you on board! May God’s garden continue to grow.

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Taking Time to Blossom (Waiting)

Greetings to you in the name of our hope, Jesus the Christ. As the days grow darker and the colder weather kicks in now is the time we look to our hope in the form of a child born with promise. There was a time of waiting for the child to be born. Then, even after that moment of birth, there was more waiting. The lives of everyone all over the world did not dramatically flip upside down immediately! This is also the reality for our community working to counteract the forces of poverty and the forces of conflict around the world. Sometimes the relationships we cultivate take time to blossom, and we may not see someone escape poverty right away. The change in them, and in us, may be just a seed that does not sprout until many years later.

alyson-jejuThis is especially true for the Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) who come to live next to us in Daejeon, Korea working with children and families amid the struggle with poverty. Alyson, a YAV from last year recently reflected on her year and wrote a story about one of the most meaningful aspects of her work. You can find the entire blog story here. She wrote:

“With a door shut in my face, kids laughing and yelling in Korean on the other side, the Korean volunteer who came with me that day looked at me hesitantly and said, ‘He said, ‘go home.’ He was very rude.’ One of the 12 students at the center, this small seven-year-old boy had not spoken to me much until this point. I could see the distrust in his eyes whenever I spoke to him. This was weeks into my time at Gospel Happy Home School Children’s Center, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this student. He was rough and didn’t get along well with the other children. The older boys would bully him, but he also frequently tried intimidation tactics with kids he felt he could get away with.  It was tempting to just say he was going to be a problem child and leave it at that. But my teachers assured me that it took time for him to warm up to people. He was very shy, and the things we did to show we cared were not lost on him. It would just take time.”

alyson-good-newsWe always encourage the YAVs to avoid perpetuating the power dynamic of being the wealthy/powerful/intelligent ones coming from the West to fill the needs of poor/needy/uneducated Asians. We encourage them that even when they are leading activities that teach English language, they make this a tool toward building a relationship with their children so that everybody gets to know each other better. This cultivating a relationship is the purpose toward which all activities should lead. Alyson also tried a variety of activities, jokes, even sleight of hand tricks to build bridges her young boy. Alyson writes about having to hold on to even the faintest notion of cultivating a connection: “Eventually he spoke to me more – calling me ‘Ddong-lyson’ (which is like Poop-lyson instead of Alyson). I decided to take this name calling as optimistically as possible – after all he was talking to me. I kept at it, trying to include him in games whether he played or not.”

Little by little, working against poverty and against systems that perpetuate it, we must find ways to appreciate even the slightest hint of change. In the meantime, we simply continue to push toward a growing relationship as best we can. We often need to remind ourselves that, when truly working a Critical Global Issue like addressing the root causes of poverty, learning about those root causes and the people affected by them might not give us immediate gratitude or feel-good moments. Through this relationship, both the YAV and the children are transformed. This transformation eventually comes not in feeling good about “having done good works,” but in the expanded understanding of how our lives are connected all the way across the globe. We also find it in the expanded understanding of how decisions we make in the USA, for example for whom we voted, can have significant impact on the lives of Koreans depending on which policies our elected leaders enact.

Alyson eventually found her moment of a relationship breakthrough, as sleight as it was, just before she finished her year:

“By mid-year, this small boy, who slammed doors in my face and told me to go home was coming to me to play tag. Though he never stopped calling me ‘Ddonglyson,’ I can still hear him yelling, ‘Can you? Can you?’ his way of asking ‘Can you catch me?’ so I could run after him – always calling ‘Time!’ right before I caught him. It didn’t matter to me that he always “won.” I was delighted that we were playing.

“When the new school year started, he stopped coming to the center. I asked the teachers about him, and they said he wasn’t doing well academically and would be back later. I wasn’t sure I would see him again, and I wondered what was going on in his life. Sure enough though, months later as summer break started for the kids and a few weeks before my work at the center ended, I was relieved to see him show up again – spunky as ever and calling me ‘Ddonglyson’ again. I told him I missed him and he asked me to catch him again.”

We thank all of you for your continued support of our work with YAVs like Alyson and the new group that arrived last September. With your donations, prayers, and care packages we are even more encouraged to hold on to that sliver of hope as we continue to work and to wait for the transformation in the Christ Child to one day be fulfilled for all the earth. Let us continue to wait, pray, and work together.


light in the darkness

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NCCK Peace Treaty US Tour Report

Dr. John Merrill addresses the NCCK delegation.

Dr. John Merrill addresses the NCCK delegation.

“There is a hidden history of Korea that most US Americans know nothing about. Even I learn something knew all the time although I stopped working for the State Department a long time ago,” remarked Dr. John Merrill of the US-Korea Institute of SAIS. “Because this context is lacking [in the US], it is harder to reduce tensions in Korea.” He spoke this to our delegation sitting around a table as we met to share with him our hope for Korean peace at the end of a week-long campaign for peace across the US. This comment encapsulates will the complicated task on which we set out to labor.

In late July the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) sent me along with a delegation of 21 pastors, professors, and staff to tour the US on behalf of the Reconciliation and Unification Committee petition campaign for a Korean Peace Treaty. Our crew traversed the USA from Los Angeles to Washington, DC in 4 mini vans driving over 3,083.8 miles in 12 days to share our need for a peace treaty on the Korean peninsula. We responded to God’s call by meeting with Korean church leaders, US denominational staff, and government officials bearing witness to the need for an end to the Korean War.

We began after landing in Los Angeles with a dinner hosted by Korean church leaders of the L.A. community and a press conference for our campaign. Members of the NCCK and the US partners shared passionate conversation over dinner and articulated the dire need to an end to military conflict. We bore witness to the hope that securing peace through dialogue, rather than new weapons like the THAAD missile defense, will bring greater security to all nations in East Asia.

Father HyeonHo Kim on Trail Ridge Road lookout.

Father HyeonHo Kim on Trail Ridge Road lookout.

From LA, we made the long drive over several days to our next event in Chicago, Illinois. Along the way, we broke up the many kilometers with a few stops at national parks such as Trail Ridge Road in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where our crew stepped out to take in the view at 3,659 meters above sea level. We took in the fresh air and beauty and then continued on our way to eventually reach Chicagoland.

There our delegation met church leaders from the Korean immigrant community again for dinner and presentations. That Sunday morning our group split up to worship and preach at three different congregations around Chicagoland, including Holy Covenant United Methodist Church within the city of Chicago.

Rev. Moon Sook Lee gives a sermon encouraging us to become magpies.

Rev. Moon Sook Lee gives a sermon encouraging us to become magpies.

Rev. Moon Sook Lee gave a sermon there urging us to reclaim a Korean bird and symbol of reconciliation, the magpie, which had been overshadowed by the dove through Western and Abrahamic culture and spirituality. As we reclaim the magpie, we reclaim the hidden stories of struggle against militarism and violence and we remove obstacles to building bridges across intractable conflicts as in Korea, she asserted.

Our next stop took us to Indianapolis, Indiana where we met with staff of Global Ministries, a joint ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ denominations. There we celebrated that the Disciples denomination had just passed a resolution at their assembly supporting the NCCK peace campaign, similar to Overture 12-13 passed by our PC(USA) General Assembly.

Our delegation finished its journey with several days in Washington, DC hosted by the National Council of Christian Churches in the USA (NCCCUSA). We met with a Colorado senator’s office and a House subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.


NCCK General Secretary Kim hands Ambassador King a gift with laughs.

NCCK General Secretary Kim hands Ambassador King a gift with laughs.

We presented our petition and signatures to date to Ambassador Robert King, ambassador for North Korean Human Rights and to White House staff on July 27th, the anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953, which failed to end the war. During the meeting with the White House staff, a group of us took signs and songs outside to call for peace in Korea in front of the same building.

That afternoon, Dr. John Merrill of the US-Korea Institute at SAIS also hosted our delegation for the conversation mentioned above. We discussed the urgent need to decrease tensions in Korea immediately.

NCCK delegation marches, sings, and prays outside the US White House.

NCCK delegation marches, sings, and prays outside the US White House.

On the final day, the NCCCUSA hosted a consultation with other ecumenical partners involved in the Korean conflict and reconciliation, and then a press conference broadcast on the internet, which included participation from Rev. J. Herbert Nelson new Stated Clerk of PC(USA) and former director of our DC Office of Public Witness. The press conference announced a Washington Appeal adopted by the consultation that called upon the US and other governments to make immediate moves toward dialogue and negotiation on a peace treaty in Korea. We still have a lot of work to do in order to fill the gap in knowledge of Korea’s hidden histories and context.

The NCCK has asked me to continue working alongside them as they continue this peace treaty campaign for at least another two years with a visit to partners in Europe in 2017 and a possible trip to partners in East Asia in 2018. Your prayers and financial contributions help make it possible for me to draw up itineraries and driving directions, etc. for actions such as this. We thank you for your generosity during our first three years of service, but we still have not raised the full cost of working in Korea yet. Would you consider lifting us closer to that goal? We cherish all gifts large and small, new and increased. Thank you for your continued support.

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2016 Joint North-South Prayer for Peace

ncck peace campaignEvery year the Christians in South Korea and the Christians within the official church of North Korea write a joint prayer for overcoming conflict and moving to respectful reconciliation. Today in Korea is August 15th, the anniversary of both liberation from Japanese Occupation and division into two competing systems (US v. Soviet) in 1945. Pray with us that Koreans may one day overcome this division now lasting more than 71 years. This prayer below was written and edited by both the National Council of Churches in Korea (South Korea) and the Korean Christian Federation (North Korea). You may also add your name to an online petition for a KOREA PEACE TREATY.

2016 Joint Prayer for the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula

God, ruler of history!

Thank you for letting the churches of the South and the North share the joys of independence with the same longings again this year. The Lord’s grace that led us to share this common prayer filled with yearnings from past promises for a peaceful unification is indeed great and amazing. Please accept our earnest desires for you Lord.

Seventy one years ago, our country again found its once lost country and welcomed the joys of independence. Having patiently waited with righteous efforts, we trusted God, the ruler of history, and hoped that the day would one day come.  With shouts of victory resonating over the whole of Korea, how can we ever forget that overwhelming day when the triumphs of independence surged up in thirty million souls?

Gracious God!

Such a short-lasting joy, our people came to a dead end of a harsh road filled with division, separation, war and armistice. Through meetings and talks, paths to reconciliation were created and through economic cooperation, dreams of common prosperity were once built. But now, the walls in our hearts have become higher than ever. There is no knowing of the depths of the rivers of mistrust and the valleys of anger that we would have to cross. Lord, take pity on this misfortunate country.

Though the Lord has given the church a responsibility to take care of peace, the people did not serve such command fully. Christians were called to be apostles of peace but instead they have created conflict. As they do not even acknowledge each other as their own people, they do not bother to bear hearts to love. Lord, we confess our wrongs and sins, please forgive us.

God of love and peace!

The distance between the North and South has become unfathomable, but we believe that the day will come when we will need each other. Though our hearts have been ripped to pieces, we realize that it is not far to where we would heal each other’s pains and encourage one another. Amongst the tension of the great powers, we are certain that the day will come when we sing songs of self-existence and independence.

Lord, make one this separated country and gather all those families who have been scattered everywhere. Let the children of North and South eat from one bowl, and youths to sing songs for a hopeful humanity from one desk. Let the footsteps of the people’s coexistence lead from Hallah to Baek-du and the waves of peaceful co-prosperity surge from Dokdo to the West Sea.

Thus let the people in this safe and peaceful peninsula nourish the happiness that should be granted to all the seventy million people. And from that oneness, let the people serve all over the world with greater vigor and spirit. We pray in Jesus’ name.

August 15, 2016

National Council of Churches in Korea (South)             Korean Christian Federation (North)

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NCCK Korea Peace Treaty Campaign US Tour

The USA is reeling in the midst of violence, voices crying out for justice having lost their faith and trust in the institutions meant to protect them, lashing out in desperate misguided attempts to reset the balance, and the response by many of those in power is to further alienate the voices of the unheard.

The Reconciliation and Unification Committee of NCCK announces in Seoul their plan to campaign in the US.

In this context, I have humbly come from Korea to the US along with about 20 Korean pastors and professors to talk about the need to end the war in Korea, sign a peace treaty, and forego the dependence on violent means to solve conflicts. I realize this might be difficult to turn the focus to Korea in this moment, but the spiraling violence in the US is related to what could be spiraling violence in Korea as the US has finally agreed to installing the THAAD missile and radar system in Korea to the dismay of most of the rest of Northeast Asia. Yes, we must find a way to reform our institutional culture, police culture, and encourage people to non-violent responses in the US to create faith in the claim that Black Lives Matter to our systems of power.

The single story (which is dangerous) we have been told about the Korean conflict is that US forces selflessly came to the aid of Koreans when the evil and crazy communists invaded in 1950. What if there were more to the story that has been deliberately hidden and forgotten? What if violence in Korea began in reaction to US policies under occupation in 1945 when Koreans began asking themselves, “Do Korean Lives Matter to the US? Does Korean autonomy matter? Does the Korean right to self-determination matter?”

In the same way that we must not be distracted by violent responses to injustice, I ask that we are not distracted by the desperate violent responses of those we have demonized as our enemy in Korea. Instead we should commit ourselves ever more to uncovering and dismantling the system that leads people to that violent rebellions are the only way have their voices for justice heard.

Join this effort by signing our online petition here:


And read more about the background of the Korean context and the need for peaceful dialogue and respect of demands for justice and human rights on both sides at our website Global Campaign for a Korea Peace Treaty.

Our itinerary for the campaign in the US starting today:

July 18th – 19th: Los Angeles, CA:
Meet with Korean Church leaders in LA and share our story on the streets downtown.

July 20th – 22nd: Nevada, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Iowa:
Make our way across the west, especially stopping to hear the story of Wounded Knee

July 23rd – 24th: Chicago, IL:
Meet Korean Church leaders in Chicagoland, and worship at UMC and UCC churches.

July 25th: Indianapolis, IN:
Meet with Global Ministries of the UCC/Disciples and with Indiana state representatives.

July 26th – 28th: Washington, DC:
Meet with NCCCUSA, US gov’t representatives and members of the US administration.

July 29th – 30th: back to Seoul/Incheon (and me back to Daejeon!)

Prayers are welcome!

You can also follow our journey on Twitter with the hashtag #koreapeacetreaty. My Twitter handle is @elfslinger.

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Toward a Korean Peace Treaty

The beating of the drums and cymbals sent the performers dressed in black and white with yellow, blue, and red sashes circling around the pit. Catherine, Tom, and I were sat down in the shade at the Yongin Korean Folk Village. The warm day bringing the end of May helped our heads feel a tad lighter since this was the final day in a week long workshop. 20160523_103743The celebratory drumming and dancing of the poongmul team (traditional Korean drumming team) was intoxicating, but our heads had been filled with a different kind of drumming all week as we explored the drums of war that have constantly been beating around the Korean peninsula since 1946, or even earlier in 1932 if you don’t want to grant the 6 or 7 month break at the end of WWII.

The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) had invited Tom and around twenty other participants from 10 different countries and 15 different denominations as well as Buddhist organizations to connect their organizations to our international campaign for a Korean peace treaty. The NCCK hopes that a peace treaty will soon replace the 1953 armistice agreement that merely ceased open hostilities, but failed to end what has been a technical state of war on the peninsula since 1950. This July 27th will bring the 63rd anniversary of the armistice agreement, but this June 25th will bring the 66th anniversary of a constant state of war hanging over Koreans. Therefore, the NCCK invites international partners to join a campaign of signatures and writing letters and postcards to the US government to persuade them to transform their policy of hostility and making denuclearization a pre-condition to peace treaty negotiations.

Tom learns of some of the nastier atrocities committed by South Korean military in 1948 at the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park.

Tom learns of some of the nastier atrocities committed by South Korean military in 1948 at the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park.

The participants arrived in Korea at Jeju Island in order to hear the story of the United States of America Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) policies that led to a democratic uprising, which led to a campaign of suppression and massacre begun by the USAMGIK and finished by the South Korean military from 1948-1954. They also came up to Seoul where I gave a presentation in more detail of policies of the USAMGIK and legacies of orientalism in US foreign policy and church missions. Several Korean professors also discussed the militarism, geopolitics, and our call as Christians to peacemaking. We also visited the DMZ border with North Korea together as we looked out over to the hills of the Northern neighbor and prayed for relationships that could build trust across a divide of conflict.

Dr. Suh tells us his journey toward peacemaking.

Dr. Suh tells us his journey toward peacemaking.

Tom and most of the other participants particularly felt impressed by hearing the life story of Dr. David Suh. Dr. Suh told us about growing up in what is now North Korea before division in 1945 and during Japanese Occupation. He told us of the way his family suffered under the violent reaction of authorities in the northern region, the execution of his father, a pastor, and how those memories led him to seek violent vengeance. He also told of his transformation, about becoming an advocacy for peaceful reconciliation and the struggle he went through when meeting the Korean Christian Federation (KCF), the official church of North Korea, for the first time when the son of his father’s sworn enemy asked him to translate his statements on behalf of the KCF. He struggled with whether or not to “help” the person he once considered his ultimate enemy. Hearing the story in and of itself moved many of the workshop participants, but Dr. Suh also sent us a note afterward saying that the opportunity to share his story was a healing moment for him.

Workshop participants look out from Soisan at hills in North Korea just across the border in the background.

Workshop participants look out at hills in North Korea just across the border in the background.

It is our hope that Tom and the other workshop participants will return to their countries in the US, German, Japan, and elsewhere to share all they have learned about the history and context of Korea. They are now back in their home countries processing all they have learned and carrying the new relationships they have created together. We hope they will be able to activate the networks in their denominations to begin spreading the understanding of this paradigm shift on the Korean conflict. As more people around the world understand the need to deconstruct false enemy images and to end hostile responses to the conflict, we believe we can encourage policy makers to also transform their approaches. Based on all we have learned, we see now that further sanctions, further military threats, and further refusal to dialogue will only further encourage North Korea to take desperate measures to protect themselves. This can lead only to chaos or to war. We must open a path to an alternative if there can ever be a chance for peaceful reconciliation.

Tom and the others are now in constant contact with all of us in Korea figuring out how to spread knowledge and information. We hope you reading this, our supporters will also join us in this movement to continue learning and dismantling the idolatry of enemy images. Please follow our campaign and participate as you can by either writing letters or signing your name to our online petition: www.koreapeacetreaty.org.

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Finding Grace

Will scooped up another bunch of kimchi with his tongs and put it on the tray before passing it on to the person next to him scooping meat onto trays. He could see out of the corner of his eye the disapproving facial expression of Yu seonsaengnim (not real name), guessing that his kimchi scooping skills did not stand to muster on the four previous trays, just as the weeks before. Finally she came over and tried to explain again, of course, Will still can’t understand enough Korean and Yu seonsaengnim can’t speak enough English to make the nuance clear as to what exactly makes the perfect scoop of kimchi. She he still isn’t sure whether his scoops are too small or too big or too thin or too thick or too much of the limp outside of the cabbage or too much of the crunchy middle. Yu seonsaengnim picks up a scoop of kimchi onto another tray and indicates, probably, this was what it was supposed to look like. The trouble is, Will was pretty sure that scooped looked just like his last scoop. Not sure what else to do, Will gets as close as he can to the example scoop, and Yu seonsaengnim gives one last chuckle before moving the serving line on.

YAVs Will, Linda, and Emily washing up dishes at Saenaru Community Center.

YAVs Will, Linda, and Emily washing up dishes at Saenaru Community Center.

This exchange happens quite often for our YAVs in Korea as they volunteer at meal centers, similar to “soup kitchens” in the US, around our city of Daejeon. These encounters are wonderful opportunities for our YAVs to practice grace for themselves. Actually an entire YAV year is chock full of instances where our US YAVs are reminded that they don’t completely understand Korean culture or cannot complete a task to the same standards as Koreans. A year of constant failure can often leave a YAV questioning their self-worth, which makes grace even more pertinent. We explore what it means to hold on to our identities as beloved children of God alongside our tendency to make mistakes in another culture.

When Will arrived along with his fellow YAVs, we gave them a challenge in terms of adapting to this new Korean culture. Sherwood G. Lingenfelter in Ministering Cross-Culturally, writes about becoming a 150% person as we seek to live into a culture that is not our own. He compares this 150% person to the 200% person of Jesus, God incarnate, who was 100% God but also 100% human. Since we cannot reach the perfection of Jesus and someone born and raised into US culture can never become 100% Korean, we allow ourselves some grace and recognize that the most we might ever reach will be 75% of another culture. Then, as our new culture becomes more a part of us, we actually lose some of our original culture, thus ending up with maybe only 75% of our original culture remaining a part of us. We put that together to become a 150% person, after spending years becoming a part of our new culture. For YAVs like Will, even more grace is necessary as he will only stay in Korea for 11 months. In such a short time, most may only hope to reach a level around 25%!

In this context God’s grace manifests in the midst of our relationships to help them bear fruit despite our tendency to fail and make mistakes. In the same way God takes us imperfect human beings and brings fruit out of our limited effort, because God refuses to define us by our sin, or failures, or mistakes, and there is liberation in God’s refusal. Even when we fail, grace manifests when God persistently engages with us, believing in us as God’s own gifted and beloved children. This identity transcends our inability to fully adapt 100% to a new culture. So we try, we stumble, and we hold ever more tightly to God’s grace, to God’s faith in us as spirit-filled beings able to accomplish amazing feats as we gather strength through our relationships to each other and to God.

So Will may never fully understand exactly what makes up a perfect scoop of kimchi, and he may never be fluent in the Korean language, but he engages in the struggle of listening and looking for what his Korean partners are asking of him, picking up more of the language little by little so that he knows more than he did when he first arrived. He develops relationships with Koreans that will bear fruit as he carries them in his heart when he returns to the US this summer, so that he can no longer have conversations about Asia, can no longer vote, and can no longer participate in a global system without considering the effects his choices and life might have on the lives of the Koreans he has come to know by heart. This is the fruit we use to measure the worth of our experience here.

Mr. Goh teaching Will and Linda how to hot iron stamp wood.

Mr. Goh teaching Will and Linda how to hot iron stamp wood.

This fruit is what we mean when we talk about the purpose of YAVs coming to work alongside us in Korea. They are not here to help poor needy Koreans, and they often find themselves in situations where they are not “helpful.” An Australian Aboriginal activists group of Queensland, 1970’s, once said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

If you see that your liberation is bound up with ours, then I invite you to join us by offering financial donations, prayers, or anything else you are interested in sending. Together, alongside God, let us work for the salvation of this creation.

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