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Looking back 2019

What exactly do you do over there in Korea?—is a question that people keep asking me. Little do they know how complicated the answer to this question is! My primary work (when I’m not in class) is to assist with English language communications in the Department of Partnership and Ecumenical Relations in the General Assembly Office of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (that is, PROK).

Our work in the department involves connecting the church in Korea with the church all over the world, and the main language that we use to do this is English. As important as helping with this work is, it is not actually the heart of what I do. At the heart of what I do are all the relationships that I am a part of here in Korea and elsewhere as I make connections with folks at multiple levels of Korean society. In one situation this means one thing, in other situations it means other things, so I am constantly finding myself doing new things, playing new roles, and meeting new people (as w…

language learning in Korea

A big part of my work here in Korea has been to learn the language. I’ve been studying at the Korean Language Institute at Yonsei University for several months now, and as the fall term draws to a close, I’m realizing how far I have come. Words that used to be strange and impossible to pronounce are now rolling off my tongue! (sometimes even in comprehensible sentences)
Part of what makes language learning possible is the fun that comes with it. For 한글날 (Korean Alphabet Day), for example, instead of our regular class, there was a special program in which the various classes produced a poster to celebrate the Korean alphabet. Here is my class, hard at work: folks from France, Russia, Italy, South Africa, Spain, and even a couple of us from Canada.

I have to say that learning a language is a strangely passive activity. Although it does of course also require huge exertions of constant effort, this isn’t actually the learning of the language: it is the grunt work that you have to do in ord…

... Back in Korea ...

I returned to Korea at the end of August to join Hanshin Presbyterian Church in Seoul for their English-language summer camp program. I have been working with them one Sunday a month over the past year and this was a great opportunity to get to know the participants a little better.

Their theme for the day was our responsibility for caring for the planet. As it says in Genesis, God saw the creation, and saw that it is very good. This gives us the responsibility to care for the earth and all life on it. The children of the congregation embraced this theme enthusiastically, sharing their ideas about what they can do to make a difference. Here are a few scenes from the event.

Here in Korea, like everywhere else on the planet, we are experiencing the effects of climate change. Yet here, as elsewhere, the issue is so huge that it is hard to take the threat seriously. Everything in our thinking needs to change. Amazingly, across the globe, children are the ones leading the way–they seem to be…

PROK Youth Camp

Just got back from the PROK Youth camp, which took place at Neorigul Cultural Village in Anseong.

Met with 100 PROK young people from all over South Korea, as well as international guests. (Actually, I don’t think it was as many as one hundred, but sometimes it certainly felt that way, especially in the worship sessions!)

There was lots of music, discussion, noise, laughter, interaction, under the theme “togetherness.” There was also a special presentation by the Taiwanese participants and performances by Michelle Lee and GFU.

Here's a couple of snippet video clips:

I interviewed a few folks about their experiences, and here are a few of the things I learned:
Name: Junghwan, from Wonju
Occupation: student of electronics and mechanics
Special insight from the event: The subject was love. People usually want to give and receive love, but if they get no return, many people come away disappointed. But I learned through the camp that the giving of love is itself a great thing.
Anything else t…

Excursion to Seodaemun prison

I’m still thinking about the events one hundred years ago in 1919: the March 1 movement for independence and its aftermath. I am lucky to live close to many places of historical interest, like Seodaemun prison and Severance hospital, which are full of history right on my doorstep.

In 1992 the Seodaemun prison was turned into a museum, the Seodaemun Prison History Hall, to preserve the history of what took place there during the Japanese occupation and beyond. I have walked by it often, but I never really thought much about what took place there, so I decided it was time to stop in and take a look.
Soedaemun prison was built in 1908 as Gyeongseong prison (which was the Japanese name for Seoul). It was built by colonial Japanese authorities for the purpose of controlling the local population. Originally designed to hold 500 people, in the years following the peaceful uprising, the numbers swelled to nearly five times that number, with prisoners housed in overcrowded conditions.

Among those…