A few years ago a trusted mentor shared with me an insight from his years traveling abroad. He said, “When you travel to a new continent or culture you learn a tremendous amount about that particular region and people group, but you will learn even more about where you are from.”
My time in Korea was reflective of this insight. I learned a great amount about Korean culture, the church and the people, but even more about my own set of beliefs and context. The following are two specific areas in which I was challenged deeply during my time in Korea, leading to a better understanding of my ministry here in the States.
The idea of unification was not a new concept for me, but certainly not a topic I have taken much time to reflect upon. When I stood at the DMZ and read the statement, “END OF SEPERATION, BEGINNING OF UNIFICATION”, I was blown away. To hear that South Korean leaders within the church are praying for the unification of the North and South simply humbled me. To think that the South would be willing to love and pray for their enemy was simply foreign to me. It was evident that these leaders understood the hardships which would come with unification. Hardships which included giving of themselves, fighting food shortages and famine, building the infrastructure of a new nation, caring for orphans and even wrestling with communistic ideals. Their passion for God and the unification/ restoration of His people was inspiring. I found myself thinking about the western church and our response to the idea of unification. More often than not, our desire for self interest simply gets in the way. We not only don’t pray for restoration with our neighbors, we can’t even reconcile disagreements within our churches. In Lancaster, my current home town, people often joke about our form of church planting is church splits. At the core is our unwillingness to reconcile or be unified.
Have you ever heard the statement, “We are all products of those who have come before us.”? More than likely most of us have heard this concept and even at some level may have embraced the idea. However, if you’re anything like me, hearing and believing this concept is far easier than the practice. While in Korea these past two weeks I heard a theme of gratitude emerging from their people. A deep gratitude was evident for the land, the church, the United States and most of all the foreign missionaries who brought the gospel to the Korean peninsula. Though I experienced many forms of gratitude from the South Korean people, the one that most impacted me was the Yang-Hwa-Jin Missionary Cemetery. I was struck by the Korean peoples’ deep gratitude for those who gave up their lives to bring the gospel to Korea. In all my travels to foreign countries I have never once seen a cemetery and museum dedicated to foreign missionaries. The commitment of missionaries like Homer B. Hulbert and his statement placed on his tombstone, “I would rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey” obviously had profound impact on the Korean people. While standing in front of the rubbing taken from Homer B. Hulbert’s tombstone, I began to reflect on the lack of gratitude shown for previous generations in my western context. Subsequently, it made me question my own gratitude for those who have gone before me paving the way and making possible all that I have been able to experience in life.
I want to thank the Korean people for shaping my understanding of unification and gratitude.