Two months after finishing college, I found myself on an airplane headed to Seoul, Korea to teach English at a Korean high school. For the past four years, someone else cooked my meals while I worried about very little other than my grades, and now, just weeks later, I was flying alone, across the ocean, to live on my own. Yikes!
Although I had read lots of books about Korea, its food, culture, language and schools, one can never fully prepare to be immersed in such a radically different world. Ordering food in restaurants was an adventure every time. My roommates and I never knew if our food would still have eyes attached to it, have scales to be removed or even be cooked! Once when a friend and I went hiking, I fell asleep on my blanket in a park. I woke to find a Korean woman, whom I had never met, asleep on my legs. When she woke it was as if it was the most natural thing in the world to her. Culture shock!
About midway through my year there, I got very sick and was admitted to a Korean hospital. I was placed in a shared room with five other Korean women. When my bed was rolled in, the women got out of their beds to look at me and even touch me. They touched my hair, my arms and my face. They had never seen an American before, and I was quite the novelty. When the school year was drawing to a close, the principal of our school invited all staff out to “dinner and a show.” Dinner was fantastic, but I was extremely surprised when the show consisted of scantily clad showgirls! That was not what I was expecting from a school faculty outing.
But while so many things were different and radically unusual, there were some things that were the same. A few weeks after I arrived, I asked one of my students who spoke English to take me to church. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I understand what they said? Would I know what to do? But I had faith that God was calling me to be with Him. When we walked in, I was required to wear a lace handkerchief on my head. Well, that was new and different! The mass was spoken in Korean, which, of course, was also very different.
But the love in that church was as strong as it was in any American church I had ever visited. The hymns, the prayers, kneeling, standing, greeting each otherit was as if I was at my home church. Did I understand everything that went on? No. Could I recite the prayers with the others in the pews? Definitely not. But did I feel that peaceful, knowing feeling that God was there, surrounding me with his love? Most definitely so. Did I feel that I was connected to these people, whom I had never met and would probably never see again? Undeniably yes. Did I feel loved, nurtured, warmed and at peace? Without a doubt.
As Floris UMC moves forward to building a new Reston campus, I know I must remember to spread that feeling I once felt 25 years ago in a small church in Korea to the people in our neighboring town. As the Director of Children’s Ministry at Floris UMC, our Sunday morning children’s offerings in the month of June will be given to help the Reston campus build its new Children’s Ministry department. Anything we can do to help this new campus grow, prosper and spread the word of God is something we are called to do. And how comforting it is to know that wherever we go, be it to a neighboring town or across the world, God is always there with us.