2016 January 20 – Update from Korea

So, I landed in Korea in February 2015. In the first couple of Sundays at my new congregation, I met a lot of new faces. One of them was a lady (Connie, Bethany’s mother) who gave me her family’s contact info and invited me to come over to their house the days during Korea’s lunar new year holidays.

I met Bethany during those holidays. I had stayed the previous night at her parents’ house and enjoyed the hospitality of an American-style home-cooked meal. Bethany came over that day – the first time I met her. Bethany’s friend Brittany was over as well. We talked late that evening about a lot of things (I’m pretty sure I defended the virtues of child-bearing . . .) and the next morning the three of us actually went for a hike near Bethany’s high school. I found her to be well-spoken (I got her attention when I talked about something I read on North Korean propaganda – something Bethany wrote her master’s thesis on – the first of many divine orchestrations where I somehow say the right thing to gain her interest or trust), beautiful, and notably caring: her friend Brittany was leaving for the States and Bethany bid her an affectionate, tearful farewell. Even in my jet-lagged state, my curiosity was piqued.

In hindsight, that time set a good baseline for our later relationship: eating, talking, and hiking around Seoul. But it would be 8 months later before I would be hiking alone with Bethany.


2016 January 19 – Update from Korea

So, my life has taken an unexpected turn. I came to South Korea to take part in a pastoral internship for 2015. Along the way, I met many people, made many new friends, and encountered Korean life. In the months preceding the end of 2015, a romance began to blossom. I guess the story will come out in bits and pieces, as the romance continues to grow, and I just want to share with anyone who is interested!

Her name is Bethany. She’s lived in Seoul for a long time, but she grew up in the Philippines, where her parents were missionaries. They are originally from Tennessee and she has U.S. citizenship. She has a masters in applied linguistics and wants to minister to people in Korea: specifically as an accomplished advocate for the North Korean people.

I’m convinced that the Lord brought me here firstly to meet and fall in love with her. We are convinced it is all His doing!

Youth Worship

For the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to lead worship on Sundays for the youth group in my English congregation (how’s that for qualifiers?). It has been a joyous and daunting opportunity. The youth worship team is very competent and hard-working and the music on Sundays sounds great. It is such a rewarding experience to worship God and then have God use your worship to facilitate more worship for fellow believers.

Thankfully, I do not have to lead every Sunday, because the youth pastor Joshua Suh – while doing the preaching and leading for the youth group – also leads worship on certain occasions as well. In fact, before I came along, he had been doing all the worship leading and preaching himself! Three weeks ago (I think) I got to lead half of the worship times at the annual youth retreat [more on that later]. I am thankful and so glad to be doing this and investing this particular talent.


Leading is hard work

Even this, though, the Lord has used to sanctify and temper my mettle. Pastor Josh gets to pick the songs, since he knows the youth group and the songs they know. This means that sometimes the learning curve for me is steep. Learning a new praise song is not hard: learning it well enough to lead confidently and in time with the rest of a band is hard. It is a great situation because like just about everything in Korea, everyone knows that I am leading not out of sheer personal merit but because of my position. So I have humble myself to receive grace, to work hard to learn and lead, and to be transparent. Thankfully, again, the Lord has blessed and most Sundays the worship time is beautiful. I have really become more in touch with expressing my feelings towards God and being together with others: I am far more willing to sing out and tear up in the midst of praise.

But some days, things fall apart. Our first worship time for the youth retreat was one of those times. We were introducing a couple of new songs to the youth group, and there were 2 or 3 songs that were entirely new to me. Well, we got on stage and limped through the first one but in the second song, the wheels came off. The keyboard wasn’t giving us a pulse to keep time, the lead guitar forgot his intro riff, and I didn’t put my capo on my guitar [we had decided to change the key at practice a few days ago but that change was not made on the chord charts] so I was in the wrong key! Eventually I stopped playing and let the bass give me the right key to sing. The song was the new “The Way” from Tim Hughes and co. and so if you listen to the song, you’ll know the melody line is not your usual, paced praise tune and the chorus kicks up notably. So, just imagine tires screeching in a parking garage and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it sounded like. After that set, I was the most ashamed I’d ever been in my life – my first distinct failure since being in South Korea. The guest speaker got up to speak and I just prayed and processed and persuaded myself not to walk out of the worship hall and to the nearest bus stop for the airport. It was that bad. When the guest speaker ended, it was decided that we wouldn’t do the ending song we had planned, ostensibly because of time constraints. I felt very responsible for letting the youth team down, the youth group and all the adults there down, including the other pastors.

I could say more, but in that moment, I felt and experienced being completely melted down as all my impurities of pride, selfishness, etc. rose to the surface of my conscious. I had to forgive myself and feel exposed, vulnerable. Everyone now knew I was completely mortal and fallible as a worship leader. But, I am pretty sure that led us to more accurate intimacy for the duration of the retreat and so that picture you see up there of me confidently leading is only after the Lord has His way with me in front of everyone. It is experiences like these that I could never have sought or contrived myself but which the Lord has brought me to in order to make me more and more capably His servant.

Update – 7/22/2015

Here’s a rundown of some things I have been doing lately:

– recently started giving English tutoring to a young boy from the Chinese congregation; he is very smart and knows the English alphabet and a lot of English words but his mom wants to help him speak English and so I have been focusing on English syntax – how to make your own sentences! This is actually a great ministry opportunity as well. They are a homeschool family, so on top of the fact that many families raising young children are a little isolated from regular society, I get to build relationships with these people I might not otherwise even see through tutoring. Plus, I now get to fulfill the stereotype of a young American in Korea: I do “teach English.”

– recently started leading the youth worship for the Sunday services. This is an exciting opportunity to do regular worship leading. This past Sunday was a little difficult: I learned on Wednesday that 3 of the 5 songs we were singing on Sunday were entirely new to me! And I would be out of the country Thursday and Friday, doing my visa run to Japan! This role will be very challenging but rewarding as well.

– last Thursday I went on my second visa run to Fukuoka, Japan. This is Hakata Station:

It was rainy the whole day, which meant that the summer weather didn't get a chance to assert its heat.
It was rainy the whole day, which meant that the summer weather didn’t get a chance to assert its heat.

It was nice and relaxing – I got coffee on Friday and the barista gave me a tip on a good ramen restaurant that required adventuring two more subway stations away for lunch! Then, my flight got delayed out of Japan and so I had the adventure of landing in Incheon, Korea at midnight and paying a lot of money for the taxi-driver to take me home because the airport buses stop running at 10:45pm!

– I am also finishing up on August 1 the Bible study that I got to do for the past couple of months. We studied 2 Timothy and though 50% of the people who started the Bible study didn’t complete it, I think its been good to get some of my theology out there and discover more about the gospel. It has been good to dialogue and verbally process through 2 Timothy – I have formulated and re-formulated some things that I never would have just by myself.

– This Sunday I will be giving my third sermon so far. I will be preaching on Genesis 17-18:15, where the Lord confirms the Abrahamic covenant with circumcision and then ch. 18, the Lord shows up! I hope that I can prepare a sermon true to God’s word. This Sunday Paul and our senior pastor are gone on trips, so I will be preaching 3 services, including the youth. I am praying that I can carry the right tone for the different audiences.

I am so thankful for all these different experiences! Thanks for your love and attention!