We are back in Korea now! We had an eventful summer and now we are getting back into the swing of things here in Seoul. Bethany has been going to school for a week already doing teacher inservice as students will start back to school this Monday. The weather is very hot and humid, with rainstorms popping up now and then. The cicadas are loud, but since I have lived both in Indiana and Texas, I am used to that!
Bethany and I are looking to the future as well – please pray with us as we think through whether we will be staying in Korea next year or returning to the States or going somewhere else as the Lord leads. There are many factors for us – finances, family, friends, and ultimately, following God’s leading.
It’s been a faith journey for both of us – I am wondering what job opportunity is next for me, and how/if I can finish my Th.M. Bethany has continued to take care of me but it is hard when we do not know what the future holds, or even what is next. There’s sort of a rollercoaster between all the potential of our future and the little situation we are in for the present. I know the Lord will take care of us as He has, and He has a role for us to fulfill!
As 2015 was ending, my pastoral internship drew to a close. Around this time, I told Bethany that I wanted to be with her and I was praying that God do something soon and unexpected for us to be together. Bethany’s best friend Charlotte visited her right at the end of 2015, and I got to spend time with them both (the dreamlike quality of this time cannot be exaggerated – I was done with my job, and I made another visa run to Japan after which I got to spend day after day with Bethany). After Charlotte had gone back to the States, Bethany proposed a plan to get married, just before her spring break. This was also unexpected, and an answer to prayer. We began to work on co-creating shared values to guide our decision-making. We also opened up to family for counsel.
You see, for this whole relationship to have worked, Bethany had to employ BOTH supernatural patience AND supernatural initiative. In the beginning, I was just a foreigner guy who had lived his whole life in the States, and would be returning there at the end of the year, knowing nothing of how diverse and unique Bethany’s upbringing and life had been. I had to wait and wait and see, biding my time to show romantic interest – our lives were so different and because of the events in my own family, I knew a marriage could not be built on unilateral action. There was too much to learn and process for a long-distance relationship. There had to be a back-and-forth for us to work.
I was just a seminary student doing a pastoral internship, talking about how I wanted to do cross-cultural work, so that by all accounts I seemed an outspoken proponent of the stereotypical Christianity of which Bethany, a missionary kid, knew better. I was just a 30-year-old guy who only had maybe one official girlfriend in his life and barely had a cent to my name. If I initiated a relationship, if I proposed marriage, where was I going to take her? What did I have to offer? I didn’t even have a residence to call my own. When Bethany initiated and showed up to the Incheon airport, it may have been a small action-step for her to take, but for me and my life, it was the giant leap I needed someone to make. Because Bethany waited for me to initiate and introduce things about our relationship and show affection, our love warmed and progressed naturally and intuitively but at a strong pace.
Around this time in the first half of January 2016, Bethany took me on a date to her old haunts in Seoul including Yonsei University. Something very important happened then. On February 14th, we returned to Yonsei University to hike Ansan. I proposed at the spot on Ansan where we had hiked to more than a year ago.
As the Lord allows, Bethany and I will hike together for the rest of our lives.
Bethany made another trip to the States, this time for her sister’s wedding. Bethany said before she left that she wanted to hike Bukhansan with us friends as a way to celebrate her birthday. Keeping in mind that she would have her birthday while she was in the States, I gifted her the latest CHVRCHES album and messaged her as she returned to South Korea. I was about to make another visa run to Japan when she messaged me about meeting me after my flight. It was then that I had an inkling that she was actually interested in me.
In October and November, I visited Bethany on Mondays. We would sit and talk and have coffee, then dinner, hiking around Seoul. It was like a dream. I was following this beautiful girl around the capital city of Korea, hoping to God this particular dream would come true. Then, I began visiting Seoul more often during the week as Bethany expressed interest in spending more time together.
One Saturday afternoon in December, after a visit to the border of North Korea, we sat down and talked about our relationship. Bethany said a long-distance relationship would be so hard, and I said that I wanted to stay if that would keep our relationship going. That night I stayed and helped Bethany decorate her place for Christmas. On December 24th, I attended a Christmas Eve service with Bethany and the long-term possibilities of our relationship began to be real.
Over the next 8 months, I would pay Bethany more and more attention. I went with a couple of friends over to her house for dinner and coffee. I went along on a ministry trip to the North Korean resettlement center with Bethany and her mom. I would see her at church, every once in a while.
And then Bethany made a couple of trips to the States. The first trip was for training for her new job and she had expressed the need for motivation and encouragement to get through. I emailed her and sent her motivating youtube videos to get through the monotony. After she came back from this trip, I went with some friends to her new place in Seoul and we hiked up to the world-famous Namsan tower. On this outing, she expressed a desire for intellectual conversation or book suggestions. After she mentioned some books she had read, I messaged her later about, of all things, feminism. It was then that Bethany had an inkling that I was actually in to her.
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.