Archive for June, 2009

Worst-case scenario, but still hopeful

A short update on our church situation. The pastor that led our KM youth service resigned, leaving the church (no tension or conflict involved) and taking his three kids with him. This meant that I would now be in charge of all the kids again, both Korean-speaking and English-speaking. The first Sunday we met together was the day before I took the LSAT and left for Korea. And I was hopeful after that day, having spoken on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, on the Church as the body of Christ. Two weeks later, while in Korea, I found out that none of the KM kids had showed up. Disappointed but my dad told me that was what he originally expected. They likely have left for good and will join some other church. As I told my brother, they come together and leave together. A shame. And as I told my dad, can we really expect anything else, when none of these kids’ parents attend our church? As it turns out, this past Sunday, the two KM kids whose dad has been an assistant pastor at our church for over 5 years were there.

It is encouraging when my dad tells me that though I may feel ineffective or incompetent, the fact that I am consistent and have a heart for the ministry already makes me “better” than all the other JDSNs we’ve had since I was in 7th grade–from a father of 3 to a 40-year-old single man to an ex-gang member (who mysteriously took off after one week) to an idealistic and headstrong Westminster student to another Westminster student who found ministry too burdensome.

We press on. Even if it’s “maintain” mode, there is still hope for the years ahead. I could write more, but I will stop here.

Closing thoughts on Korea

I’m writing this several days after coming home, so some of my thoughts have faded, but I did jot a few topics down while I was on the plane. Not sure how they’ll pan out as I write about them. Let’s see.

The first thing is related to the comments on the Korean culture and economy I made toward the end of my last post. As an econ major, I heard all the time from my professors and textbooks that spending was the way for an economy to grow. GDP is a measure of a nation’s output, and output is the value of all the goods and services in the economy. If people buy stuff, firms make more goods to meet that demand. If people buy a lot of stuff, then firms sell a lot of goods and do better, hiring more employees and paying them more, meaning they now have more money to spend on more stuff, and so on. A recession (a decrease in GDP)  is just the opposite. People don’t buy, firms cut back on production and then fire people and cut paychecks, leading to lower incomes, which means people buy even less. During recessions, the government says that the way out is to spend more. The whole point of the recent stimulus program was to stimulate spending.

All this to say, it seems strange to me that a good, healthy economy supposedly requires an increasing rate of consumption. It seems strange that Christians would call such a healthy economy “blessed.” When there is a large middle class and more people own their own homes and have two or three cars in their driveways, Christians would call this “blessed.” But the only way for people to be able to achieve this prosperity is the consumption (consumerism?) of the rest of the nation. Only because so many people just have to have computers has the price for them gone down over the years and now so many people have laptops and netbooks. Because everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses, now you have college students driving BMWs and Benzes, checking the stock market on their iPhones, taking thousands of pictures with their digital cameras (or DSLRs), clutching their (multiple) Coach or Louis Vuitton handbags, and wearing Hugo Boss suits.

A truly Christian nation (impossible but hypothetically speaking), I feel, wouldn’t be a “healthy” economy by the world’s standards. No Christian would (and no Christian should) spend and consume to the excess that today’s American urbanite does. But how happy such a nation would be! In Seoul, we stayed in Lotte Hotel in downtown, one of the best and most expensive hotels in the city. As this would most likely be my grandfather’s last trip to Korea (he’s 92 years old), we found it worth it to pay the premium to have the best accommodations, though our family (and church) finances are tight. One thing my father told me during our trip is that we need to learn to be content with both wealth and poverty, of having much and having little, of things expensive and things cheap. We remembered the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:11-13: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” There is nothing wrong with reaping the benefits of having greedy consumers as neighbors–being able to afford nice clothes or an upscale dinner. But I hope that we would not indulge like the world does. To do so would take away from the glory God deserves, the God who enabled us to enjoy such “blessing.”

I enjoyed so much the hospitality of my grandfather’s brother’s family (my first cousins once removed [my father’s cousins] and my second cousins…5-chons and 6-chons!), especially the hospitality of some of the women. Even though my Korean sucked and I couldn’t communicate with my aunts and older girl cousins well, they were so warm and welcoming. Even when I was full or tired or it was late at night, they offered me fruits and ice cream and breakfast and orange juice and soda and offered to wash my laundry. So used to doing everything myself, it all made me feel so…loved. These little acts of service brought such joy to my heart. There’s something about a woman’s warmth, her voice, her expressions, and her gentleness that makes her so different. Different in a desirable way. Different in a way that makes me so thankful God made man and woman in His image. To have such a loving wife would make me so happy.

A Korean pastor’s perspective through the eyes of his son

Wow, I just found out this never got published when I clicked Publish. I finished writing this just before midnight on June 20. I have a few more thoughts to add, but I don’t have much time at this computer now, so part 2 will come soon…

So I’ve been in Korea the past week, and though I’ve seen so many things, I haven’t felt the need to write down my thoughts in this blog. There have been a couple things that have been on my mind that I’ve written down on paper but not too many that I’ve wanted to write here. Found one today though.

I’ve spent the past 12 days traveling with my father and grandfather, and I have a couple things to share regarding the life of a pastor that I’ve never really known before. On this trip, I’ve seen some things that I want fellow believers to know about, to give you perspective and hopefully a bigger heart as well.

People seem always a little surprised when they find out that my dad is a pastor. It happened with both our tour guide in Beijing and our guide in Korea. One time at an outdoor shopping area in Seoul, we stopped by a place selling slacks and suits, and the salesperson was friendly, answering any questions we had. He told my dad as he browsed the suits that he looked like a person in some sort of intellectual profession, perhaps a professor. Rather than say then that he was a pastor, my dad just said, it’s something similar to that. I realized after it happened twice that my dad probably preferred not to have people know that he was a pastor, especially in a situation where it was just a short-term acquaintance. There must be a reason for that. Perhaps it’s things like something that happened today that makes my dad act this way.

Up until today, our guide seemed friendly and personable. I showed up 4 minutes late to the bus in the morning, at 8:19 not 8:15. We weren’t on a tight schedule, and the day before he had remarked about how Americans (our bus was all people from America) always kept time better than Koreans, meaning he probably wasn’t expecting everyone to show up on time. So it was pretty jacked up of him when he half-jokingly said to the entire bus as I entered, “Ah, the pastor’s family is probably late because they were having service.” First of all, I was the only one late. My dad and grandpa made it in time. Second, it wasn’t Sunday. He was obviously mocking us and making a joke out of the fact that my dad was a pastor. It was the first time I had ever experienced something like that. Even though the comment was probably made to ridicule my dad more than anyone else in my family, I was livid that he would make a comment like that. I imagined myself punching him in the face (perhaps a left uppercut to his jaw and right elbow to the forehead)…but I remembered Romans 12:19-21. It was hard at first. But you know what…sometimes we need reminders like that to show us the truth in Jesus’ words: the world will hate Christians.

A few observations of Korean culture. Koreans give greater respect to those who wear nicer clothes, drive big shiny cars, and work for big companies. You drive a small Hyundai or Kia, they bow to you only so much. You drive an Equus or S-Class or 7 Series, they bow lower. The dominant topic as I hung out with some of my distant guy cousins was business and how to make money. Seoul is so image-driven. Everyone wants respect, everyone wants power. My dad told me that he knew one of the pastors of one of the many megachurches in Seoul. He actually used to live in La Palma–our hometown–just down the street and used to pastor a small church in the area. But he was invited to pastor this huge church in Korea and promptly moved there. But my dad said he didn’t respect him at all because his character was less than commendable. I didn’t have to ask him to elaborate. What I take from all this is that Korean pastors can so easily also fall into the trap of the pursuit of being “somebody,” of being revered by their peers. As pastors of small churches, they may receive the same kind of treatment as our tour guide incident from today. So many of the relatives I’ve met so far have all asked my dad how many members our church has, and some of them have expressed in their response ever the slightest suggestion that the church should be larger than it is now, with the underlying belief of more members = better.

Earlier this week I read 1 Corinthians 16:10-11: “When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.” These are Paul’s closing instructions. These words struck me then, and they strike me even more now after reflecting on all these things. Pastors go through so much for their flock. They endure so much crap from the world, and it is to the shame of the Church that even in their own congregations they do not feel at ease. Paul tells the Corinthians, let no one despise Timothy. Help Timothy on his way in peace. Put him at ease among you. So I encourage you all of you reading, please consider your pastors. Pray for them, show them you appreciate them, help them in any way you can. Pastoral ministry is an incredible burden that they have dutifully chosen to carry. Some have buckled under the burden and have either left the pastorate altogether or “sold out” in their theology to gain the favor of man. But there are many who are faithful preachers of the Word and loyal shepherds to their flocks. They go through so much for the sake of the Kingdom. Affirm them, encourage them, show the highest respect to them, submit to their authority. Think of them!

All this circumstantial evidence tells me that the Korean church has some serious problems. The more I stay here, the more I realize that so many Koreans just pay lip service to religion. Deep inside they despise the church, they despise pastors. They are whitewashed tombs. I’ve learned to be cynical about those Barna and Gallup numbers on American religious life, and now I’ve come to realize the same religious facade exists in Korea. I believe Korea, just like America, was so blessed because of older generations’ faith and trust in God. But prosperity has blinded the hearts of younger generations. The consumer culture is so voracious here. One of our taxi drivers told us how spoiled and disrespectful youth are now compared to his generation. Look where greedy, spoiled Americans are now, in the midst of a recession after collapse in the housing market and financial sector. I would not in the least be surprised if something like that happens in Korea in the next 50 years. Nothing new under the sun…it happened to Israel. It comes back around to the theme of this blog, from Deuteronomy 6 and 8: Take care lest you forget the LORD your God, lest when you eat and are full, lest when you build good houses and great cities and live in them, lest when all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up and you forget the LORD your God and say in your heart that it was your own power and ability that accomplished all these things.

This could be more organized, but I’ll publish what I have so far. I am tired of staring at the computer.

Tribute to my roommates

The TV is hardly on this summer and the house is quiet. I love it. I’m going to miss living with my roommates when they and I both move out. The little things they do have helped me to become more mature and responsible. Some examples.

Jake was tired last night and crawled into bed early to read for a bit before sleeping. He asked me what I did every night at the computer, because I’m usually on the computer before I go to bed. When I mentioned Facebook among other things, he remarked how he thought Facebook was the biggest waste of time and how he’d delete his account if only he wasn’t so lazy and wrote down all his friends’ email addresses. The way he said it, I knew he wasn’t looking down on me or anything like that. He wasn’t trying to tell me I was bad or that I should grow up, but at the same time, what he said challenged me. More than mere guilt, it was an urge to consider the amount of time I spend and to evaluate my priorities. It’s things like this that make me really appreciate living with him and getting to know him. I know he probably never reads this blog, since he doesn’t like spending time on the computer, so I will write all these good things about him haha. It wasn’t on the senior interview video, but for the question, “Who was the biggest influence on you in the past four years?” I answered Jake, whom I met freshman year at a Campus Crusade for Christ small group.

Rob told me two weeks ago he wanted to read the entire Bible in a summer or at least read like crazy over the summer and see where he’s at by the time school starts again. Within a week and a few days he read from Genesis to Numbers. Now he’s already in 1 Samuel. He started P90X right after finals and has been doing it every afternoon, setting up half his room with exercise mats, pull-up bar, dumbbells. In our driveway outside is a bench press machine and barbell. Man, I admire his diligence. Setting a goal and then getting it done, working consistently each day.

Adam buys a lot of groceries and always seems to be cooking at home, if he’s not eating out with his girlfriend. He’ll break open one egg to cook one slice of French toast for breakfast. Who does that hahaha. He always keeps everything super clean. Our room hardly has dirty clothes lying around.

And Andy…haha I don’t know if he reads this, but he was a beast in college. Walk-on track athlete and eventually became the team captain senior year. 1:51 800m time, somewhere around 4:10, 4:15 mile time. Air Force ROTC and the highest ranking cadet in like southern California or something crazy like that and also California Air Force cadet of the year. Now’s he’s a commissioned officer, 2nd Lieutenant. He got the Order of Laurel and Palm award at the Baccalaureate Dinner for graduating seniors this year. Haha, he had no idea he was getting it, but it’s for seniors who do well in academics and leadership positions in the community. He’s in the Bac/MD program and headed to USC med school this fall. The other guys make fun of him because he’s the most “baby” out of us, but he’s still a beast haha.

I learn a lot seeing Jake and Adam interact with their girlfriends. I learn about how to be more wise and mature when they tell me about their plans for marriage and their ambitions for the future. I don’t know if they became more mature as a result of their relationships (perhaps…they occasionally tell me about how stupid they were in high school haha) or if they were able to sustain these relationships because of the maturity they had before they got into them, but it’s probably both. Both of their girlfriends are from South America, so they’re always talking about traveling and living abroad. Jake wants to be a foreign service officer and bought a ton of books to study for the grueling FSO exam. He’s studying Portuguese through Rosetta Stone. He loves Korean barbecue and came to lunch with my family after graduation. Haha Jake is so cool.

I’m so glad that God has put such friends in my life, people that I can look up to as well as call my buddies. They have taught me so much. I hope I’ve taught them something as well. It’s so funny that we’re the same year of college (well sort of, since Jake and Adam graduated college in 3 years) but they are so much older. Jake, Andy, and Adam were all born in 1986! Bunch of old boys. Haha.