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.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Gabriel on August 16, 2009 at 9:27 PM

    Look where greedy, spoiled Americans are?

    Umm, can I ask you a question?

    Where do you live, where did you grow up, and which country’s citizenship do you hold?

    You sound very American to me, so why don’t you say, “We Americans?”

    Words from the Wise

    PS. You should’ve punched that tour guide.

  2. I don’t know where you’re coming from, but if you are a fellow believer, then if I were you, I would’ve thought twice before writing what you did. Living in America has nothing to do with living the stereotypical American lifestyle. To assume that I am just another participant in the American lifestyle I comment on is, I think, a little rash. Would you say the same words to my father, who has gone through many struggles as a pastor but is technically an American citizen? I won’t say that I’m never greedy and spoiled, for we are all sinners, but your comment seems a little prideful itself (“Words from the Wise”).

    All in all, I was a bit hurt and disappointed by your comment. I would hope that you can at the very least read my other entries before making such assumptions about me, someone you’ve never met before.

    Sam

  3. Posted by Michael K on August 17, 2009 at 1:12 PM

    @Gabriel
    I get the feeling that the point of Sam’s message is not to make a comparison between American and Korean lifestyles and see which is worse. Ultimately, as he states in the end, the point is to be wary of becoming consumed by wealth so that we become so blind to the Gospel. And because he did spend some time in Korea and was confronted with the situation presented by the tour guide’s joke, I do believe that his claim is valid within the context of the situation. Obviously, there will be people in Korea who truly are believers and know that the Gospel does not make way for wealth and prosperity as well as Americans who are not truly greedy and are actually living with faithful stewardship of their finances, but generalizations are necessary for the sake of being concise and to the point.

    And, by the way, it is by greed that we, Americans, are in the economy that we are in. But I only say we as to refer to my nationality, not my character.

  4. Posted by Anne on March 7, 2010 at 3:26 AM

    I want to thank you so much for your post. My parents are in the ministry, a reverend and a bishop–quite a heavy burden taking care of more than one congregation, international too. I understand where you were getting at, success=# of members; in our community–culture–we are not really a united people so that translates into divided church. Thankfully God has given us our Isaac after going through the turmoils of dealing with our Ishmael’s.

    About being a ministers kid, I hated having the title. And being a girl, my leeway was narrower compared to guys because of social contracts. I now stand at young adulthood, having experienced the crosses tacked in to that title, and am grateful for the higher standard of up bringing and expectation. Growing in grace, most definitely.

    Lastly, as my father says life without the f–faith– is a lie. That’s what people are living these days. Whether it’s America, Europe, Asia. History is a gyre, it happens again, like Greece, and Rome–best way to put it politically correct, for the people above.

    I pray that as you continue with your walk, you see Gods Grace–Jesus, for he was walking, breathing Grace. We have to try and encourage children of ministers like us, as a teacher of mine put it, were the main target. Like how the enemy cannot attack God outrightly, he affects God’s children; since he cannot attack the anointed, he attacks what’s closest to them. Be strong, and of good cheer; persevere and finish the course! Fighting the good fight of faith, even if we still get frustrated, pulled at all sides, cornered by moral dilemmas, and are tempted.

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