Please don’t misunderstand me; there is so much to love about Korea, including the Korean church. It’s not all bad, as no culture nor church is all bad. I think my last post was sparked mainly by my recent visit to a Korean church, but this past Sunday I didn’t attend a church service. Sunday was New Year’s Day, and there was family over. I guess those of us in the family who attend church regularly chose not to feel guilty about not going. I’m at a place in my life and faith journey where I don’t feel bad anymore when I skip church on a Sunday, and I don’t feel bad that I don’t feel bad.
I also don’t feel bad about or retract my statement that I think I would have some major difficulty adjusting to Korean church culture, but every time I visit here–this is my third visit–I find more to love about the culture in general.
It goes without saying that I thoroughly enjoy the food. When my wife and I started dating, it didn’t take me long to begin identifying Korean food as my favorite. But I learned that food is about so much more than consumption. They are proud of it, they love to share it, and they use it to show they care. When we’ve been out all day, and my wife calls her parents to check in, one of the first things they’ll ask her is, “Did you eat?” After the first few days here, I realized that I hadn’t felt hungry, because my wife or her family members will always make sure that we’ve eaten our fill, even when we’re already full. When I told my wife that, she said, “Good.” She told her mom what I said, and her mom said, “Good.” And it hit me: Korea is formerly a third-world country, and those in their fifties and older remember childhoods fraught with hunger and poverty. They want to make sure those they love are well-fed and healthy.
And speaking of the past, I have enjoyed so much being in Korea this time around during the Chinese (Lunar?) New Year season. Much like Dia de los Muertos in the Mexican culture, the Koreans (and other Asian cultures as well) make sure to remember their ancestors regularly, and especially on holidays. I don’t believe in communicating with those who have passed on, nor that they watch over us from above or somewhere else, nor that spirits benefit in any way from our setting out tables of food for them. What I have come to cherish is that which honors and commemorates those who have gone before us, those without whom I would not be here, those who poured themselves out to pave the way for descendants they’d never meet, those on whose shoulders I stand. That I believe in.
And speaking of belief and the past, I have learned something about the Korean culture and faith. With all the buzz about the North Korean man and the YouTube video of his dream of a world in peace, a united Korea, and an annihilated America, I did a bit of research. The most interesting thing I learned was this: Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, used to be the Christian center of Korea, the largest population of Christians living there. When the North was taken over by Kim Il Sung and his regime, most Christians either fled to the South or are believed to have stayed there and endured God-knows-what persecution and suppression. All that tells me the faith of the Korean church has come at a price, much like America and all the way back to the first Christians. (Sorry I am not citing my sources. It’s too hard to do that on an iPad.)
So, I’ve learned something about faith, the Korean culture, and the Korean evangelical Christian church. Of course, the Korean culture and the Korean church culture are inextricably tied together; the church culture is the way it is because of the culture as a whole. They show they care with food, after every single service. They show respect and honor for elders, particularly those who lead and serve in the church. And they hold in highest priority their faith in Jesus Christ; church leaders call for nothing less than wholehearted commitment, they work hard to earn respect and honor, and they invest heavily in the next generation of Christ-followers.
There’s no doubt about it: if there is ever to be a united Korea, where North and South live as one, I would sure rather it look like the South currently does, rather than the North. Maybe it seems that’s not saying much, but I really do believe there is so much to love about this beautiful country and culture.