Back from Korea (1)

I arrived back home from Korea on Saturday evening tired and sore, but thrilled that I have been given such opportunities. It never ceases to amaze me that the Lord allows me such an amazing privilege. I’ll give a quick summary of the trip and try to get my photos posted on Facebook if you should like to see them (I should have them up by Monday night/Tuesday morning).

Cindy and I left on Friday Morning from West Palm to Atlanta. From Atlanta we took the flight of slightly over 14 hours to Seoul. Since Seoul is 14 hours ahead of Eastern Time, we arrived on Saturday night to meet up with Dr. Gage who arrived by a different flight about ten minutes after we did. Meeting us were my friends Nathan and Dr. Sohn who are always incredibly gracious and punctual. I fly to Korea without either of their phone numbers or addresses, simply trusting that they will be there. They always are and I never worry at all. We put on our coats (it can be very cold in Seoul this time of the year and snow stayed on the ground the whole time we were in Korea) and headed out to the van.

Dr. Sohn and Nathan took us out to a wonderful supper at a beautiful Korean restaurant. Dr. Sohn made sure that a female student came along to the dinner to make Cindy feel more comfortable. She (her western name was Augie, many Asians choose a western name to make it easier for us to pronounce/remember) was from Mongolia and planned to study counseling at the seminary.

Service in Asia seems to be on a whole different level from the U.S. One example will communicate the difference. Cindy and Dr. Gage asked for a diet Coke to drink, while I asked for Sprite. My Sprite came out immediately but the diet Cokes took a little time. When someone asked why they took so long, the server explained to our friends (who translated for us) that they did not have diet Coke and had to send someone out to the store to get it. I can’t say that I have ever had that happen in the states.

One of the things that we (Knox professors) do in Korea, in addition to teaching at Reformed Theological Seminary in Seoul, is preach at a Korean Church while we are there. I learned on the ride from the airport that I was slated to preach at a church that is pastored by Dr. Abraham Park. The church sits on a mountain that is owned by the congregation and has a large number of buildings for worship because the members could never fit into one building. I was told that between the worshipers in the building and those watching on closed circuit, there would be over 20,000 people watching and listening to the sermon. I had a terrible fear that at any moment someone was going to come up to me and say, “there has been a terrible mistake, we thought you were someone else, someone taller.” One of the things that I use to try to “break down the fourth wall” between speaker and listener is humor. This tool though is almost totally worthless when speaking through an interpreter. Between the fact that all humor is language and culturally based (even humor that does not depend on wordplay needs a certain “rhythm” to be effective) and the fact that my self-deprecating humor is not culturally acceptable in Asia, it was a difficult time for me. I knew that I had no business speaking at such an incredible place, but the Lord was faithful and I did my best not to embarrass Knox Seminary or myself. I always feel unworthy when I preach, but this was a very special case and I felt especially like I had no business being on the platform. In spite of all that, several spoke to me about how they had been blessed. The Lord uses even our worst to bring honor to the Kingdom.

After finishing speaking Cindy, Nathan (my interpreter for the week who did an incredible job) and I were taken to one of the church “restaurants.” We were fed a delicious meal and within a half an hour of the benediction I was brought a DVD of the service. I was flabbergasted. Next we were taken to a museum of the collection of Biblical artifacts belonging to Dr. Park and Kenneth Vines.

In the collection were incredible archeological pieces from the time of Christ and before. This was truly one of the high points of my trip because we had the place all to ourselves and had a very knowledgeable guide. I would have loved to have spent more time there but I was feeling the effects of jet-lag (kind of like now as I write this at four in the morning my time, six at night in Seoul) so we headed back to the hotel, a very nice one only a few minutes from where Dr. Gage and I would be teaching from Monday through Friday.

On Monday the class began, which was an exegetical overview of the Sermon on the Mount. Many of the students were assistant pastors or evangelists from Dr. Park’s church so most of them knew me, either from another class or from the sermon on Sunday.

Next, I’ll write about the class itself as well as some of the interesting side trips that Cindy and I took into downtown Seoul. I’ll tell you some very interesting things that I learned from my students, as well as some cultural differences that can affect teaching.