Odds and Ends

It is a cloudy August afternoon here in Seoul and I just finished eating lunch with Jin and Esther after climbing Bonghwsan with Jin. There were fewer people on the trails this afternoon because it has been raining off and on all day. The forest had a sort of musty, rotting smell to it and I saw mushrooms growing alongside the pathway that I had not seen before. At the peak, there was just one other man and the usual flock of hopeful pigeons resting on their bellies in the dirt waiting for someone to scatter or accidentally drop some food for them to eat. I drank my paper cup of sweet, cold rice punch (shikhye) with the gray-brown grains of rice floating in it 

and breathed in the fresh, damp air, a song by Clay Crosse playing through the earbud in my right ear. 

Sometimes my life here feels like a dream. There is an unreality to my existence here, since every day is so unlike the experience of my years since graduating from college and having to get up and work a job five days a week in a country where I was literate. Last Friday when Min Mok asked me what was most different about my life here is Korea, I told him that not being able to read even the most basic sign is the hardest, most different thing for me. Being a reader, being unable to read things is bizarre. I can imagine all the ESL people I know reading this blog nodding their heads and saying, "Now you know how it feels like to be a highly educated person who moves to America not knowing how to read, write, or speak English. You could be a professor with a PhD in your home country, but in America you are maybe more illiterate than a American child who has not even begun preschool." I thank God that there are Koreans who speak English, that there are many important signs written in English so that I do not become entirely lost, and that I have access to English language media and other English speakers. I am always blessed when someone attempts to speak to me in English and I encourage them. 

A couple of weekends ago, I went out to do some evangelism with people from the church in a park. Accompanying me was the church secretary, Lydia, who is a wonderful witness for the Gospel. Our first contacts were a young couple that were sitting with a bag of groceries at their feet. The woman was more open to speaking to us, responding in English. The boyfriend's body language was telling us to go away, but we persisted. I learned some interesting things from the experience. One was that some people claim to have never given any thought to the purpose of their existence, whether they have a soul, whether there is a God, and what happens to them when they die. Another was that some people say they believe in something without any thought or reason as to why. The boyfriend said. "I believe in myself," but could not elaborate on that belief when I asked him what he meant by his statement. We got mindless answers like from the girlfriend like, "I believe in evolution," although she could not say why. We have been listening to messages and learning in Bible college from Pastor Steve about how people suppress the truth in unrighteousness, ignoring God's general revelation to all mankind and the specific revelation of the Gospel when it is presented to them in love and grace. I thought of this as we spoke to this couple who seemed well-educated, but mindlessly duped by the so-called wisdom of this world. They acted as if they had never given any thought to any of the Big Questions of life, and I wondered if the world has reached a point where people no longer think about such things. I hope not.

We also spoke to an atheistic man reading a math book to refresh his memory of the math he'd learned in school (he took a tract and left in a hurry), and then were blessed to meet a Canadian Korean man who had moved to Korea with his parents. He was sitting on a park bench awaiting his friend, another Canadian Korean man, that he had grown up with attending church in Canada. The friend was a song leader in his father's church in Korea and both men loved the Lord. This was encouragement for our souls after our first two encounters. Lydia spotted a group of young children and pulled out a book with blank pages colored just like the Farmer's beads we use on evangelism in Baltimore. She began to tell the story of the Gospel to this group of enthusiastic souls, 

but then, just like the parable in the Bible, birds came to steal the seed away and weeds came to choke the tender shoots - the mothers of the children came and angrily took their reluctant away from the message of the Word. The kids wanted to stay and hear the rest of the story, but the mothers with stern tones of voice and physical force removed their children from earshot of Lydia's lively and loving Korean language telling of the Greatest Story Ever Told. So sad. I hope at least one of them remembers the message one day and believes.

Before we could leave the park, a group latched onto my American self and sat me down in a chair in front of a table behind which a kindly, slightly nervous Korean man sat and attempted to interview me. 

With the help of Lydia and a lovely Korean lady who was working this man and the other men who were sitting at similar tables conducting the same interview, I was asked to show on a timeline when in my life I had experienced emotional highs and lows. I plotted just a few points below the median line. When asked why so many points were above the median, I explained that I was a Christian, and this generated a buzz and got some faces smiling. From what I was able to gather, this was a group of men being trained to be counselors for fathers seeking help to be better dads, and many of them (if not all) were believers. They were interested to learn that my father is a pastor, that I had been a teacher and principal of a Christian school, and that I had moved to Korea to live. I was asked to rate the gentleman who had interviewed me and write comments of encouragement and improvement. I gave them my new telephone number, but nobody has called yet.

This past Saturday I was blessed to be invited my the young people in the church to attend their lunch-bowling-dinner activity. We met at the church then walked to the Save Zone department store where some of us bought food from McDonalds to eat and others of us at Korean food from the food court. Next, we walked to the bowling alley to knock down some pins. I was not expecting to do well, since I am the least athletic of all my parents' children, and we had some very fit looking young men in our group who I thought would beat us all. To my great astonishment, I bowled better than anyone. I was pleased and embarrassed at the same time. Two of the teenagers, Dongsu and Youngjae, bowled with great energy and enthusiasm, and I believe that, given a little more time and experience, Youngjae would have beaten us all soundly, because his form improved steadily from frame to frame, and he began to look more like the professional bowlers in the lanes further down from ours. He is the kind of guy with great hand-eye coordination who picks up sports and musical instruments and learns them with ease. Here is a picture of me with members of my first team. I was trying to get them to look mean for the picture since we were staring across at our opponents, but you can see I failed miserably.

Youngjae is the young man on the right.
 After bowling, some of us went to an apartment where Tain and some others prepared the ingredients for Vietnamese spring rolls, which we put together ourselves and ate. One of Tain's former students, Nobu, joined us for our meal. He was visiting Korea from his home in Japan. I met him last year when I was here and I was happy to see him once again. 
Nobu is the young man in the middle.
There is a lot of joy and camaraderie among the young people in the church, and although I could not understand what was being said most of the time, I simply relaxed and let the good-spirited atmosphere wash over me. We closed by asking for prayer requests from everyone and praying. It was a sweet time.

Last night, Tain, William, and Pastor Steve came to the apartment for dinner. 
Tain wearing Esther's apron (reluctantly).

Pastor Steve, Bongo the dog, and Prince William of Thailand.
Tain brought along some Thai spices and made a delicious barbecue meal from ingredients in Esther and JIn's refrigerator and freezer. 

We had to threaten Esther that we would stop eating if she did not sit down and eat with us, because she kept popping out of her seat and going off into the kitchen to do things. She is one of those Korean women who feels she must see to the comfort of her guests at all times and thus neglects her own meal. This made us uncomfortable, so we told her we would not eat another bite until we saw her put a bite in her own mouth. She laughed and ate a little then jumped up again. I told her the story of how my grandmother would tie my father to his chair to make him sit and eat and said we were going to to find some rope and do the same to her. She laughed and laughed and managed to sit for a longer spell of time before getting out of her seat again. It became one of the running jokes of the evening.

This morning I lead songs before Survey of Doctrine I class - Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord and Draw Me Close to You. I feel a little like my dad who used to lead singing before Bible college class began back during the Lenox days. As I wrote and told Pastor Schaller this morning, as I sit in Survey of Doctrine, I sometimes can hear his voice saying, "Learn it all over again!" And I am. What a blessing to be in the class and be taught. God is so good to me.


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