I can’t believe I have been in Korea for a month!
The first 2 weeks were spent alone in quarantine – thank goodness for ZOOM and Facetime. Kate & I were in separate rooms but Hyeyoung, our YAV site coordinator, kept us connected with daily updates, Korean lessons, and introductions to many church leaders and people we would meet when we exited quarantine. We participated in the Presbyterian Peace Network for Korea (PPNK) zoom meeting and learned about many leaders working for Korean peace and reunification. We met via Zoom with Rev. Moonsook Lee, who will be our spiritual guide for the year and Freeda, who is another amazing spiritual guide. Hyeyoung also introduced us to Rev. Myung Sung Han & Rev. Jieun Kim, PCUSA mission co-workers in Korea; Rev. Unzu Lee, is a PCUSA Mission co-worker in Korea who is involved in peace and reconciliation ministry in Korea; Cathy Chang and Dessa Palm, PCUSA mission co-workers in the Philippines. I even celebrated my birthday with a surprise zoom party and cake from Hyeyoung and many cards from home that my sister had hidden in my luggage. After 14 days, we tested negative for Covid and Kate and I left the hotel and moved into the guest house at Sung Am Presbyterian Church.
The second 2 weeks have been busy meeting people, exploring Seoul, studying Korean history, and learning about its culture. We completed a language placement test and will begin intensive language classes in October. The people we have met have been very hospitable – Hyeyoung, her husband Kurt, and son Sahn moved us into our new house and showed us around, Rev. Dong Chan Kim and Un Mi Noh showed us how to use our appliances, Rev. Sungkook Park, the executive secretary of Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK), lead us in morning devotions, Myoung Han has given us a book to help edit, and Yuki, Lydia, and John from PROK have been kind and helpful.
While studying Korean history and culture, Hyeyoung took us to the site where Chun Tae Il, a social activist, set himself on fire to bring awareness to the unfair treatment of factory workers. His commitment to social justice was inspiring but sad – he sacrificed his own life for and his dying wish was that his efforts would be the spark to ignite change. We visited the statue of Chun Tae Il across the bridge.
We also visited the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum and protested to bring recognition and reconciliation for the Comfort Women who were abused by the Japanese military during World War II. The Japanese government has never apologized to these women, who were separated from their families in their youth, transported to organized brothels, and forced to sexual serve the military. This is an emotional tour – the atrocities committed against women by men is infuriating and I am amazed by their resilience to survive. I feel so sorry that the very few elderly women who are left to tell their story have not received an apology for this injustice.
On a lighter note, we had a wonderful time celebrating the Harvest Festival with Hyeyoung and her family. This 추석 (Chuseok) holiday, which follows the lunar calendar if is the harvest festival, a time to give thanks to your family and relatives. 추석 (Chuseok) is one of the most important holidays for Koreans. We made cookies and Hyeyoung taught us how to make sweet potato noodles with pork and vegetables(잡채). We learned how to play Ute nori(윷놀이), which is a traditional Korean game. We played Ute nori with Sahn, Kurt, and Hyeyoung. Then we all went over to Kim 목사님(minister) for 추석 (Chuseok) dinner. We all ate on two tables on the floor. There were so many different foods to try and it all was really good. After dinner we sang hymns and the Korean song wishing for reunification.
To learn more about:
War and Women’s Human Rights Museum – http://www.warinasia.com/war-womens-human-rights-museum-seoul