Monday, October 25, 2010

Today, reading Joe and Anna Sawatsky's blog from South Africa (isn't the internet awesome!) I was reminded of the following text from Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7:
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
I am in exile. I feel somehow like this is a confession, or a disservice to the choice that I made. After all, we made a decision as a family to be in Korea for this year. And yet, I can't really get around it. As friendly as this place is, I look different than my neighbors, I speak a different language and, as awesome as the internet is, my own community is distant.

I have not spent any of my time here wallowing in homesickness or self pity at being 'exiled.' The opposite is true. I have kept busy exploring my neighborhood, going for runs, doing the grocery shopping, the bill paying the child-caring. I have been spending time studying Korean and making new friends.

But I was on the verge of self pity this morning, after a somewhat sleepless night, and an exhausting last few days with Naomi, who is increasingly whiny and stubborn and boundary-testing. (She has no trouble at all wallowing in homesickness and self pity.) Then I read Joe S.'s blog, and Jeremiah's word from YHWH to "seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile...for in its welfare you will find your welfare."

Not only did this text remind me that my welfare is tied to this place and its people - I had been active and engaged (more or less) in the community - it reminded me that I am here not only because of a decision that Joe and I made, but by the leading of a God who calls and sends, even to places distant to those we call home. And in all my busy-busy home-making and settling in and Korean study, I have not spent any time dwelling in the word or presence of the One in whose name I came. No wonder I complain of not feeling Presence when I am not making myself present.

Sure enough, I was doing the practical part of YHWH's instruction to the exile - to me - sending my daughter to a local preschool, exploring the local customs and language, engaging people. I have been dwelling in this place but not in the One who brought me here. Now, who knows, this self revelation may not make me any more likely to be prone to wallowing, but I think it's kept me from it for today. May the One who calls and sends be both comfort and inspiration.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Korean Christ

For some interesting images of the "Korean Christ," here's and article and images by artist Woonbo Kim Ki-Chang.

Making Friends

I haven't found a lot to write about for this blog lately. What I want is for this to be a space in which I reflect on how God is present, in challenge and in grace, in my sabbatical months in Korea. And yet, although I haven't felt God's absence, I haven't felt a real Presence either. And I've been thinking about why this might be. I know that God is here and working. I know that my lack of an emotional God-experience does not mean that God is not doing something within and around me. But, I've realized that one of the ways that I experience God powerfully is in relationship with other people. One of the great difficulties of not understanding and being able to speak the language of those around me, is the inability to begin any kind of relationship with the people I encounter. Most of my interactions with people involved me paying for something, or having to respond to friendly (or other) approaches with, 'moreogessayo' (I don't understand) and a chagrined shrug.

But, the first morning that I was bustling Naomi out the door to preschool, there was another mom bustling her two kids out the door and onto the elevator. She said, 'hi' and we exchanged pleasantries in English but since we were both bustling, it never went any farther than that. We did the same a few mornings in a row, until on morning I asked her, 'How is it that you have such good English?' and she told me that she was a teacher. She tutors school children in English in her home. The next day I asked if she would be willing to tutor me in Korean. And thus begins our fledgling language-trade friendship.

Rora (her English name) and I have met once for a teacher session. She bought pastries in order to bribe me (her words) to be her friend. Little does she know how much I needed a friend and how grateful I am for the opportunity to learn from and hang out with her. She also invited me to take a paper-folding class with her, a traditional practice which I jumped at. In her I have and will encounter the hospitality, grace and openness of Christ to the stranger.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My First Project

Here’s my first sewing project in Korea. Simple but (in my opinion) essential. With fabric that I had in my suitcase – and I didn’t bring much – I made two pillow covers for the cushions that came with our convertible sofa/bed. We didn't bring pillows and the only ones that came with the tiny apartment match the vinyl upholstery of the couch (on which they rest).

Although I did bring my sewing machine in my suitcase, I hand stitched these. It took a long time but I kind of like the tactile nature of using a needle and thread. And now, thanks to Vija, I also have a thimble and my finger won't get that horrible little hole in it from the needle poking in. I may have a whole year of hand-stitched quilting ahead of me; I found that my power converter doesn't work with my blow-dryer and I'm a little afraid to try it with the sewing machine.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

God does answer prayers on airplanes

The first time I traveled to a foreign country, I was more or less in the position that Naomi is – the child of parents who decided to transplant our family to a new location because of their calling to teach English internationally. This time I’m the parent, and this past weekend, Naomi and I traveled from Seattle to Seoul. Perhaps needless to say I was somewhat anxious about being the sole parent and adult our little traveling party.

I know that many people were praying for us, but I’m ashamed to say that I have not spent much time in prayer or communion with the Divine at all in these past few weeks. There was very little time to relax or think of much of anything on the plane, as I was entertaining Naomi or responding to her millions of questions, observations, and demands. That we would get a visa to enter Korea has never been a certainty. At least, a visa for any considerable length of time. We did not apply for a visa’s as Joe’s dependents so I was counting on our Canadian passports to get us six month tourist visa’s. But we don’t have return tickets and more than once, both by the Korean consulate in Seattle and by the worried looking check-in agent at the Korean Air desk in Seatac Airport, that it’s all up to the customs agent and Koreans don’t like it when you come into the country without a return ticket. Thus, when I was on the plane, and Naomi had finally fallen asleep in the final hours of the flight, my prayer was simple and direct: God, may we go through customs smoothly. I said this on repeat as I watched the miniature plane on the screen in front of me get closer and closer to Incheon on the map.

I thought that if I landed at the airport in the state I was in, and I was asked even one question like, “Do you have a return ticket out of Korea?” (no) or “How long are you planning on staying?” (a year) I would probably start crying. I was lugging a tired and pee-stained preschooler, my bags and hers, and had not slept for about 24 hours. And yet the customs agent barely glanced at us long enough to verify that we were the people in our passport pictures. A quick stamp and a scribbled ‘6 mos’ and we were through the doors and waiting for Joe.

Five or six months from now, when Joe and I and Naomi are returning from our yet unplanned vacation through Asia, I hope God is listening again!