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A letter from Kurt Esslinger in South Korea

September 2013

Greetings in the name of Jesus, the Transformer! Hyeyoung, Sahn, and I are finally settling down into something of a rhythm in our life and work in Daejeon, Korea. After several months of preparation, our four Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) have arrived and have begun their year with us in Daejeon.

Quantisha and Eric are introduced to some of the children they will be working with, by Myungju, a teacher at Bop Dong Neighborhood Children's Center

We have just wrapped up two weeks of on-site orientation with them, and we have now set them on their own to continue their Korean language class and attend their volunteer sites. Korean can be a very difficult language to learn, especially when such a higher value is placed on speaking English in the global market place. Most Koreans will assume foreigners have no interest in speaking Korean. This can lead to many missed opportunities in creating relationships. That is why we have our YAVs attend a college-level course of Korean language five days a week from 9 am until 1 pm for one semester in addition to their volunteer assignments. This is a grueling schedule, especially for young adults who just graduated from college with only a summer to pretend they had left all classes behind them. Not only will this help the YAVs create relationships where otherwise there would be none, but it will help in the effort to form deeper relationships and deeper understandings of cultural nuance.

One of our YAVs, Quantisha Mason, reflected on the struggles of learning Korean that, I believe, contains a special insight into Christ-like living. Quantisha is a very outgoing type of young adult. When I met her at the YAV Discernment Event, she comfortably moved among the crowd of prospective YAVs communicating excitement, humor, and emotions articulately. She just graduated from Warren Wilson College, a Presbyterian college in North Carolina, where she was one of a few African American students. She showed initiative in engaging this situation head on, helping to create a support group for other students from non-white backgrounds. She experienced quite a bit of social success in the past four years. Now she enters Korea, where she is unable to interact with most Koreans articulately because she has just begun learning their language. She writes: “[Korean] is not something that one can simply pick up. I have found myself having to tell others to ‘Go slow… please. I am so new to this….’ Swallowing your pride and asking someone who does not speak fluent English to take their time with you because you want to understand them in their native tongue sure makes your ego want to curl up and die under a rock somewhere. AHHHHHH!!! Scary, but hey, I did it, and I’m alive and even doing better.”

Bennett watches a presentation on proper use of medicine at Sam Sung Neighborhood Children's Center

Indeed, her effort on the “Struggle Bus” of learning Korean has been paying off, and she, along with the other YAVs, have made huge strides in grasping the language. They all are living into a powerful example of incarnational ministry, considering their native English ability not as something to be exploited. Instead, they empty themselves of pride and ego (Philippians 2:6-7). They are allowing Christ to transform them and allowing Koreans to teach them so that when they bring their new leadership skills back to the U.S.A., they will be leaders working from a global perspective.

Now, however, our YAVs have finished their orientation time, talking about culture, trips out to orient them to the city of Daejeon, and saying hello to their volunteer sites. They have begun their volunteering responsibilities at their Children’s Centers. Molly volunteers at the Sae Um Neighborhood Children’s Center, with Eric and Quantisha at the Bop Dong Neighborhood Children’s Center, and Bennet at the Sam Sung Neighborhood Children’s Center. I was able to join Eric and Quantisha on their first day at Bop Dong Center. Both the YAVs and the children were filled with some excitement. I took part in helping introduce the children to Eric and Quantisha with Myung Ju, a teacher at the center. I left soon after the introduction to let them all get acquainted with each other. As I left, however, they had just begun a riveting game of Kawi Bawi Bo (Paper Rocks Scissors). It was a solid first step in building trusting relationships.

YAVs learning about Korean tea drinking culture at So San Won, a local tea maker

I also visited the Sam Sung Center with Bennett on a different day. He was able to join the youth and children for a presentation on medicine use and abuse, tips for visiting the doctors, as well as maintaining health in an intelligent manner. After the presentation, Bennett and I spent some time getting to know the older group of youth a little bit better. I helped to do a little translating between Bennett and the youth. We started with some basic name and sharing activities, but the passion really started when we played a hand-tap game. This is a game where you cross your hands over and under the hands of the people beside you at the table, and you attempt to tap your hand in the proper order sending a sort of “tap wave” around the table. The tension around the room loosened, and much more laughter could be heard when they could communicate through the language of games, rather than having to stumble through a foreign language introducing themselves. They opened up to share a bit more of themselves during the game as well, once they trusted that Bennett and I were both still human, having humbly crashed out of both rounds of the game. Bennett tells me that each session he spends at the Sam Sung Center gets more and more comfortable as the youth trust him more and more, knowing that he hopes to learn even more from them than he could ever teach. Watching the YAVs begin this journey of immersion into Korean life is a wonderful gift.

Hyeyoung, Sahn, and I would like to thank you for following our journey! We invite you to join us as participants on our journey, if you have not yet already come aboard, please donate to our mission co-worker account E200496 (see the link below). If you are a congregation hoping to connect to a mission co-worker, send us an email and we will try to plan a visit to your community when we come to the States this next spring!

Peace and blessings to you all,
Kurt Esslinger

2013 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, South Korea, pp. 204, 206
Read more about Kurt Esslinger and Heyoung Lee's ministry

Write to Kurt Esslinger
Write to Hyeyoung Lee
Individuals: Give online to E200496 for Kurt Esslinger and Heyoung Lee's sending and support
Congregations: Give to D507560 for Kurt Esslinger and Heyoung Lee's sending and support

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