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Tapping the Living Water

By Theresa Cho

This theological reflection was prepared for the Pastor Theologian consultation held in October 20-22, 2010, Colorado Springs, sponsored by the Office of Theology and Worship.  This particular consultation invited 13 Korean American pastors representing generations and gender.  The theological engagement focused on the event at the 219th General Assembly held in Minneapolis that led to the defeat of the motion to create another Korean language presbytery.

Theresa’s more recent blog on this consultation can be found here

Theresa is a Reno, Nevada native who graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago with awards in preaching and theology. After graduation, she completed a full-year chaplain residency program at UCSF Medical Center and has served at St. John's Presbyterian Church in San Francisco since 2003 as an Associate Pastor. She is active in all levels of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., including Presbyterian Youth Triennium, Presbyterian Peacemaking Conferences, and commissioner to General Assembly (2010), where she was moderator of the committee on Social Justice Issues and Vice-Moderatorial Candidate. She also has had a variety of life experiences that include teaching children with special needs and working in a multi-racial urban congregation in Chicago and Seoul, Korea. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, InHo Kim, their children, Ian and Isabella, and their dog, Chewy


1 In the first month, the entire company of the People of Israel arrived in the Wilderness of Zin. . . 2-5 There was no water there for the community, so . . . they attacked Moses: "We wish we'd died when the rest of our brothers died before God. Why did you haul this congregation of God out here into this wilderness to die, people and cattle alike?. . . No grain, no figs, no grapevines, no pomegranates—and now not even any water!" 6 Moses and Aaron. . . threw themselves facedown on the ground. And they saw the Glory of God. 7-8 God spoke to Moses: "Take the staff. . . Speak to that rock that's right in front of them and it will give water. You will bring water out of the rock for them; congregation and cattle will both drink." 11 With that Moses raised his arm and slammed his staff against the rock—once, twice. Water poured out. Congregation and cattle drank. (Numbers 20.1-11, the Message)

It's awful to be thirsty. Thirst and the inability to quench that thirst can bring out the ugly in people. When I was pregnant with my first child, I had terrible morning sickness. In fact, it was all day sickness. I couldn't get out of bed for three weeks, overly sensitive to movement and any kind of motion, and lost eight pounds. But that wasn't the worst of it. The sight, taste, and smell of water repelled me. The problem was that I was always thirsty. My body craved water -- the very thing that made it sick. For those three very long weeks (much like the Israelites complaining to Moses and Aaron), I would long for water in my dreams; I would cry out for water when I couldn't take the dryness of my mouth any longer; and I would question whether any endeavor (in my case a baby) was worth such a sacrifice. In the case of the Israelites, their physical thirst caused them to lose sight of the greater plan that generations before them had been thirsting for so long - freedom, a sense of belonging, closer relationship with God, and a destiny beyond what they could ever imagine. I imagine that when Moses struck that rock and water abundantly poured out, the water not only quenched their bodies, but also reminded them who the source of the water is.

In 2004, I was the 40th Korean-American clergywomen to be ordained in this denomination. Forty seems like such a small number when you consider that in 2011, Korean-American Clergywomen (KACW) will be celebrating their 20th anniversary. However, many Korean-American women are still wandering the desert of the ordination process without a rock, well, pitcher, or even a drop of water in sight to quench their thirst to serve as God has called them. There have been times when we wished there was a Moses to break the rock or the obstacle so that freedom and ability to serve as Minister of the Word and Sacrament would gush abundantly, but the reality is that many Korean-American women can not find calls or find the support they need to find a call. I, however, was not aware of the difficulty for Korean-American women when I felt called to go to seminary. All I knew at the time were two things: 1) I didn’t want to be a chemist and 2) I was thirsty for something more. I remember meeting my first woman pastor who just happened to be Korean-American – the Rev. Mary Paik (4th ordained Korean-American clergywomen). Not only did she put a face to my sense of call, but she was my Moses. She became the proof that anything is possible. In a way, she was my first cup of water because it was the first time I really felt my thirst was quenched.

This year at the 219th General Assembly, the gathering was quite an historic moment for us Korean-American clergywomen. Six of us were commissioners as well as four of us serving in leadership positions. I can't express into words the feeling of pride that we were feeling for each other. Well, like any good Korean, we can't go long without a kimchee fix and were delighted to load the bus that would take us to a Korean church to have a Korean meal hosted by the National Council of Korean Presbyterian Churches. We were disappointed when during the presentation at lunch, only the accomplishments of the male clergy were recognized when sitting before them were four wonderful, emerging leaders of the church (even if I do say so myself.) All the kimchee in the world couldn't make up for the invisibleness we felt. Unfortunately, it wasn't an unfamiliar feeling.

The lack of voice and feeling invisible was nothing new. For years, we had no Moses, no Aaron to guide us through the wilderness or to crack rocks that would expose abundant sources of water. We have each other. We depend on each other to carry us through the desert, to be wandering companions through the ordination process, to share water that is supplied by the tears of shared experiences and stories, and to remind each other of God’s faithfulness and greater purpose. We are each other’s Moses, listening to each other, making sure someone is hearing our voices. You can imagine how surprised we were when a few of our voices changed the vote on overture 04-08 to organize another non-geographic, Korean language presbytery. Our expectation and  intention was not to change the vote, but simply to be heard and to speak on behalf of other Korean-American clergywomen who had no voice. While I recognize the legitimacy of wanting to organize another non-geographic presbytery, some of the reasons I spoke against it revolved around lack of accountability on issues of inclusivity and ordination of women as well as lack of representation and leadership opportunities for non-Korean speaking, 2nd/3rd generation Korean-Americans in those presbyteries. I felt most compelled to speak because I knew I had little to risk. I do not work in a Korean congregation and therefore have not much to lose by speaking out. Because this overture passed overwhelmingly in committee (43-2-0), my only hope was that I would be able to get to a mic in time to speak. I was so convinced that our voices wouldn’t make a difference that I stopped paying attention after we spoke. In fact, Nancy tapped me on the shoulder to look up and see the vote. I can’t describe in words the feeling that came over me when I saw the vote change to 125-514-7. Our little and few voices were heard by the greater body and it resulted in change. Our thirst and the thirst of many that went before us wasn’t only quenched, but almost drowned in the abundant gush of support that we felt.

The theme for this General Assembly was 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.' (John 7.38) Right before Jesus cites this Scripture, he cries out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink." (John 7.37-38, NRSV) That theme couldn't have come more alive for me than it did at that moment. My hope now is that this action will make room for conversation so that together as a body, a Korean-American body we can discern God's will and call and make room for all voices to be heard and everybody to have opportunity to quench their thirst.

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