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Embracing The Ambiguity

A Letter from Kurt Esslinger and Hyeyoung Lee, serving in Korea

October 2019

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I was relieved when Rev. Kim Dong Chan answered the phone with enthusiasm. He said he was more than happy to host the onsite orientation for Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) at the church where he is serving. Kurt and I met with Rev. Kim for the first time at Sung Am Presbyterian Church, where he serves as a senior pastor, to explain about the YAV program and the needs for lodging during a month-long onsite orientation. Rev. Park Sung Kuk, the ecumenical officer for the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK), introduced Rev. Kim to me, mentioning that Sung Am Church has a guesthouse and that Rev. Kim and his wife would be wonderful hosts for YAVs. Rev. Kim and his church community turned out to be warm and hospitable to the YAVs, welcoming them as members of their own community during our orientation. This warm welcome was especially relieving, because our Korea YAV site was unavailable for two years while we restructured the placement opportunities and revised our partnerships. We have now moved from YAVs living together in one city to spreading YAVs throughout Korea and having them immerse themselves in the Korean community.

As I was talking to our new global partner, the PROK, in the beginning, there were lots of ambiguities—on how to start the program, where to find the placements, where to host YAVs during orientation, and who would be supportive in this process. This new structure would require some time and effort in building trust in relationships with new local partners. It felt almost as if I was starting up a completely new program, despite having four years of experience coordinating the Korea YAV site. Another big factor in this picture is that I, Hyeyoung, have become the lone site coordinator for the Korea YAV program since Kurt has moved to working with the National Council of Churches in Korea full time. I was very excited about the opportunity to start the new program with new vision and direction that includes working closely with partners, but at the same time I was worried about the ambiguity that comes with it.

Amanda, Susannah and Molly, the three Korea YAVs, arrived on August 27 after a week-long orientation at the Stony Point Center in New York. The day the YAVs arrived in Korea, Kurt went to pick them up at the airport while Sahn, my 6-year-old son, and I waited at the church with Rev. Kim and his wife, Eun Mi Noh. While we were waiting for the YAVs, we exchanged stories about our experiences living in the U.S. as strangers. Rev. Kim served at a local PC(USA) church in West Virginia for more than eight years before coming back to Korea 14 years ago. Living in another country as immigrants was not easy for them. However, they met wonderful church members and a trusted group of people who helped them adjust to a new culture. In that conversation, I remembered my time in other countries and how I had sometimes felt isolated and lonely. However, when I found people who welcomed me into their own community, I was able to feel comfortable even though everyone around me was so different from me. I felt that with their experience of being strangers, Rev. Kim and Mrs. Noh could relate to YAVs visiting Korea for the first time. As the YAVs arrived at the church parking lot, we greeted them together and went to a local restaurant. They introduced the YAVs to Korean cuisine and helped them to learn how to use chopsticks.

During the month of orientation, the YAVs were learning Korean from a Korean teacher who would come to the Sung Am Church every morning. One day, I went to church towards the end of the Korean class and saw Rev. Kim holding beautifully peeled apples outside of the classroom, waiting for the class to be done. Molly, one of the YAVs, said, “The pastor of the church, [moksa-nim, as we call him] and his wife have been so hospitable and welcoming. They have taken us out many times, and every time I am with them, I sense God’s presence in our interactions and time together.”

Not only were YAVs crafting a meaningful relationship with Rev. Kim and Mrs. Noh, but they also built meaningful fellowship with the church’s young adult group. YAVs participated in the main Sunday worship service with all church members, and then attended the young adult group meetings in the afternoon. YAVs also participated in the young adult Saturday morning bible study. When I went to church on their last Sunday, I noticed that the YAVs and the young adult group had become very good friends. They seemed to be comfortable with one another. I was surprised to see that they could build such close relationships in such a short period of time.

When I first envisioned a restructured YAV program and having a month-long orientation, I had no idea where to start. But I had a new partner who pointed me in the right direction, which means I had to completely rely on our partners and let them lead me as we filled in the gaps. My first phone call to connect with a local pastor, Rev. Kim, then led me to find a wonderful community that truly embraces strangers in their arms.

At the end of the orientation we had dinner with Rev. Kim and Mrs. Noh. They wanted to stay in touch with the YAVs and learn more about their journey in Korea. And we promised that the YAVs would come back at the end of the year to share with the Sung Am community what they have learned throughout the year. Once I embraced the ambiguity and let the Spirit lead me, I was directed to the right place and wonderful people. As the Korea YAVs are at their new placements spread around the country, I hope that they learn to embrace the ambiguity and learn to trust people that surround them so that they can find God in their relationships with people.

I am also thankful to you for supporting me and Kurt in our assignments here in Korea. Not only do I need the support of local partners in Korea, but partners like you in the U.S. who pray for me, who contribute donations, and who support this ministry in Korea help to keep me steady, despite the ambiguity.

Please read this important message from Sara Lisherness, interim director of Presbyterian World Mission

Dear friend of Presbyterian Mission,

Greetings in Christ! As the interim director of Presbyterian World Mission, I am grateful to have the opportunity to thank you for your continued support of PC(USA) mission co-workers.

The enclosed newsletter bears witness to some of the many ways in which God is at work in the world through long-standing relationships between global partners and the PC(USA). These partnerships are nurtured and strengthened by the presence of mission co-workers in over 40 countries; you are an important part of this partnership too, as you learn about and share how our church is involved in global ministry; as you pray for our partners and mission co-workers; and as you take action to work with others for God’s justice, peace and healing.

I write to invite you to continue joining us in partnership in three ways. First, your prayers are always needed. Please pray that God will continue guiding the shared work of the PC(USA) and global partners as we engage together in service around the world. Pray, too, for mission co-workers, that they may feel encouraged in the work they are doing under the leadership of global partners.

Second, please consider making a year-end gift for the sending and support of at least one mission co-worker. There is a remittance form at the end of this letter and an enclosed envelope so that you can send in a special year-end gift.

Finally, I encourage you to ask your session to include one or more mission co-workers in your congregation’s mission budget for 2020 and beyond. PC(USA) mission co-workers’ sending and support costs are funded by the designated gifts of individuals and congregations like yours; your gifts allow Presbyterian World Mission to fulfill global partners’ requests for mission personnel.

Faithfully in Christ,

Sara Pottschmidt Lisherness
Director, Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry
Interim Director, Presbyterian World Mission


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