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Continuing Discernment

A letter from Kurt Esslinger serving in South Korea

September 2015

Write to Kurt Esslinger
to Hyeyoung Lee

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Greetings to you in the name of Jesus the Christ. Fall weather has come upon us here in Korea, which means the rainy season, changma, is over. This year, unfortunately, was drier than usual, so farmers in both South and North Korea took a hit to their crops. Please remember them in your thoughts and prayers, as the harvest will be smaller than hoped.

This change in seasons also means the arrival of a new set of YAVs. This year we have received more than we had hoped, and it is the first time the Korea YAV site has ever worked with five YAVs. This means we have added two brand-new volunteer placements, creating relationships with two new children’s centers. Will, Linda, Alexis, Alyson, and Emily have finished their two-week on-site orientation with us, and they are now into their regular schedule of Korean language class in the morning and volunteering in the afternoon. Please pray for them as they adapt to life in a new land with a new language.

YAVs arrive at Incheon airport where Kurt speaks only Korean until arrival at Daejeon

One concern already identified as a theme for this group of YAVs revolves around discernment. They all participated in the week that we call the Discernment Event back in April, when prospective YAVs interview several YAV sites, then rank them, then the site coordinators rank the YAVs, and we use these rankings to sort out placements. We always emphasize that even though most received a placement at the end of the week, their work of discerning God’s will would continue. Some of them, when receiving Korea as their placement, were not sure it was what God truly wanted and considered asking for a different site. Eventually they signed their placement letters and prepared to move to Korea. Their discerning continued.

Hannam Buddies introduce YAVs to the City of Daejeon, including former exchange YAV, Seongeun Choi

All five arrived in Korea, and we read from the Book of Genesis together: “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you….’ ” (Gen. 12:1). Then the questions came, “What if we misunderstood God? Is this REALLY where I am meant to be?” They lamented that Abram seemed to hear an easily discernable voice telling him to do this specific thing, leaving little room for debate. For us, however, in terms of discerning what we believe to be God’s call, this is where the rubber meets the road. What if, despite having done all this work to gain a sense of what we think God is calling us to do, or perhaps more properly, who God is calling us to be as members of our global community, in the end we are still betrayed by our human imperfection and have discerned incorrectly?

We try to bring them some comfort by sharing what might seem to be an uncomfortable truth: most likely as humans, we will never be able to discern God’s will with 100 percent accuracy, especially when we are faced with decisions when we need to discern between several good options! I am reminded of a quote from Susan B. Anthony when she was persuading a group of women not to repudiate an unorthodox book of theology: “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do to their fellows, because it always coincides with their own desires.” If I am honest, when I look back on my YAV year, I am not 100 percent sure that I chose the best option when I selected the Time for God program in England. When I let my mind wander, I often wonder if there may have been a better choice. However, at this point in my life, that distinction matters very little. Perhaps I would not have come down the road that brought me to Korea had I gone to a different YAV site!

YAVs meet Ms. Kyung Hwa Lee, director of Sunglak Welfare Community Center, where Will volunteers

We encourage our YAVs to be open to re-assessment of decisions they have made, courses they have taken, and what they believe to be God’s will. This is especially because if we end up discerning incorrectly and others are harmed by our decision, we do no one any service, especially God, by continuing to insist that we were 100 percent correct even when the fruits of our decision suggest otherwise. We also encourage them to be confident enough in our community discernment process that, no matter their level of certainty about the discernment process that brought them to Korea, they are now committed to figuring out where and how God is present here, what God is doing here, and what Koreans are doing to help God cultivate God’s commonwealth.

Throughout their year we help YAVs discern where the Spirit is present in the children’s centers, how Christ meets them in the eyes of guests at the Saenaru meals ministry, and who God is calling them to become in light of these new relationships.

You, as Presbyterians in the U.S., are also a part of these relationships for us. Your financial support, your prayers, and your messages of care keep us going and keep connecting these young adults from the U.S. to the presence of God in Korea. If you are interested in joining our journey and learning about what Koreans are doing to fight poverty and build relationships of reconciliation in the midst of conflict, please contact us and donate whatever you are able. Together we can better discern God’s will for us in this global community.


The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 243
Read more about Kurt Esslinger and Heyoung Lee’s ministry

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