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Life Goes On

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

Winter 2021

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Greetings from Korea!

This is a scene from our family’s ordinary Tuesday morning during COVID-19: Our family shares breakfast together, and when 9 AM comes, I go into our spare room, which we converted into my office space, Kurt goes into our bedroom, which he uses as his office, and Sahn stays in the living room, which turns into his classroom to start our virtual meetings and classes.

It’s not always the case, but it has become fairly routine for our family to participate in virtual meetings all at the same time. This is an example of a new normal that the pandemic has brought to our family. At first, it was hard for Sahn, at seven-years-old, to understand a “working from home” situation. However, after a bit of practice, it became a typical scene for our family.

It has been more than a year since COVID-19 hit globally. I remember our family traveled to the U.S. in February 2020 to participate in the annual YAV site coordinators’ meeting. Before that meeting, we participated in the Asian Pacific Regional Gathering for mission co-workers in Thailand in January of 2020. After returning from those two trips, we found out that the COVID-19 situation had become serious while we were gone. I remember clearly the day after we came back from the USA when I was waiting for the bus for Sahn’s kindergarten. I was very shocked to see everyone on his bus wearing masks, which had not been the case before we left for those trips to Thailand and the USA. Soon after that, the conversation about sending YAVs home early began, and by the end of March, we said good-bye to them. The year 2020 was significant for Korea since it was also the 70 years’ anniversary of the Korean War. We had planned to host many groups from overseas who would come to Korea to learn about the division of Korea and the peace and reunification movement. All those plans we had for the year 2020 were canceled or postponed.

However, even in the midst of this challenging time, we were able to find new opportunities to engage with partners. Our global community started to find new and creative ways to engage with one another. Korean American Presbyterian Clergy Women (KAPCW), one of the groups that wanted to come to Korea for a study trip, organized virtual learning sessions with Korean partners to learn about Korea’s historical and cultural context. Participants from many different states gathered together to make connections with our Korean partners through virtual learning. I am helping make connections with Korean partners to share knowledge and experiences about the history related to the division of Korea, Christian women’s roles in the peace and reunification movement, and the spread of Christianity in Korea, etc. We hope that once the pandemic is over, some of these participants will come to Korea to experience what they have learned about and meet with partners in person.

I had an opportunity to participate in the virtual World Council of Churches Women of Faith Pilgrim Team visit to South Korea as a translator. The topic of the conference was “The Korean War and Women’s Life: The Journey towards Peace and Reconciliation.” Fifty-five participants from 10 different countries gathered together to learn and discuss the reality of the Korean War and the hardships women had endured. The conference addressed wartime sexual violence and misogyny and introduced the activities of Christian women who worked for the realization of women’s human rights, peace, and justice in the face of a divided Korea.

I have also given a presentation about the YAV program to our denominational partner, the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK), during their international relations committee meeting. My presentation has opened up new insights and a new vision for the YAV program in Korea.

Although virtual meetings have limitations, we continue to engage with one another. We are now holding meetings beyond geographic borders during the pandemic, something we had not yet imagined before. It has opened up new opportunities to engage with people beyond our imagination. Life goes on even during troublesome times.

We thank all of our supporters for the continuing prayers and donations despite the hardships we know you all deal with these days. We would also like to extend our invitation to our supporters in the U.S. to engage with us virtually and invite us into your worship services or other gatherings to share about our ministry in Korea.

Hyeyoung and Kurt


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