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Transformation Through Relationships

A letter from Kurt Esslinger serving in South Korea

November 2016

Write to Kurt Esslinger
Write to Hyeyoung Lee

Individuals: Give online to E200496 for Kurt Esslinger and Hyeyoung Lee’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507560 for Kurt Esslinger and Hyeyoung Lee’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

Greetings to you in the name of our hope, Jesus the Christ. As the days grow darker and the colder weather kicks in, now is the time we look to our hope in the form of a child born with promise. There was a time of waiting for the child to be born. Then, even after that moment of birth, there was more waiting. The lives of everyone all over the world did not dramatically flip upside down immediately! This is also the reality for our community working to counteract the forces of poverty and the forces of conflict around the world. Sometimes the relationships we cultivate take time to blossom, and we may not see someone escape poverty right away. The change in them, and in us, may be just a seed that does not sprout until many years later.

This is especially true for the Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) who come to live next to us in Daejeon, Korea, working with children and families amid the struggle with poverty. Alyson,

a YAV from last year, recently reflected on her year and wrote a story about one of the most meaningful aspects of her work. She wrote:

“With a door shut in my face, kids laughing and yelling in Korean on the other side, the Korean volunteer who came with me that day looked at me hesitantly and said, ‘He said, “go home.” He was very rude.’ One of the 12 students at the center, this small 7-year-old boy had not spoken to me much until this point. I could see the distrust in his eyes whenever I spoke to him. This was weeks into my time at Gospel Happy Home School Children’s Center, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this student. He was rough and didn’t get along well with the other children. The older boys would bully him, but he also frequently tried intimidation tactics with kids he felt he could get away with. It was tempting to just say he was going to be a problem child and leave it at that. But my teachers assured me that it took time for him to warm up to people. He was very shy, and the things we did to show we cared were not lost on him. It would just take time.”

We always encourage the YAVs to avoid perpetuating the power dynamic of being the wealthy/powerful/intelligent ones coming from the West to fill the needs of poor/needy/uneducated Asians. We encourage them that even when they are leading activities that teach English language, they make this a tool toward building a relationship with their children so that everybody gets to know each other better. This cultivating a relationship is the final purpose toward which all activities should lead. Alyson also tried a variety of activities, jokes, even sleight-of-hand tricks, to build bridges with her young boy. Alyson writes about having to hold on to even the faintest notion of cultivating a connection: “Eventually he spoke to me more—calling me ‘Ddong-lyson’ (which is like Poop-lyson instead of Alyson). I decided to take this name calling as optimistically as possible—after all, he was talking to me. I kept at it, trying to include him in games whether he played or not.”

Little by little, working against poverty and against systems that perpetuate it, we must find ways to appreciate even the slightest hint of change. In the meantime we simply continue to push toward a growing relationship as best we can. We often need to remind ourselves that, when truly working a Critical Global Issue like addressing the root causes of poverty, learning about those root causes and the people affected by them might not give us immediate gratitude or feel-good moments. Through this relationship both the YAV and the children are transformed. This transformation eventually comes not in feeling good about “having done good works,” but in the expanded understanding of how our lives are connected all the way across the globe. We also find it in the expanded understanding of how decisions we make in the U.S.A., for example, for whom we voted, can have significant impact on the lives of Koreans, depending on which policies our elected leaders enact.

Alyson eventually found her moment of relationship breakthrough, as slight as it was, just before she finished her year:

“By mid-year this small boy who slammed doors in my face and told me to go home was coming to me to play tag. Though he never stopped calling me Ddonglyson, I can still hear him yelling, ‘Can you? Can you?’ his way of asking ‘Can you catch me?’ so I could run after him—always calling ‘Time!’ right before I caught him. It didn’t matter to me that he always ‘won.’ I was delighted that we were playing.

When the new school year started, he stopped coming to the center. I asked the teachers about him, and they said he wasn’t doing well academically and would be back later. I wasn’t sure I would see him again, and I wondered what was going on in his life. Sure enough, though, months later as summer break started for the kids and a few weeks before my work at the center ended, I was relieved to see him show up again—spunky as ever and calling me Ddonglyson again. I told him I missed him and he asked me to catch him again.”

We thank all of you for your continued support of our work with YAVs like Alyson and the new group that arrived last September. With your donations, prayers, and care packages we are even more encouraged to hold on to that sliver of hope as we continue to work and to wait for the transformation in the Christ Child to one day be fulfilled for all the earth. Let us continue to wait, pray, and work together.

Kurt

Please read this important message from Tony De La Rosa, Interim Executive Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:1b-2, NRSV)

Dear Friend of the Presbyterian Mission Agency:

Thank you for your prayers and for your financial support of Kurt Esslinger and Hyeyoung Lee this year, and any previous year. We hear from our mission co-workers how much your prayerful financial support has meant to them. Please know that you are a vital part of ministries throughout South Korea.

Even as I thank you, I want to let you know that this is a critical time for our congregations and all people of faith to commit themselves to support mission co-workers like Kurt and Hyeyoung. Our global church partners greatly value their service, and you well know how important this ministry is in building connections between the body of Christ in the U.S. and South Korea.

We have historically relied on endowment interest and the general offering from congregations to sustain the vital work of all of our mission workers. Those sources of funding have greatly diminished. It is only through the gifts of individuals and congregations that we are able to keep Kurt and Hyeyoung doing the life-giving work God called them to do. A year ago, in May 2015, we had to recall some mission workers due to a lack of funding. World Mission communicated the challenge to you, and you responded decisively and generously. Through your response, we heard the Spirit remind us, “Fear not!”

Today, I’m asking you to consider an additional gift for this year, and to increase the gift you may consider for 2017. Sending and support costs include not only salary but also health insurance and retirement contributions, orientation, language training, housing, travel to the country of service, children’s education, emergency evacuation costs, and visa/passport costs.

My heartfelt thanks for your prayers and support of our Presbyterian mission co-workers. In the coming season, we will celebrate God’s sending of the Christ child, the source of the good news we share. May you experience anew the hope, peace, joy, and love that are ours because “perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18).

Thank you for saying “yes” to love.

With you in Christ,

Tony De La Rosa
Interim Executive Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)


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