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Minute for Mission: Celebrating Young Adult Volunteers


August 2, 2020

Young Adult Volunteers visit No Gun Ri. Photo credit: Hyeyoung Lee

“It was a very painful but meaningful time to think again about what it means to live as a Christian and as an American in this world.” This was a comment from Dia, one of the Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) from 2016–17, after we visited No Gun Ri, the site of a massacre of Korean civilians committed by U.S. soldiers at the beginning of the Korean War. Believing the civilians to be communists, the U.S. military killed 250–300 people, mostly women and children, from July 26 to 29 in 1950, attacking them as they sought shelter under a railroad bridge. Visiting this site is always painful for me. As a site coordinator who is also a Korean, learning about my own history that is related to the U.S. along with YAVs is a powerful and meaningful experience. Stories like these are often ignored or well-hidden, even though there are people who are still suffering from the wounds of these incidents to this day. Learning stories like this may lead to discomfort as we come to face a distorted tragedy. Nevertheless, I believe that we must uncover and retell the stories like this. History can teach us not to repeat gruesome mistakes and it can also teach us how we can live our lives more responsibly in our present day. 

The motto of the YAV program is “a year of service for a lifetime of change.” Young people (ages 19–30) volunteer across the U.S. and around the world as they accompany agencies/partners working to address root causes of poverty and reconciliation. Alongside this work, I, as a site coordinator, work with YAVs to deeply explore the meaning of their Christian faith and accountability in our communities. One of the unique features of the YAV program is that each site has a different approach of designing our own program according to the local context. As for the Korea site, we emphasize learning about the ripple effects of Japanese colonization, Soviet and U.S. occupations, the Korean War, and the continued division and conflict between many competing systems. As we learn about this, YAVs meet with Koreans and church partners who are following God’s call for peace and reconciliation.

After our trip to No Gun Ri, we sat down together to reflect on our experience with a question like: “Where do we see God in this?” This is an essential question that we ask throughout the YAV year to learn about God. God is among us in the midst of tragedy and hardships. We witness God’s work throughout the Korean community that has been working tirelessly to uncover the truth and work for peace and the reconciliation of the Korean Peninsula. It is my seventh year working with YAVs. Similar to what Dia mentioned, working with YAVs has been painful sometimes, but it has also been profoundly meaningful.

Hyeyoung Lee has been a mission co-worker in South Korea since 2013 along with her husband, Kurt Esslinger. They serve with the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea, the National Council of Churches in Korea and the Presbyterian Church of Korea, and are the site coordinators for the Korea YAV site.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, August 2, 2020, the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Today’s Focus:  Celebrating Young Adult Volunteers

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
So Jung Kim, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Shawn Kang, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray:

Dear God, help us to be your agents of change. Help us to hear the voices from uncovered stories and retell the story to be reborn again. We pray that you give us the power of the Holy Spirit to restore the brokenness of the world so that we may go forward into reconciliation and peace. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen. 

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