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Everyday God-Talk features mission co-workers in Korea

Hyeyoung Lee and Kurt Esslinger share about their work for peace and unity

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Kurt Esslinger and Hyeyoung Lee are PC(USA) mission co-workers in Korea. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Years ago, at a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) youth conference in East Texas, Kurt Esslinger felt the Spirit nudging him toward a ministry that reaches out to people who feel they don’t belong because of their differences.

He realized that God loves us for our differences, rather than in spite of them. This call led Esslinger to study at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, and there he met a student from Korea exploring her own call to ministry, Hyeyoung Lee. She helped introduce him to Korean culture, and this friendship led to marriage and eventually to becoming mission co-workers in Korea.

Hyeyoung Lee and the Rev. Kurt Esslinger have lived and worked as PC(USA) mission co-workers in Korea since 2013. They recently shared more about their ministry on Everyday God-Talk, an online resource of the Office of Theology and Worship hosted by So Jung Kim, associate for theology in the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Lee studied English in the Philippines before seminary, which inspired her to want to introduce others to new cultures. This experience planted a desire within her to serve as the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer site coordinator in Korea. As YAV site coordinator, Lee works with U.S. young adults ages 19–30 who come to Korea for a year of service with agencies such as peace schools, migrant shelters and multicultural ministries. YAVs engage in the world around them alongside Korean partners in peacemaking, justice-seeking and ministries that aim to dismantle poverty.

Kurt and Sahn both practice dictation as Hyeyoung reads Korean sentences for homework. (Contributed photo)

Kurt works with the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) and its Reconciliation and Reunification Department, which maintain a relationship with PC(USA) partners in North Korea, the Korean Christian Federation (KCF). Kurt is also the coordinator for the Ecumenical Forum for Peace, Reconciliation and Development Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula (EFK), a forum hosted by the World Council of Churches that facilitates face-to-face meetings between the North Korean KCF and the South Korean NCCK, as well as various other international church and organizational partners.

YAVs who serve in Korea benefit from the perspectives Esslinger and Lee bring to the program. Hyeyoung, a South Korea native, is able to interpret Korean society to the YAVs and helps them bridge the cultural divide. As an alum of the YAV program, Kurt knows firsthand the formative influence YAV service can have on young people.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) began working in Korea more than a century ago and has developed strong partnerships with the Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK) and the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK).

Since March 2020, Everyday God-Talk episodes have brought theologians, professors, coaches, church leaders and PC(USA) mission co-workers into video conversations in everyday language through everyday perspectives. The goal is to bridge the gap between what’s happening at church and in everyday life in the U.S. and around the world.

Hyeyoung Lee and Kurt Esslinger join host So Jung Kim on a recent segment of Everyday God-Talk. (Screenshot)

Lee and Esslinger’s two-part Everyday God-Talk can be viewed at these links: Part 1 | Part 2. All episodes are archived here.

If you’d like to suggest a topic for a future Everyday God-Talk episode, reach out to So Jung Kim at Take the Everyday God-Talk survey here.

The Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program is an ecumenical, faith-based service opportunity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at sites throughout the U.S. and around the world. YAVs ages 19-30 accompany local agencies to embody the Matthew 25 vision of dismantling structural racism, eradicating systemic poverty and building congregational vitality. Alongside this work, volunteers explore the meaning of their Christian faith and accountability to their neighbors in the community with peers and mentors. The YAV year is August to August. Applications are being accepted now. Learn more and apply. (March 1 is the deadline to apply to serve at an international YAV site in 2021–22).

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