Sometimes it’s the little things

Happiness often comes from noticing and enjoying the little things in life.”  –Unknown

Here is a short message I shared at Broadway Presbyterian Church back in May:

One thing that surprised me about working at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations was learning about how wide the reach of the PC(USA) is in the US and around the world, whether it be through mission partnerships and mission co-workers trying to alleviate violence and promote dialogue in South Sudan, responding to flooding in Puerto Rico, or serving the homeless in New York City.

One thing I was not expecting for this year, was to have the chance to help bring my supervisor from my previous YAV year in South Korea to the UN to meet with our ecumenical partners in civil society and the Deputy Ambassador of South Korea to the United Nations. This wonderful experience brought my two YAV years full circle and showed me the importance of relationships and being part of a larger, intentional Christian community dedicated to answering the calls for peace and justice from our God and Jesus.

But in a year focused on big topics and issues, I also learned to see God in the little things. For example, sometimes I see God on the subway. That may sound strange considering that NYC subways can be crowded, hot, smell bad, and have an occasional rat. But the subway, is also one of the few quiet moments in my busy day. The subway provides a transitional space where I can reflect, I can read, or I can simply be. In some ways, I feel like I get some of my life back by taking public transportation. Do I wish trains were faster? Yes. But I am grateful that because I not having to drive and by taking public transportation, I get these quieter moments, where I can do what I want and simply trust that I will get where I need to be, kind of like trusting in God.

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The Role of the Faith Community

The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members, a heart of grace and a soul generated by love.”  –Coretta Scott King

When I was in Korea, I wrote a blog post about how I enjoyed attending two worship services every Sunday.  Back then, I was surprised that I would ever consider going to church twice in one day.

Now in New York, I don’t regularly attend two services every Sunday.  But I do attend two different churches.  My home church is Broadway Presbyterian church, the main work site for my site coordinator and one of my fellow YAVS.  I really enjoy this church’s soup kitchen and homeless outreach services.

The other church I attend is Woori Presbyterian Church (뉴욕우리교회), a Korean church that I found when my site coordinators from Korea came to New York to discuss the YAV program. I can only attend about once a month because it is pretty far away by New York standards.  The congregation has been welcoming to me, even though I am not Korean.  This church incorporates traditional and contemporary worship songs, which I really miss from my YAV year in Korea.  They also have a fantastic choir. Even though still I don’t understand much of the Korean worship (though one church member does translate for me sometimes which is really nice!), participating in the worship and singing songs in Korean is helping me in my transition from my previous YAV year.  This church provides the opportunity to build new relationships, and transition into a new life in New York.  There is also an English ministry for young adults, whose pastor is interested in having me talk about my year in Korea and at the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN.  I feel very blessed to have found such a community.

Interestingly, at the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN I am learning about the role of the faith community on a larger scale, in an international context.  One thing that makes the Church and faith community unique is that they have personnel on the ground around the world.  The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) calls these personnel mission co-workers, who work alongside partners in various countries to help alleviate poverty, promote peace, and provide theological education.  Because of this on the ground presence, those church partners can keep the PC(USA) informed on political, economic, and social developments.  The Presbyterian Ministry at the UN then can advocate on the church policies based on that information.  In short, the church and the Ministry at the UN have a direct connection to many areas of the world.

This direct connection also makes the church different from national governments.  Governments of one country may sever any connection, humanitarian or political, with another country’s government because of political disagreement.  For example, the United States has withdrawn diplomatic personnel from Syria, pulling out troops and humanitarian aid.  But that doesn’t mean the Presbyterian Church has pulled out.  Despite the US policy, the Church maintains support of mission co-workers and partners, teaching children and providing food to those in need.  The faith community was working in Syria before US leadership made the policy to pull out, and the Church will be there after the US administration has changed many times over.

I bring all of this up to say that the faith community matters.  Its role is vital here and there, locally and abroad.  The church isn’t perfect, but its importance cannot not be overlooked.

Being a Bridge

“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.”

—Sir Isaac Newton

I’m finally starting to settle into a routine in NYC, though no two days are exactly the same.  My work at the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN (PMUN) has been interesting so far and I’m finally understanding the role that our organization plays for the UN, for the Presbyterian Church U.S.A, and my role within it.  Our office serves as a bridge between the UN and the PC(USA).  Our organization works in both directions, advocating the PC(USA)’s policies on social justice issues like hunger, gender equality, and peace in the Middle East to the international community at the UN, while also educating the PC(USA) about the UN and the issues currently on the international agenda.

For our office to speak on an issue at the UN, three criteria must be met: the PC(USA) has to have spoken on it, it must be on the UN agenda, and action is approved by our church partners in the involved countries.

This bring us to the big question: what is my role within this slightly complicated system that took a few paragraphs to explain? Within our three-person team, I have three main responsibilities, which tap into the dual role our ministry has between the UN and the PC(USA).  First, I attend select meetings at the UN like high level events or UN General Assembly meetings.  I also attend meetings of the different working groups that the PMUN is a part of, including the groups on Israel-Palestine, Syria, and the Security Council.  By attending these meetings, I give us a presence and keep us up to date on developments addressing these issue areas.  Second, I am helping develop the new seminar and open house programs to tell the church about the UN and our office. And finally, I have a project!  I am creating a series of one-page reports about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The SDGs are commitments of United Nations member countries to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and mitigate climate change by 2030.  Each report describes one of the goals and its targets, relevant PCUSA actions or policy to accomplish those goals, and how congregations can participate in their own communities to help achieve those goals.  The first two resources are now available on our website here.

In creating these resources, I take an issue that I’m passionate about (sustainable development) that is on the global agenda and link it to national church programming.   My hope is to motivate people to act to help make our world more just, inclusive, and sustainable.

Of course, a caveat of is work that I need to get up to speed on a lot of things.  I must be aware of current world events, issues at the UN, PC(USA) policy, and the work that different PCUSA agencies are doing across the world.  It can feel overwhelming sometimes, but in a “positive” way. And I can’t think of a better follow-up to my time in Korea nor a better application of my International Relations education.

Also, I was featured in a Presbyterian News Service story here

Learning from Many

“Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.” –Howard Zinn 

I’m sure many of you want to know what I’ve been up to at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations and living in New York.  Before I tell you about my current adventure, I want to tell you about where I came from.  Some of you followed my previous YAV experience in South Korea, and others are starting to follow my journey for the first time by reading this post.  My experience in Korea furthered my interest in social justice, international reconciliation, and the development of people/communities.  It was an amazing, challenging experience.  In the short time I’ve been in New York, I’ve even been able to apply some of the lessons that I learned in Korea about myself and the world.

Let me take you back to a cold, wet winter night in the middle of Seoul, South Korea.  I’m sitting in the middle of a crowd, wondering whether I should have worn a heavier jacket.  Surrounding me are the lights of candles, and the voices of 1.9 million people asking for one thing: change.  They are asking for the resignation (or impeachment) of the president, 박근혜 (Park Geun-Hye) due to evidence of corruption, sharing government info, and incompetence. And their protest is so beautiful and well organized. There are songs and speeches, and even a performance from the Korean Broadway cast of Les Miserables. To top it all off, just by chance the trailer for the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story starts playing on a bill-board. If you aren’t familiar with that movie, it’s about a resistance force trying to take down an empire. Seeing as the protest I’m attending is against the president who is the daughter of a former US-military backed dictator, that movie trailer was very fitting.

As I sit and observe all these things, I start think that this is how you advocate for change: in ways that are artistic, creative, and peaceful, and inspiring. And it is was ironic, given that I had recently learned that some protests in Korea had been met with brutal force from the police using water canons only months earlier.  But this protest was completely peacefully enforced by the participants and peacefully observed by the police.  I should note that leaving the protest was a challenge. One of my fellow YAVs had to literally pull me by the hand through the crowd, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to move.

Fast forward, ten months and I’m in my first week of my second YAV year at the PMUN in New York. President Trump has just announced that he will end DACA. My boss says to me, “I’m not a protest-type person, but I’m going to go to one outside Trump Tower. Do you want to come with me?” A year ago, I’m not sure I could have said yes. But remembering my experience in Korea, I said, “Absolutely.”

So we go to this protest. It’s a far cry from 1.9 million people, maybe 60. And this time it’s really hot, and I’m wearing too many clothes because I came straight from the office. So I stand by Trump tower, sweating profusely in my blazer, holding a sign that says “we choose welcome” for about an hour and a half. The protest itself is relatively uneventful, not very artistic or creative. When we leave, it’s very easy. We don’t have to fight through a crowd to move half a block.

In short, this protest was quite different from the one in Seoul. Even so, I know why I went. I understand the purpose and the value in being there, advocating for a change that I seek, together with other people. And I’m grateful to the 1.5 million Koreans who taught me that.

Getting Educated

“Play is often talked about as if it were a serious relief from learning. But for children, play is serious learning.”  –Mr. Rogers

When I was in Korea, I volunteered at a day care center every Monday morning called 어린이뜨락.  This day care was unique.  It is the result of a partnership between a church and a group of mothers and their pre-school aged kids.  One of the rules is that both the children and the mothers go to the center.  Parents can’t just drop their kids off.  This creates a beautiful relationship between the children and also between the mothers.

The mothers are working together to create a program for their kids that is alternative to the mainstream Korean education system.  My understanding is that they want a program that promotes creativity, critical thinking, and hands-on learning.  One day they hope to have a space large enough to accommodate many areas or “stations”, each offering a different way for the children to learn and play.  The children will be able to choose which stations they want to go to, therefore choosing their own education, in addition to participating in scheduled activities.  Because of this center’s unique approach to early childhood education, it was featured on a local Korean tv news station, which you can view here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikLQ9-8AUzw&t=2s&index=2&list=LLgTKRl2eSapcSSX6a_PhS6Q

As this center was in its infancy, the mothers needed time to plan and figure out how they want to structure their programs.  That’s where I came in.  My job was to hang out and play with the children, so that the mothers could devote some time to planning and brainstorming.  I never thought that I would like working with very young kids.  But I really enjoyed it.

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I also helped the mothers with their planned activities for the kids.  These included arts and crafts, going to playgrounds, and reading books.  Actually, I read a lot of books, both in English and Korean.  It was a great chance for both me and the kids to practice Korean.

Everyone at 어린이뜨락 really inspired me.  The kids were incredibly cute and smart.  It was a pleasure to watch them grow.  And I admire the mothers because they didn’t want to just drop their kids off somewhere for the day; so they took the initiative to get involved with their children’s education.  They work together to give their children a chance to learn in new, creative ways.  In doing so, I learned as well, from both mother and child.

Returning

“Don’t cry because its over.  Smile because it happened.” –Dr. Seuss

So my YAV year is coming to an end. I will be leaving Korea in a few days, going on a short trip to Japan, and then returning to the US. This does not mean my blogs are over yet. I still have a few posts about Korea that I want to share. Also, I am excited to announce that I will be doing a second YAV year in New York City, serving at the Presbyterian Ministry to the United Nations.

But in honor of leaving Korea, I am sharing a refection I wrote during a final retreat with my housemates and site coordinators. I was reflecting on the Bible story in Acts 2: 1-13, when the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost and gives some people the ability to speak in different tongues (languages). There is a lot of suprise at this sudden event, and some people doubt if it is real, saying these people speaking in different languages probably just drank too much wine.

Throughout my year in Korea, my fellow YAVs and I have learned to speak in “different tongues,” sometimes with specific language and sometimes through other means.

Sometimes we communicated using Korean, but if that didn’t work we used hand gestures and body language.

We learned about how to communicate non-violently using clear language to describe how we feel and make requests of others.

We learned how a simple act such as gratefully receiving food or gifts offered to us by a Korean friend is a way to demonstrate our relationship with that person

We learned all these things, all these tongues. Mastered none of them. But we tried and learned all the same.

When we return home, our way of communicating may seem different to those that new us before. They may think us strange, and wonder why we changed…or like some of the people in this story, they may doubt us and say we just drank too much. But we’ll explain the reason for our change quite simply: “I was a Korea YAV.”

One Sport, Many Lessons

“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow.  So do it.”  -Kurt Vonnegut

Since the beginning of March, one of the elders at the Hannam University church has been teaching us 검도 (geomdo) once a week, a martial art that is derived from the Japanese sword fighting sport called Kendo.  It involves using a bamboo sword to hit your opponent and score points.

검도 is a lot of fun, though it’s very difficult.  For me, the difficulty starts from the moment I arrive for practice because I have a lot of trouble putting on the uniform.  As some of you may know, I am terrible at tying knots and still have trouble tying my shoes.  So putting on a uniform that involves tying multiple knots, including behind my back is very complicated and tiresome.  I usually end up needing someone else to help me put the darn thing on.  The guy that sometimes helps me said that I am “very thin” because no uniform seems to fit snugly.  I don’t think that is accurate because I’m not any smaller than some of the other guys.  Regardless, the uniform is a little big, and the belt section of the uniform has to be wrapped around my midriff multiple times to be tight.  When someone is helping me put the uniform on, I feel like a bride being helped into her wedding dress.  Except, my issue isn’t that the outfit is too tight.  It is that the outfit may slide down during practice.

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Anyways, once I finally am dressed, we meet and do some warm-ups and stretching.  Then I join the elder from the church, who instructs us in the basic form and footwork.  There are a lot of things to keep track of. Your back foot is always on the ground.  Grip the sword closer to the bottom of the handle.  When you swing, you shouldn’t have lots of body movement.  It should be smooth.  Simple, right?

During one of our last weeks, my teacher let me join the other students to practice hitting against a rack of tires.  Each tire was positioned to be where the wrist and head of your opponent would be.  We lined up to practice our swings and rotated one by one.  After a couple hits, we would rest and then do another round.  Each round was faster and faster.  By the last few rounds, people were sweating and beginning to lose breath.  But me being the rookie, I was having too much fun hitting stuff.  I wonder if the others thought I was weird because I was smiling the whole time.

At our last practice, our teacher let us try on the full keomdo uniform, complete with pads and face mask.  Even though we hadn’t practiced enough to “earn” the right to wear the uniform, he wanted us to have the experience of wearing it.  He even let me wear his uniform.  Of course, I needed a lot of help and supervision to get the whole outfit on.  However, once it was on, it was pretty awesome.  And hot.  After doing a few practice hits with a partner, I was sweating.

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I mention all of this to say, that we don’t know what opportunities we encounter.  Sometimes we look for them.  And sometimes they find us.  Our teacher didn’t have to offer to teach us about this wonderful sport.  He certainly didn’t have to let us try on a full uniform.  But he did it out of kindness and a desire to share the sport he loves with us.