This series of articles by Eric Foley is offered here as a springboard for discussion. I find that the premise itself is noteworthy because it posits unique Korean virtues (one of which is Jewish — Chutzpah!). The reason why I find this line of thinking fascinating is precisely because this is the silver bullet that ethnic churches (2.0 and beyond) need to have in order to justify their perpetuation. Not that they can't exist ad infinitum because that's where people of like skin tones feel comfortable, but precisely because no other arena of public life is as segregated as our faith — not schools, not work, only in church. This is hugely problematic for me, because by equating Christianity with ethnicity, it becomes a private matter, or at the very least, an insulated matter — for all intensive purposes removing it from public domain, which is precisely the antithesis of the Christian message. While I cannot deny that Asians feel more comfortable around other Asians and perhaps may be more prone to hearing the Gospel from someone that looks like them, the notion that there could be a unique feature of Korean or Chinese or Cambodian or Somalian Christianity that I could have access to because of my ethnicity, is something worth fighting for. As Cornel West would say, race matters. And perhaps it's possible that it does, even in terms of my walk with God. So onward to Pastor Foley's addendum to the second virtue…
How to Help Your EM Cultivate Unique Korean Virtue #2: Commitment to being a diaspora people
EM congregations are more than just the place where Korean young people go when they can’t understand the KM service. They are a snapshot of what the Korean church will look like in thirty years.
Unfortunately, that snapshot shows us that in the future, Korean churches won’t look or act like Korean churches. Instead, they’ll look and act like American churches—if they continue to exist at all. Unless we change, traditional Korean Christianity, traditional Korean culture, and traditional Korean virtues will disappear from the lives of our descendants within two generations.
The purpose of this monthly column is to identify and promote the value of the unique elements of Korean Christianity, and to ensure their robust transmission to the next generation of Korean American Christians.
The way this column works is that one month I present a unique virtue from Korean culture that EM’s aren’t teaching our 2.0 kids but should be. The next month I present a list of practical ways and creative ideas that you can share with your EM pastor to help him teach that virtue to the 2.0 kids in your own church.
Here is the list of Ten Unique Korean Virtues:
- Deep obligation to family, friends, the church, and Korean people
- Commitment to being a diaspora people
- Respect for elders
- Passionate, whole-being prayer
- Preparing and eating meals together
- The ability to suffer well
- Respect for the office of the pastor
- Deep, holy reverence for God revealed in both worship and life
- Sense of Korean history and connection to it; a conviction that Koreans are a people of destiny
Last month I wrote about Virtue #2: Commitment to being a diaspora people. In the column I talked about how American Christianity has caused 2.0 churches to become very individualistic. The focus tends to be on “you you you” (“you can discover purpose; you can meet new people; you can enjoy music and messages” to quote from the mission statement of one large 2.0 Korean congregation) rather than the group (“us us us”). For information about the nature or definition of that virtue (and a description of exactly how it’s missing from American culture), please see last month’s issue of Diaspora Leadership.
In this month’s column, we answer the question, “How can we make sure our 2.0 kids grow up thinking, acting, and living publicly as a Korean Christian community?”
To me, this is an extremely exciting question. 1.0 Korean church congregations have such a great community life to demonstrate to the American public, but they are often afraid to do much of anything in public because of the language barrier. As such, they “hide their light under a bushel” (which Jesus commands us not to do) and the world never sees how wonderful it can be to be a part of a community built around God’s Word.
2.0 Korean church congregations can be different, however: There is no language barrier. Unfortunately, what they lack today is the sense of tightly-knit church community that their parents have. That is why we must teach them this virtue of living as a diaspora people: If they learn to live publicly as a Korean church community and they can speak English so they can explain to the world what they are doing and why they are doing it, this will be an amazingly powerful witness for the gospel!
Here, then, are three great, simple, fun, and powerful ways you can give your 2.0’s the opportunity to live in public as a Korean Christian diaspora community:
- Start a Samulnori team at your church and perform at area schools and cultural events. I am Caucasian, but I play Samulnori and do the Bongsan Masked Dance and the Three Drum Dance. I also can make the Sangmo spin. If I can do it, so can you. It took me about three months of hard training to learn, so I believe Korean EM pastors could probably learn in half that time! (I think Korean dance is harder for white people to do.) Your church can bring a teacher out from Korea for the summertime, and your EM pastor and youth group can train together every day for a few hours. By the end of the summer you can become experts, and you’ll find many events in your community where the organizers will be delighted to have you perform.
In our case, we’ve performed in grade schools, universities, community events, parades, and churches. Every time we perform, our children become more and more proud of Korean culture and more and more aware that they have learned something valuable that they should carefully steward. Even more, the Americans who watch us learn to respect Korean culture, too.
- Do an all-night “Guabeggi gathering” in your neighborhood. This is a great way to get 1.0’s and 2.0’s to have a lot of fun working together while also making a positive witness for Christ and Korean culture in your community. Set aside one whole night overnight in your church kitchen for this activity. Bring 1.0’s and 2.0’s together in the kitchen starting at around 8 P.M. Have the 1.0’s show the 2.0’s how to make guabeggi—and then have the whole group work all night long to make as much guabeggi as they possibly can! Set an outrageous goal that seems almost impossible to meet unless everyone works extra hard. Make the cooking time fun. Teach motion songs to the 2.0’s. Tell stories together. Do contests. Most of all, make a lot of guabeggi!
Then, at 8AM the next morning (after the young people have worked all night long!), have them take out the guabeggi to deliver to every home in the neighborhood surrounding the church. Now, very few of these homes will contain Korean people—and that’s exactly what we want. We want the young people to knock on the door and say, “Hi, we’re from ___________ Korean church, and we just want to meet you and bless you by sharing food with you. This is called ‘guabeggi’, and it’s a traditional Korean dessert. We hope you enjoy it. If you ever need any help, our church is just around the corner.” If you like, you can make this an evangelistic event and give out New Testaments with the guabeggi—if you’re in a Hispanic neighborhood, give out Spanish language New Testaments; in an English neighborhood, give out English New Testaments. Either way, you’ll be enabling your kids to act publicly as a group, learn and share Korean culture, and make a witness for Christ in your community.
- Do a “Sah Ee Guh” memorial community service project. One of the major blind spots that our Korean young people have is that they say, “I don’t think of myself as being Korean. I’m more American.” But they don’t understand that Americans usually see all Asians as a group and treat them that way—which often means treating them very badly. We need to teach our children that Korean people have often suffered in the United States (during World War II and the LA riots, for example) because Americans resent Asians for looking or speaking differently or for being successful in business or education.
Get one of the many excellent Korean documentaries or books on the LA Riots or on the treatment of Korean people in the US during World War II. Share these with your youth group. Help them see that even though they may think of themselves as Americans first and Koreans second, they need to make a regular, positive, public presence in their community to ensure that other Americans treat Koreans well.
Hold a community-wide “Korean youth community clean up day” in which the youth in your church do clean up projects in the church neighborhood (or in any part of the city where clean up is needed). Have a contest in which the youth are challenged to develop a t-shirt logo which creatively and attractively shows the community that they are Korean. Then have the t-shirts printed and have the youth wear these for the clean-up day. That way when people see the youth, they’ll know they are Korean—and they’ll be making a positive contribution to the way all Korean people are viewed in their community.
The best day to do this event is on “Sah Ee Guh” itself—as a memorial. Contact the media and let them know that you are doing this event in order to make sure that something like “Sah Ee Guh” never happens in your community—by giving people a chance to get to know Koreans as a servant people who are deeply committed to the whole community.
This is a great event for all of the Korean youth groups in the community to do together, by the way. Even getting the youth groups together to watch the history videos and talk afterwards is a great way to build Korean cultural identity.
The point of these activities is to get our 2.0 congregations to go beyond just doing American-style community outreach (like feeding the homeless at a rescue mission or collecting canned food for the hungry). It’s about getting our 2.0’s to do Christian outreach that is built on a uniquely Korean cultural foundation. This way, in addition to doing outreach and learning to act as a church (thus training them to run our Korean churches in the future), they develop Korean cultural pride and also build positive awareness of Korean culture in our American communities.
My wife and I direct a nonprofit organization called Seoul USA, and we are currently developing a traveling program and teaching materials for use in sharing these Ten Unique Korean Virtues with EM’s through revivals, retreats, and regular weekly instruction. If you’re interested in learning more, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Since, unfortunately, I don’t speak Korean, you may wish to speak to my wife at email@example.com.