Podowon Korean Presbyterian Church

Here are two photos of the church where Amy and I are working currently.

The building is quite old, and the present congregation has been there for several decades, I believe. The parking lot is rather small and cramped.

Services are at 11 am, with a children's service at 10. After church, Amy and I tutor several women who are studying to be nurses in English. They are all relatively new to the U.S., and some of them just arrived this semester. Working with them (and the children) is one of the highlights of being here.

The difficulties abound, though I will not mention them all here. One of the most aggravating problems is that the church, in all there years here, has not thought to hire someone fluent in both Korean and English. That alone is sufficiently frustrating. On top of that, it seems like most of the adults really do not care about the youth in the church. From what the kids have told us, and from the general attitude of the adults, the parents think the extent of their duty is to force them into the church building and expect the teachers to turn them into perfect Christians. Of course, all the while, the parents exhibit very few Christian virtues in their own lives at home. Hence the first word from the mouths of these children regarding Christianity is sad but true: hypocrites.

Amy and I are wondering whether or not we should stay. It's been a difficult two months already. But we really care about these youth, and the nurses are really enjoyable. The high schoolers are all forced to be there against their will, and at least one of them cannot wait to leave home so that he can put the church behind him. What does one do in this situation? Well, Amy and I have thrown out all the manuals on youth groups and forged a new path. No more cliche worship songs, no sermons, and little if any prayer. These youth want to deal with the real issues of Christianity. So we told them that we would support them in not coming to church, which is something they probably have never heard from a youth pastor before. We've encouraged dialogue about other religions, and on Friday one of the high school girls brought a Buddhist friend from school. We are letting them talk about what they really think about Christianity.

All of this is allowing us to demonstrate by our actions what we want them to eventually learn: that Christianity cares more about people than about doctrines, morality, and duty. When all is said and done, I hope they will all see a new side of Christianity -- centered on Christ -- even if they do not choose to believe it in the end.


Bethany Pledge said…
Wow. I don't know how if I would approve, but then again, I wish I had something like that opportunity Now. It's a risky move. Says O me of little faith. :)
I'm not sure this is an opportunity anybody should wish for. The chance to revitalize a youth program is indeed something exciting, but not under these conditions. After church yesterday, Amy and I spoke with a couple of the nurses, and we learned even more about the church which makes us very uneasy about it. We want to leave, but we don't want to abandon the youth. (To be honest, the money is also really good, and I feel like Jesus' words about that are ringing all too true.)

A couple revelations after this last Sunday. First, there is absolutely no education about the Christian faith going on in the homes, and very little if any in the Korean service. The nurses said the only message is, "You must believe in God." Well, what God? What is belief? How does one live?

So how bad is it? None of the elementary age kids could tell us the Christmas story. At least one, if not the others as well, did not know that Jesus was God. In fact, one of them gave a really good synopsis of the Arian view that Jesus was created by God to save humanity. One of the nurses we spoke with did not even know what communion was. No surprise there, since the church only takes communion/eucharist once a year!! The list just goes on and on.
Douglas said…
"No more cliche worship songs, no sermons, and little if any prayer. These youth want to deal with the real issues of Christianity."


I hope you don't take this wrongly, but what are the "real issues of Christianity" if prayer is not included?

I'd be reticent to back the youth too much in not coming to church, not from the perspective that they should be forced, but from the perspective that they should be respectful of their parents. You have a really tough job to walk the line between showing the kids a Christianity of the heart and encouraging rebellion against their parents. Both honoring parents (first commandment with a promise) and loving God from the heart and not because we are forced are important elements of Christianity.

Perhaps you could have a meeting with the parents and/or have activities where the parents are required to come in order for the kid to attend. It sounds like for some of the kids you may need to reach the parents in order to reach the youth.

That's a tough situation. I'll be praying for you.

Doug, I understand your comments, but let me clarify the situation. These youth do not believe that anything about Christianity is really true, at least most of them don't. And the same goes for their parents. This church is merely a social club for Koreans to stay (somewhat) close to their cultural heritage. According to one of the twentysomething adults, the parents are most concerned that their kids will forget the Korean language. Any concern about their children growing up in the faith is virtually non-existent. That's the context for how we are "doing" youth group. We don't pray at youth group, because that requires a certain level of spiritual maturity -- which may come later on. And since we want youth group to be open to people of other faiths, Christian prayer only alienates. (We do pray, however, at the end of our Sunday morning service.)

I think you misunderstood me about the parental obedience issue. By supporting the youth in not coming, I mean that we would speak with the parents and present the reasons why they should accept the reality of their children not coming to church. As it is, that probably will never happen. Amy and I strongly believe that no one should be coerced into the church. That undermines the gospel. One of the high schoolers said that his parents took away his cell phone and prevented him from seeing friends because he wouldn't go to church one week. So now he goes. Why? Well, it sure isn't because of the gospel message.

These parents only teach their kids one thing: hypocrisy. The kids hear their parents talk about the importance of church, but then see them live completely differently at home. And by forcing their kids to church, these parents pervert the importance of the family of saints into an obligatory social club which has absolutely no relevance to how one lives life. The youth see how little the parents care about Christianity, and yet are themselves forced to feign a desire to go to church.

At this point, I firmly believe God is on the side of the children, not of the parents. A person can be saved without attending a church (which does not mean they are saved outside of the church!), and yet no one is saved by being forced into a church. The parents are sinning in ways far worse than these children, because they are destroying the message of Jesus Christ. How else could these youth respond? I believe God would support these kids in not going to church, even against their parents' wishes. At this point, the parents are setting themselves in opposition to God's desires. As Jesus himself said, He came to set His followers against father, mother, brother, and sister, and even one's own life. These youth will probably never know how to follow Christ at this church, although Amy and I will try our best while we remain. Though for how long I cannot say.
MarkC said…

I don't envy your situation. I am curious how you are handling it. I've been in a similar situation, on a much smaller scale, once before as teacher of a high-school group with only a few students.

You've mentioned a bunch of things that you are not doing... sermons, lots of prayer, etc. That makes perfect sense. You've mentioned that you will support the kids in not coming to church if that's their choice. I'm with you on that, too.

But I'm interested what you do with the time you have with the kids. The only thing you've mentioned so far is that you encourage dialog about other faiths. I'm assuming that implicit in that is encouraging dialog about the Christian faith, as well? How are you going about encouraging that dialog? Are the students interested in discussing issues of religion? I'm particularly thinking of the older, high-school age students. Are they willing to dialog about religion and God and faith? Or, if not, what are you doing to draw them out? Are there any ways that you are hoping to guide the conversation, any key truths that you are communicating as your part of the dialog that you hope they will embrace?

Thanks for sharing...

SunflowerShew said…
So which child is worse off: the child who knows only the Arian view of Christ -- believing that God created him to save humanity -- or the child who doesn't even know who Christ is?
duckmonkey said…
I figure since I'm there I can do some of the answering for David, even though he'll probably want to answer himself. Oh well!
To answer Erin, I'd say that latter. With the little kids, we're lucky to be catching them now. For right now, they have that "childlike faith," and so we're telling them the truth about things. The hard truth, no sunday school answers and kids stories. They seem continually shocked (in a good way) when we tell them the truth about God.
To answer Mark, yes. And no. The kids are willing to talk to us, which is great. They are quiet in the sense that sometimes we think they actually don't know what to say. I'm not sure that they spend much time, if any, ever thinking about God or Christianity outside church. For them it's not really relevant to their lives. They have yet to see a need for Jesus, because Jesus to them is just someone connected to church, and church has a negative connotation.
We're basically trying to tell them the gospel without letting them know that's what we're doing. We are dealing with some of the harder questions that we don't have answers to. Other religions have come into the conversation many times. In fact, last Friday one of the girls brought her buddhist friend and we got to talk with her.
If I were to sum up what we're doing on Friday nights and Sunday mornings, we are trying to help the youth understand the basics of the gospel, letting them know that we're passionate about it and it does change our lives, while at the same time letting them know that, like God, we want to love them for who they are, not what they do. We desire to see them be passionate about Christ, but if they're not, I think they know that we will not turn them away, but we will continue to love them and hope that someday they will see that Jesus Christ is someone who is for them as well.
Douglas said…

Thanks for clarifying.

I echo and say amen to everything Amy wrote. In response to your questions, Mark, I would characterize the change in pedogogical method from telling them what to think to giving them a chance to speak their minds and dialogue with us about the Christian faith. That does not mean we eschew explaning what the messages of the gospel entail; it just means that we are more roundabout and much less confrontive.

I think Juengel is proving to be a backbone for much of what we are trying to accomplish. That is, his articulation of justification definitely underpins how we are approaching them. Several times we have tried to clearly describe God as one who affirms and approves of us regardless of anything that we do. This is clearly radical from their perspective (and according to most evangelicals as well). A God who does not demand actions from them just does not square with religion as they know it: do this, don't do that!

In the past week or so, our focus has been on trying to articulate what exactly is the heart and center of the Christian faith. We've mostly let them have the space to think and speak their opinions. At the end, we said a couple of our opinions. But we want to make sure these youth really know what Christianity professes, because as far as we can tell, they do not.
MarkC said…

Thanks for the response...

For those who are interested, we are currently walking through the Apostles' Creed with the youth. We hope this proves to be both instructive and constructive. Any more ideas or questions?