Written by George Fox South Korea Summer student, Jessica Giddings. Check out the program here!
The time I spent in South Korea has touched my life so profoundly, so personally, and in such an encouraging way, that I don’t feel like I can exist in my college town and turn a blind eye to the things that stir my heart anymore. If Seoul has taught me anything, it’s taught me about proactivity, compassion, and not being afraid to pursue justice.
My mission mentor, Katherine, was such an addition to my time in Seoul. It was comforting to know that there was someone out there for me should I need to talk, and someone who shared my same heart and passion for Christ. It was hard to find people to talk to about Jesus, especially when considering my very different and very western perspective on Jesus. Catherine was a link to home for me, to home’s opinions and views, and a bridge between one culture to the next. I learned from my mission mentor how far intentionality can take a relationship even in a short time.
Through Katherine, I got to participate in some amazing ministries: homeless ministry at Seoul Station, and Suicide Prevention at Mapo Bridge. These are two ministries that I am very active in within my home university and my hometown, but doing them in Seoul (especially considering the extensive language barrier) was a completely different experience for me and added to my picture of global missions and ministry. There is no “accomplishment or effectiveness,” there is just love. I am so glad for the ministries that I was able to participate in; I think that they both serve an incredible purpose in Korean society and touch a lot of lives within such marginalized people groups. Homelessness and Suicide are such rampant social issues that are not addressed or talked about. Ocean City (the Church I attended with Katherine) assesses these issues in a way that is sensitive to the taboo culture surrounding these topics.
South Korea is the first country that I have gotten to experience missions that is not 3rd world. Rather than attaching the gospel to some sort of humanitarian aid, missions in Korea felt much more vulnerable than that. My understanding of cross-cultural ministry has been broadened so much, simply because South Korea has introduced me to a whole other spectrum of people in the world. It’s introduced me to people that are content with their lives, who don’t even realize that a Christ-shaped hole in their heart is present. Among the neon lights and drinking culture of Seoul, I found less warm welcomes and more hard hearts. It’s a different tactic that needs to be used within the city, and a different side of Christ that gets portrayed.
My cultural views have dramatically changed as well. I have been raised by Japanese parents and grandparents and contrary to what many think, these two people groups (Japanese and Koreans) have very different perspectives and cultures, not to mention a long history of hatred and oppression. I have been taught by my grandparents to hold prejudice against Koreans, to consider Koreans rude or entitled. My grandfather served in the Korean war, fighting for South Korea with the American troops. This all being said, I’ve had opinions on South Korea pressed on me from a young age. What I’ve learned in short is that you can never let history cloud your judgment or your opinion of a people. The culture of a big city is so different from my own. In a small town, you have to be open and loving towards others to really convey Christ, but in the city, when even a small smile or showing an interest in someone else’s day goes such a long way. In retrospect, I hope they say, “there was something interesting about that girl.” I want them to discover that it’s Christ.
During this program in South Korea, I have met some of the kindest, caring, and unique individuals that I ever have. I have fallen in love with humanity all over again, and become infatuated with the beauty that comes from experiencing life through someone else’s eyes. I feel like a different person coming home. I feel less shy, less self-conscious, and more aware of the grace that I am surrounded by. My time in South Korea has left a lasting impact on my ministry, my idea of ministry, and ultimately my picture of our global community of Christians. I have made lasting friendships, and had lasting experiences in my classes, with my peers, and in a country that I never thought I’d love. I found a home in South Korea among people who seek to discover, befriend, and who I now pray for every day.