The hope was to have this post ready for Choo-Suk (the Korean Harvest Moon celebration, often described to immigrant children as the Korean Thanksgiving), and then I pushed my self-imposed deadline to Thanksgiving. I let several things get in the way.
Anyway, I grew up in the Korean immigrant church. The family story is that one of the first places we visited upon our arrival to Chicago was to Sunday service at First Korean United Methodist Church. Through the years our family would change church affiliations, but we would always be at a Korean church. They were not perfect churches. And those churches had their share of broken people and broken systems. But reading through Dr. Soong-Chan Rah‘s book, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity gave me reason to pause. Rah uses the Korean immigrant church as his example for Chapter 8 – Holistic Evangelism, and it made me think back to my childhood and youth.
As the commenting raged on on other blogs about how Asian Americans need to get over their race issues and put Jesus first, I found myself thanking God for the gifts of grace, the power of faith, and the complicated and amazing ways in which my faith have shaped the ways I view ethnicity, race and gender and vice versa. Weren’t we all “fearfully and wonderfully made”? Won’t “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” be in God’s presence and glory?
So I go back to the memories of church – the sights, the sounds, the smells, and I am filled with gratitude for the gifts from the first generation.
I thank God for the experience of the first generation Korean church and:
- the church’s additional role a cultural school for me. I learned about Jesus and I learned about being Korean. I learned to read and write (though only mastered both to a 2nd grade level) the only spoken language knew until I was in kindergarten. That basic foundation of the language connects me to a rich history and culture that I grew up experiencing through all of my senses. I learned Korean folk dancing that allowed my body to tell stories that I could not speak.
- the gift of liturgy and hymns. They were sung and spoken in Korean. It’s now my lost language, almost like a faint memory that still speaks to places in my soul and communicate nuances I can still only grasp in Korean.
- the community the immigrant church provided for my parents and their peers who displaced themselves for the promise of a better life.
- the community the immigrant church provided for me and my peers who had no choice in our displacement but needed a group of friends (and frienemies) who could relate to the bicultural experiences our parents could not help us navigate.
- the gift of faith because it was at church my parents’ faith was nurtured in their native tongue and where local Bible school students interned and shared the gospel with me in English. I still have the Bible given to me by my Sunday School teacher, John Bezel, and remember his willingess to learn about the Korean American experience as he shared about Jesus.