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In global partner visit to Korea
Delegation sees how culture has an impact on faith life

By Mary Stamp - Pacific NW UCC News editor

Stepping into Christianity in another culture, Jim Spraker said the recent global partnership delegation to Korea stirred awareness of how culture has impact on religious perspectives and practices.

PROK delegates
Ed Evans of Suquamish UCC, Terry Teigen of Horizon House and Jim Spraker of Plymouth Congregational UCC in Seattle light candles as prayer for Korean partners.

He was one of eight members of the Pacific Northwest UCC Conference and the Northwest Region of the Disciples of Christ visiting global partner churches in the East Seoul Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK) May 11 to 18.

UCC delegates were Spraker of Plymouth Congregational UCC in Seattle and Terry Teigen of Horizon House in Seattle and Ed Evans of Suquamish UCC.
Spraker has taught in China, visited Plymouth’s sister church in Nicaragua and participated in two global partner visits with the PNC’s German partner church in Berlin-Brandenburg.

“Seeing how a church operates in its culture helps us see how our culture has impact on our church,” he said.  “The Korean culture focuses on families being together, while ours is geared to individuals.”

He observed a high emphasis on education.  High school students study from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., so they are ready for college entrance exams.  They have a 96 percent graduation rate, in contrast to a 70 percent graduation rate in the United States.

Spraker, who served 17 years as a pastor and 27 years as a hospital chaplain, says U.S. churches would benefit by being more intentional about adult education, Bible study and prayer.  While some churches in Korea are more “fundamentalistic,” he said the PROK provides social programs and advocate for justice and reunification.

Teigen, who served as a pastor since 1980 and has been a spiritual care provider at Horizon House for two years, said the PROK helps lead the way in programs for child care, women’s issues and sexual trafficking, immigrant rights and care for the poor.  The church initiates programs the government eventually helps fund.

“On a bus, I sat across the aisle from a young pastor who spoke only a little English, but told me much in his few words,” Teigen said.

 The pastor said Koreans want to unify, speaking just after the sinking of the Cheonan navy ship.  When Teigen asked if he was concerned about the threat of North Korea, the pastor replied, “There is no fear in freedom.” He later said, “Korea is developed, not developing,” confirming Teigen’s observation of the advanced infrastructure—clean water, sewers, cars and modern, market-driven culture in Seoul, a city of 10 million, surrounded by a metropolitan area of 24 million.

He also sensed a heaviness from Korea’s experience of war, occupation and sense of obligation to previous generations, and possibly from South Korea being an outpost of democracy in Asia.

Teigen would like to organize a young adult exchange, believing they can learn from each other.  Koreans can learn from the American ideal of creating balance in life.  Americans can learn from Korean young people, who stay connected with the church through college and beyond.  Young adults seemed to be visible, active participants in the worship and life of the churches we visited.

Before leaving, Evans had a woodworker in Suquamish—who made a peace candle he was presented and used when he was pastor at the UCC church in Vancouver, Wash.—make a peace candle holder.  With the help of K.J. Royale, a friend of Suquamish member Francesca Serena who was unable to go at the last minute, he had plaques put on the candle holder saying, “Imagine Peace,” in Korean and English.  Royale helped with translation on the trip.

The Suquamish church dedicated the candle when it commissioned its delegates.  Evans presented the candle to his host, Pastor Jung, Beong Gui  of the Song Pa Church.  He later learned that Pastor Jung’s email is, expressing his interest in peace.

“Reconciliation of the Koreas is big for the PROK.  There was tension about the sinking of the warship.  I could feel it, but we did not talk about it,” said Evans, who was amazed at the rigidity of the guards he saw at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Visiting the town of Munsan near the DMZ, he asked why there was such a thriving community so close to the border.  His host said it’s because of the lower cost of living, fewer traffic jams and less pollution, the threat of North Korea is everywhere.

Two days after they returned the South Korean government announced that the ship was sunk by a torpedo from a North Korean submarine.

“The church is raising questions about the incident,” Evans said, telling of statements from the Korean National Council of Churches and the PROK.  “They questioned that the announcement coincided with the beginning of the election campaign and was being used to give advantage to the government, but it was trounced in the election.”

Spraker, Teigen, Evans and the Disciples of Christ delegates, David and Kathy Helseth of Yakima, John Williams of Tacoma and Ted Blum of Kirkland are available to speak.

For information, call 360-683-4704 or email  Evans is chair of the PNCUCC/DOC-NW Global Ministries Committee.

Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © June 2010


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