Accompanied by an angel

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VEV gave us the sweetest sabbatical sendoff a pastoral couple could ever want. There is no describing how much the love, the hugs, the words, the financial gifts that came at great cost from this remarkable little congregation that was already stretching so much to make the sabbatical happen, meant to us. Kirsten dropped by later with more gifts and words of wisdom. Scott generously gave up his Monday morning to drive us to the airport. So tender. We hugged Scott one more time, and we were off.

As I already mentioned, there was a degree of anxiety I had been feeling about choosing to start our badly needed sabbatical in a completely different land and culture with no tour guide. Kirsten’s word about “having fun” helped settle us, but still, we wondered, “Would it be restful?” For starters, we weren’t sure how we would get to our little guesthouse in Seoul’s Gangnam district, (made famous by Psy’s satirical K-pop hit, “Gangnam Style”). It was a long ways away and we had different transportation options at varying costs – such as, bus, train, or taxi. Almost inexplicably, we received a note a day or two before our departure from a young woman, KyungJin, who had come to VEV for five months in 2013. We had practically lost contact, but, I received a surprise email note from her stating she had heard we were coming and that she wanted to meet us at the airport. Sure enough, she was there! c:\users\gordie\skydrive\pictures\camera roll\20150407_115211569_ios.jpg

This was the welcome we received from KyungJin, our “Angel of Seoul.”
I can’t describe the emotional and spiritual “sigh of relief” I took when I saw her. She helped us get our transit cards and loaded them both with enough of her own money to cover our transit for much of the month in Korea. We hadn’t asked her to meet us. We hadn’t asked anyone to meet us at the airport – as it was a long ways away for our students, many of whom lived in other cities, and it would have been too costly in time and money to expect anyone to do so. Yet, there she was!

She helped us catch our much-preferred mode of transport to the Gangnam Guesthouse – a bus, by which we could see the sites and wonders of this new world we had entered. She helped settle us into our Korean guesthouse and took us out to one of the many classy Korean coffee shops. We soon began calling her, “the Angel of Seoul.” For the rest of the journey we received texts in the morning from her asking, “Did you sleep well?” How are you today?” “Is everything ok?” She sent us reminders and made countless detail arrangements for us like transport, hotels and car insurance. She rescued us when we were lost. Almost intuitively she would show up unannounced, but right on time in the busy markets of Seoul. She provided translation help, even by phone sometimes, when we were stuck. She leant us her cellphone, camera, selfie-stick and was literally “on call” for us 24/7 for our whole time in Korea. She bought our DMZ/North Korean border tour. Her remarkable sacrifice for us served to make our trip, both a remarkable adventure and a superb rest. Over and over again, we were humbled by the generosity and thoughtfulness of this angel of God. And, to top it all off, when we were about to depart from Korea, she gave us a love package full of Korean tea and snacks for every member of VEV, including the kids!

First Journal Entry – the Third Day

Even though we had arrived in Seoul on Tuesday evening, April 7, my first journal entry wasn’t until Friday morning, the 10th. Here’s a paraphrase of what I wrote:

It’s been an unbelievable, incredible, indescribable first few days. Seoul is such a remarkable fusion of ancient and future, with gadgets so high tech, I am constantly asking for instructions on how to do something as basic as turn on the lights. Yet, to the backdrop of striking modern skyscrapers with architecture and design I have never seen in North America, there are temples, monasteries, and traditional “hanok” villages that showcase a way of life that stretches back thousands of years.

On our first day in Seoul, we toured the Gyeongbokgung Palace – which, for millennia, have housed royal families of the Choson dynasty. On the second day, we visited Namsan Mountain and Seoul Tower – watching soldiers in traditional Choson regalia put on a spectacular display of ribbon dancing, drama, and sword play with lots of action, humor and interaction with the audience. This included me being summoned out of the crowd to charge a bamboo pool with an ancient spear. After four lame attempts from previous volunteers, I was ready to show them how it was done! I took the spear and with a loud war cry, charged the bamboo pole to the great delight and roaring laughter of the huge crowd! Later that night, we took in the spectacular Nanta show, an Asian version of “Stomp,” complete with interactive singing, drumming, dancing, remarkable acrobatics, all the while, the actors were slicing and dicing food – yes, food was flying everywhere! What an artistic treat! c:\users\gordie\skydrive\pictures\camera roll\20150409_061004089_ios.jpg

We felt immersed in a different world which provided a complete break for our minds, our spirits, and even our bodies. It was like God provided us with a general “spiritual anesthesia” through the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and sensations of a completely different land and people. Not surprisingly, as we had done with all our Korean homestay students whom we had hosted back in Canada, we quickly fell completely in love with this little country where they had come from – its land, its culture, its food, and most of all, its people. So beautiful. As Kirsten said, “Have fun,” and, oh, did we ever!

We Finally Meet Up With A Homestay Daughter!

On our third day, we finally met one of our delightful homestay daughters, Eunsoo, of whom I wrote on my last blog. We had a joyous reunion at Insa Station in Gangnam. We had so much fun together in Gangnam. She took us for lunch. She filmed us in our infamous impression of “Gangnam Style” street dancing, laughing hysterically while she did so. We visited the spectacular Gothic Catholic Cathedral in the Myong Dong district, and later, we finally had the joy of meeting her beautiful parents, who hosted us to an exotic meal in the heart of the Myong Dong market district. Oh the food, they kept bringing more and more! Oh the setting, indescribable! Yet, the most moving moment for us was meeting Eunsoo’s parents. Eunsoo’s mom became a follower of Jesus and started attending church around the same time that Eunsoo joined us here at VEV. Remarkable. She looked at us with tears in her eyes and said, “Why did you love our daughter so much?” She cried and they hugged us when it was time to say, “Goodbye,” and we have continued to stay in touch. Friends for life, and eternity.

In all of this, I heard Jesus saying to us, “Thank you for the seeds you have sown, for the love you have poured out.” I felt him pouring back into us, washing our feet, tending to our wounds incurred over years. He doesn’t forget.

Overwhelmed and at Rest

On our last day of our first week in Seoul, we rested in the morning, and in the afternoon, visited another famous market district called Insadong. We watched lots of passionate protests and marches – against nuclear weapons, and against North Korea’s oppression of religious and political prisoners.

Again, KyungJin, our amazing Angel of Seoul, was marvelous. What can we say? She again showed up in the middle of Insadong Market. She took us for tea at a Korean traditional teahouse five stories tall, where we looked out over the busy market below, while we savoured the flavours of Korean tea. We walked the Cheongyechong at night time – a human-made waterway through the city centre of Seoul. She then treated us to another delicious Korean dinner.

We had only been in Seoul for four days and I felt like the “not yet” had become “the already” and that time had mystically merged with eternity. KyungJin was such a huge part of that. Of course, she again refused to let us pay for anything that day. She accompanied us home in the cab and paid for our cab ride. Beautiful Angel of Seoul, messenger from God. He sent her to us as an instrument of his immeasurable grace, kindness, and generosity. We had no words – and we still don’t. We were, and are still, overwhelmed. We had entered deeply into the heart and spirit of what it means to be on sabbatical. We were at rest.

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