photos by Josh Anway
Erin Rodenbiker and Heather Juul went on a cross-cultural immersion trip to South Korea in September, a requirement for the Master of Divinity program at Seattle Pacific Seminary (SPS). We asked them to reflect on the new perspectives they gained during their time abroad.
Erin Rodenbiker: Heather, can you believe that our Korea trip was four months ago?
Heather Juul: What? Have we been back four months? With PSY’s “Gangnam Style” 1 on Glee, Ellen, and seemingly everywhere else, it almost feels like we never left Seoul.
ER: Yeah, between that and the early-morning prayer gathering a few students at SPS started, Korea is sticking with me really well too. We meet for early-morning prayer at 6am, and that is early, but just once a week, rather than daily like we did in Korea.
HJ: Wow. I’m glad some of you are continuing morning prayer. I’d like to say that graduating and working at UPC prevent me from joining you, but really it’s the 6am thing. When we were in Korea I was always sleepy during prayer, but that might have been the jet lag.
ER: There is something to the early morning commitment. I can’t say that I have always been conscious of it, but it is quite a beautiful way to start the day.
HJ: I miss the Korean prayer style. It was freeing to be able to pray aloud, while everyone else is also praying out loud, actually yelling the names of God. It was pretty shocking the first time I heard hundreds of seminary students shouting “Juuyo” (주여). 2 But after a while I got used to the fervent shouting prayers. Even now, several months after we came back, praying silently just seems way too quiet.
ER: The church in Korea is so committed to Christian practices. During my homestay with a seminary student we spent the whole weekend at church—Saturday from 10am-10pm and Sunday 7am-6pm. I mean, I like church—I am a seminary student—but when is brunch and football?
HJ: I totally know what you mean. During my homestay I attended a Friday night service that went late into the evening. And then on Sunday I attended three services and two meals with church staff. Then I felt bad that I missed two additional services and street evangelism in the afternoon.
ER: I think it’s our own cultural bias to think this is a lot, but the church community is at the center of social life in Korea, and all people are helping the church function. In Seattle it’s something I squeeze in for an hour and 20 minutes one day of the week—or skip altogether. Korea taught me a lot about being a part of a church.
HJ: Church certainly is the social event of the week for most Christian Koreans. The seminary students that were our guides to Korean society, culture, and theology spend a lot of time at church, chapel, and in prayer. This does not seem to be a burden for them, but rather a joy. These students loved taking us to local restaurants or to get ice cream, but my favorite time was when we spent an entire afternoon singing hymns and worship songs with them.
ER: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has haunted me ever since we sang it in Korea. It pops up in Sunday worship, American Idol, blogs, Sufjan Stevens concerts. It follows me like Casper. Or in this case I should probably say the Holy Ghost.
HJ: “Come Thou Fount” has a whole new meaning for me too. I remember when all six of us Seattle seminary students sang it with the Korean students in English and Korean. Clara, one of the Korean students said, “Now I feel like we are one.” It was like our hearts, despite all the language barriers and differences, had been tuned together to sing the graces of God.
ER: So well said! We exchanged our cultural gifts of song—same tune, different language. That has been such an important theme since returning from Korea. Just as the song lasts, so too does our common faith and community in Jesus all over the globe. The immersion trip was not about us giving, but rather receiving from the people who welcomed us into their lives.
1. For those not in the know, “Gangnam Style” is a hit song (and accompanying dance move) by PSY (Park Jae-sang), a Korean entertainer. It was voted MTV’s Viral Sensation of the Year. The video is nearing 1 billion views on YouTube.
2. One of the Korean names for the Christian God.