I had never been challenged in this way by the church in England, where things are more about experiencing tradition as opposed to experiencing relationships.
Essay By Tom White
On January 2011, I touched down in Busan and was swiftly ushered through customs, tossed into the back of a van, and driven across the Geoga Bridge to Geoje Island. Like any good job in Korea, I was thrown straight into the mix at school off the back of a twenty-odd hour flight.
Nine hours later, I was staring into the bottom of my first shot of soju. The Korean party had started! After a night of constantly falling in and out of sleep in my dive of a motel room, I was back at school the next day ready to do it all over again.
My school issued me a desk between two Americans. On my left was a guy, Jonas, a certified math teacher and Christian author. On my right was Tara, an ex Peace Corps member, who had lost her Christian identity after three straight years of partying.
The first few months passed and were a bit of a blur. Geoje is a beautiful island, but it has a dark side. It is home to Samsung Heavy Industries, which employs hundreds of wealthy westerners on short and medium term contracts. Most of its employees are middle-aged men who were away from their families for months at a time.
Driven by boredom and their penises, there was an ever-growing demand for Filipino hookers and the island is full of them, all trafficked here illegally on “singing” or entertainment visas to satisfy Samsung’s dishonorable personnel. I lost count of the number of times I walked down the street and saw a fifty-something year old guy arm-in-arm with a girl in her twenties. There was always awkward tension as we crossed paths, with no one really wanting to make eye contact.
I had enough of rubbing shoulders with these perverts, and in a sense I was approving their wrongdoing by downing Jäger Bombs that they had bought for me. I began to question what made their behavior wrong. I mean, it’s obvious that it was wrong, but who sets the rules?
I woke up on Easter Sunday hung-over as usual, but obliged to go to church since Jonas was preaching that day. Tara knocked on my door and woke me up and we headed out, neither of us too enthused. But, what the hell, I was pretty used to going to church with my parents on the “big” occasions.
Neither of us were particularly blown away by the message, but a fire had definitely been stoked a little in Tara’s heart and I was curious to know more. She was able to provide clear, concise reasons why she had been a Christian growing up; something I had never encountered in England where the average age of a churchgoer is about sixty-five and the guy at the front wears a dress.
I decided to pick up a Bible and give the book of Matthew a read, my main focus being on getting to know who Jesus was. I coupled this with watching some online sermons that Tara hooked me up with and started to attend Jonas’ church more regularly. I wasn’t necessarily looking to believe in anything, but I began to realize that discovering if Jesus was telling the truth or not is of the utmost importance to anyone.
I had never been challenged in this way by the church in England, where things are more about experiencing tradition as opposed to experiencing relationships. For the first time, I came to the conclusion that rationality is just one finger of a whole hand (along with things like logic, morality, spirituality etc) of explanations that this world gives for our existence. I was intrigued enough to dig a little deeper. As I continued to be challenged by the Word, I started to notice that the promises offered by God were coming true in my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was to become a Christian and devote my life to Christ shortly after.
Fast-forward to March 2012 and I got a job in Seoul. This time, instead of being presented with a shot of soju on arrival, the woman I was replacing asked me, “Are you a Christian?” Her name was Tanya. She was an Aussie and came across as very outspoken so I did not intend on following her up on the invitation she extended to go to her church.
Two days later, it was Sunday and I decided to go and look for a church in Gangnam that I had read about online. Trying to make it in time for their 12 o’clock service, I bundled through the doors around 12:05 and was seated to the right side of the stage. As the music played and people sang, my eyes scoured the room searching for any potential friends. Finally, they landed upon a familiar face… Tanya! “What on earth was she doing here?” I thought. It was then that I realized I had gone into the wrong church (or had I?).
The message that day was called “Rejoice In Repentance,” and was preached by New Harvest Ministry’s (NHM) lead pastor, Doug. It was very timely for me as I was coming into a period in my Christian walk where I was becoming more aware of sin in my life, but not really sure how to combat it. Doug was to become a great friend and mentor to me (as did Tanya), with one of the main aims of the church to follow The Great Commission and “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Like a lot of churches in Korea, NHM is extremely passionate about investing into its members’ lives. Of course, you can just show up on a Sunday and that’s it, but there is also the opportunity to meet like-minded, open, honest people of all ages that are willing to share in the joys and struggles of living abroad. It was my first chance to really be able to experience Christian community and hear other believers’ points of view.
NHM also provides a nine-month Discipleship Training program, which assists Christians in reading through the entire Bible and teaches on church leadership principles. My application was accepted and it was through that program that I was able to discover that the God described in the Bible is still very much the same God today. In our church, we have been fortunate enough to encounter prophecy (prediction of the future), answered prayer, overnight healing of incurable diseases, among many other “unexplainable” things.
Recently, I hosted a fundraising event to raise awareness on sex trafficking. God was using my experience on Geoje Island as a way to stoke my own fire and bring positivity and enlightenment to dark areas. I continue to feel a strong conviction to tell as many people as possible about the modern day slavery that occurs in most of the sex industry, in the hope that one-day, we, as a people, are able to end it.
By God’s grace I was able to meet him despite rocking up to church hung-over every week, but I don’t think that same grace would have been afforded to me had I continued down that path. The turning point came when Jesus went from just a revolutionary historic figure in my mind, to the love of my life. I would encourage anyone to ask themselves question, “Who was Jesus?”
Christianity in Korea has completely changed my outlook on life. No longer do I just “live for the weekend”, but I live for Jesus. Every day I want to become more like him. Sometimes it feels like an uphill trudge as opposed to a downhill glide, but I have peace in the knowledge that I know I am heading in the right direction. In a country full of sex, soju and surgery (not to mention nuclear threats), I have never slept easier. And that girl I mentioned before, Tara… she is also now living for the Lord and we are going to be married on August 8th. God is good!
For more information or advice on churches in Seoul, feel free to get in touch with Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org