Monday, October 28, 2013

Borders

Hello all,

 I have been thinking a lot about borders lately. Most of the time they are imaginary lines that divide one people from another. An arbitrary division that creates at least two things, an idea of “us” and “them”, and a sense of entitlement based on where we fall within these strange lines.

I have been thinking a lot about borders while living in Seoul. I first realized this while I was riding a super cramped subway. A seat opened up, but I hesitated to take it, not because there was an old woman or a disabled man, but because I thought to myself “I’m an American, what right do I have to a seat on a Korean subway”. I am entitled to these things in the U.S. but not here. Then I got to thinking, what entitles then to these things and me to American things? Sure, I grew up in a place, paid my taxes, was educated in a particular system, and maybe even contributed something to society. But what entitled me to these things? I haven’t come up with a good answer. The best I have is that I somehow hit the genetic lottery. I was fortunate enough to be born on one side of a border rather than the other. 

These thoughts about borders were going through my mind as I headed North out of Seoul on Monday towards Yangpyeong to attend the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace forum on migrant workers. This conference did a lot to reinforce these questions. For a brief background, ACRP is an inter religious group from 16 countries in Asia working together to promote peaceful society with a special focus on the role that religion can and should play within society.

My work for this meeting was to record the conversations, take notes during all the discussions, and help draft the mission statement for the conference.

Here is a brief summary of the issues migrants face:

We acknowledge that migrants are forced to adapt rapidly to linguistically, socially, culturally, and religiously, often being asked to leave their own identities behind. Migrants are often poor and uneducated and their employment in receiving countries is usually difficult manual labor. Physical and spiritual abuse from employers is rampant as migrants do not understand their rights or have no legal rights because of illegal status. Families of migrants who are left in the home country are subject to financial distress, struggles with changing family values, dependence on foreign income, increased materialism, and the disintegration of the family unit. Government policies do not adequately protect migrants and often contribute to their exploitation.

There is additionally the issue of racism and exclusionism in receiving countries, even those in which to work of the migrant has become a vital part of economic stability.

The discussion of these issues led me back to my question about borders. What made any one of us entitled to all that we have? Sure, many of us have worked hard for what we have. We have given a day’s labor and in return received a day’s wage. But what entitles us to live in a society where this just treatment exists? What about the migrant population who give a day’s work without receiving a day’s wage? Have we done something to deserve this when they do not? I was born on the correct side of a line and they were not. I am entitled to justice and they are not.

Religions, I think, have a unique role to play in this issue because they can provide a key part of a person’s identity, separate from that of nationality and ethnicity. Though everything else around them might be changed, if there is a place to practice their own religion, at least some part can remain in tact. Furthermore, though the countries sending and receiving migrants might be at odds with one another causing problems for the migrants, religious organizations are able to united across borders to provide aid. This is true even of different religions. As one chairman put it, “We cannot unite under the same doctrine, so let us unite in serving our poor neighbors.” Religions seem to understand that people are deserve the same justice, even when they are of different cultures.

But, while I was sitting in the room, attempting to facilitate communication between these diverse leaders, it seemed for a moment that borders mattered a whole heck of a lot. Thos invisible lines could make all the difference in the way a person thought, dressed, behaved, and believed. Yet, they were sitting down with one another to make hard decisions about implementing programs and setting standards for religious communities and organization to follow in their work with migrants. Earnestly evaluating what worked and what didn’t work in one another’s programs. And I was struck by something. Borders can inform our culture, heritage, and identity, but they cannot define what is means to be treated justly and with basic human dignity. There is no border for this except the one that surrounds mankind. This is the border that all these diverse leaders were working within. They were able to simultaneously acknowledge and respect the land borders that made them different from one another and the larger border of humanity that entitles a person to an honest days wage for an honest days work.



Oh, and did I mention that I got to wear one of those translation earpieces like they have at the U.N. and it was kind of a super awesome dream come true.

Or that I took like a million pictures and they all disappeared off my camera so all I have are the crummy ones from my phone. Enjoy Anyhow.

My awesome hotel room, featuring traditional Korean floor sleeping.

Cultural visit day. Left to right we have a Korean Buddhist Monk , a Filipino priest who lives in Hong Kong, an Irish Priest and Professor, a Catholic Filipino professor, a Filipino woman who advocates for migrant rights, myself, a Japanese Buddhist Reverend, a priest from Myanmar, and another Filipino Catholic Professor. Awesome getting to travel with and learn from these amazing people.

Our group touring the Anglican Cathedral.

The Catholic Cathedral which we also toured.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

English Mission

Hello All,

I recently saw a report from psychologists about the four “B”s provided by religion, believing, bonding, behaving, and belonging. Living as a foreigner in Korea, it is the first time in my life that the last one, belonging, has been a primary concern. So, I would like to take a moment to exalt a community here that I have the blessing of belonging to, the English mission congregation of the Seoul Anglican Cathedral. First, let me honestly confess that when I first heard about this part of my placement, I was less than thrilled. I thought to myself, I have come all the way around the world to learn and work in a new culture and here I am stuck working with the English-speaking mission. I figured that if I were going to teach Sunday school, I could have saved a lot of money and trouble and maybe even do a better job staying in the United States.

Then, I met the community and realized that we had come together in community because every last one of us needed to belong somewhere. We are a diverse congregation. When I heard “English mission”, in traditional American fashion, I heard “American mission”. Well no, we are a congregation of Americans, Canadians, Australians, British, Koreans, Chinese, Nigerians, Germans, and others. I feel that this makes our church a very honest one. There is no rush during the service. We are not a group brought up in the same church with the same language. We do not hurdle through the prayers at creeds at breakneck speed so we can finish up and go home. We couldn’t do this if we wanted to as many of us aren’t even native English speakers. When someone who is not a native speaker reads the Bible, no one is impatient. In fact, one can physically feel the support of the congregation, patiently listening to the word of God. The Word was in the beginning, before there was language, and this feeling of a communal understanding that transcends language is ever present in our little church through the Holy Spirit. This is where I get my sense of belonging. Not belonging as an American among Americans, or even as a foreigner among foreigners, but as a person of God among people of God. And sure, sometimes during announcement time, the same announcement gets made more than once, sometimes directly after another person makes it. One choice Sunday I heard the same announcement made three times. And sure, we don’t know whether to start from the back or the front of the church when we go forward for communion. Often times we just kind of go in masse whenever we feel like it. And sure, with our limited resources someone considered me of all people as a good candidate for Sunday school. But this rag tag group of people has reminded me what is essential in a church. It is not the precise language of the prayers, and frankly, it doesn’t really matter if you can understand all the words or not. It is that we see in one another a need. We need to belong, to have support while we are far away from home, whether for one week on business or for the rest of our lives. And, seeing this need in one another, we do not shy away because of our differences in language culture, age, or education, instead we throw ourselves forward to meet this need in others. We see need and we do everything we can to meet it. This is the meaning of Christianity I have discovered for myself in Korea. Looking at the Bible, it really makes a lot of sense; I guess I just never thought Christianity would involve speaking so slowly or using so much pantomime.

This last Sunday, we had a parish outing to Ganghwa Island where we picnicked and visit the oldest Anglican Church in Korea. Enjoy the pictures of this unique community doing what we do best. 

Thanks for Reading!



Our amazing and super huge potluck lunch




The Korean women of English Mission

"WE'RE TOUCHING THE ROOF! WE'RE TOUCHING THE ROOF!"


Sunday School kiddos minus three.

Gate to the oldest Anglican Church in Korea

Build my missionaries in the style of a traditional Buddhist temple.


English Mission Group Photo

Altar of the oldest Anglican Church in Korea

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