On Wednesday mornings, I wake up unafraid. The only day of the week when I feel that I am free from making mistakes, free from guilt, and free from the shame that I feel everyday in a foreign country. That deep sinking part of myself that says I’m not good enough, the part that has, incidentally, gotten louder since I have gotten quieter. Around eleven I step through the doors of Living Together and I am greeted with warm welcomes, and hugs, and myself. It feels like sinking into a warm bath of Carlin after a week of living as my alter ego, “Carlin-that-everyone-wants-me-to-be”. Living Together is to me like that phone booth must have been to Clark Kent, I step inside and, suddenly, I am better than I could ever actually be.
Living together is an exceptional ministry of the Korean Anglican Church that serves the mentally handicapped. This philosophy of the organization is in its name, “Living Together”. The organization works on the belief that belonging to a community is a basic human need and a basic human right. Furthermore, they believe that this sense of community is only achieved when all members of the community have meaningful work and are able to contribute to the community.
This philosophy of building a community, teaching a man to fish rather than giving a man a fish, is accomplished in several ways. First of all, everyone in the community is referred to as “friend” or “chinggo” in Korea. Everyone, staff, cook, the mentally disabled, priests, and myself, everyone, as soon as they enter the building, is a friend. There is no distinction between those giving and those receiving. Everyone shares with one another. This is made possible by providing meaningful work for everyone to do. The organization supports itself through the work of the friends. This has come in the shape of a fully equipped woodshop, where the friends are taught and handle every step of production of items as small as their most popular holding crosses all the way up to the furniture that is used in the center. These are then sold around the country for profit. Additionally, for the friends that are not interested in woodcraft, there are other jobs brought in by other organizations such as assembling parts or stuffing envelopes. Everyone manages to find a job that is satisfying. I personally have found the sealing of envelopes to be a most satisfying and relaxing job. It reminds me of rolling silverware when I worked as a waitress. Don’t know why, but I love it. And finally, the organization makes good on its promise to live together. There is housing for a number of the men who need more attention on the second floor of the building. There are also three group homes. These homes are in apartment buildings in several locations in Seoul. The friends have their own place to make a home. And they love to show them off. I have had the privilege of being invited to these homes for the at home Bible studies that happen once a week. It has been a long time since I have been welcomed into someone’s home with such hospitality and warmth.
For my part, I can’t do a whole lot because I don’t speak Korean. But I am there, every Wednesday, maybe to teach a song in English, but mostly to be a part of a community, to sit and listen and talk. And talk we do, about everything from the president of Korea, to wrestling, to Beyonce, to Legos, and the finer points of woodcraft. I am there to be a part of a community, which means I help with the work, with the clean up, just like all the friends. It is great to feel like I can do no wrong. Not because I don’t make mistakes, trust me, my friends are more than willing to point out when my work has been sub-par, but because it is a community of people who rely on another as much as they are relied upon. It reminds me of the camp game where everyone is in a group and you have to find a way for everyone to sit on another persons lap. I’ll save you the trouble if you weren’t a camp kid. The solution is that you make a circle and everyone has to sit down simultaneously supporting the person in front of them and relying on the person behind them for support. And frankly, both of these feel good. It feels good to me to have someone support me, to be happy to see me when I walk through the door. And it feels good to be able to support another person as well, simply by being actively present as myself. I think this is the balance of an ideal community, the kind of joy that can only be found by truly living together.
Peace and Blessings,
P.S. This blog post is without photos for liability reasons.