Starting out our Mission Team experience in Seoul at the Metropolis was nice. We were there to help teach English at a camp hosted by the Church, and being at the Metropolis enabled us to get our lessons together. It also afforded us some time to see a little bit of the city. Most importantly, it was good to get to know His Eminence and Athanasia (who helped coordinate the entire camp).
We headed to Chuncheon on Sunday, and that’s when things really started. We had 34 kids for 11 days. Our typical day consisted of getting up at 7:30am, Church Service and Bible Lesson at 8:00am, Breakfast at 8:45am, 1st English Lesson Hour at 9:30am, 2nd English Lesson Hour at 10:30am, 3rd English Lesson Hour at 11:30am (which was learning English songs), next was lunch, then the activity of the day, which consisted of everything from discussions with the Bishop to watching the Junior Olympics to boating in little Swan boats (and much more, of course).
Dinner was always good and needed. There was an entire team of women who took good care of us and cooked fantastic Korean food. After dinner we had some free time and would sometimes watch the older boys put on funny skits. At 8:00pm we would have an evening service; it was always candlelit and beautiful with all the children chanting. We wouldn’t just leave the church though; we’d all kneel down after service and take as much time as needed to pray before getting the Bishop’s blessing and heading into the night. Of course, with 34 kids the peace of that service didn’t last too long. The kids spent the rest of the evening playing (we couldn’t wear them out!!!) until bedtime at 11 (and you know that’s an arbitrary number). Whew, I’m getting tired just telling you all about our days!
God really blessed me with the lesson of communicating love without words. At first it was hard seeing the Korean teachers become close with the children when I just couldn’t. Some of the kids became pretty frustrated not being able to speak to me. However, through the week I started finding that a head rub, a pat on the back, or charades were good ways to show what I couldn’t say. There was one little boy who spoke some Korean but was Russian. The only English he really knew was “Teacher” and “I am Russian.” One day we caught dragonflies and frogs together, and after that he would come running to me every time he caught a spider or some other little creepy-crawly. That was so special for me. One little girl and I had our own little sign language taking place. Somehow we really understood each other. One of the most beautiful moments of non-verbal communication was the night His Eminence taught us how to make komboskini (prayer rope). I remember distinctly sitting between a Russian lady and a Korean lady, and some how we all shared our triumphs and failures without words.
His Eminence didn’t just stress knowing the parables or learning English: he focused on being a Christian in every aspect of our lives. He taught the children (and really, us adults, too) how to live together, how to love each other, how to deal with conflicts, and how to play together. He made sure we understood how important it was to act as a family. We broke the kids out into teams, and each team had a team chant. At first none of the teams really wanted to do their chants, but some of the more outgoing boys started doing everyone’s chant. It was so funny, especially when they imitated the girls’ groups, and by the end of the camp every team was doing every chant together (and each time it was just as funny as the last).
His Eminence, Father Jeramiahs, and the Deacons didn’t just preach–they also practiced their preaching. After every meal they would vacuum, clean up crumbs, or put on an apron and some gloves and clean dishes. What great examples they were! They also got involved in games with the children. We also learned from them a tradition of asking forgiveness from our family members on the eve of Holy Communion. This was such a beautiful idea that my husband and I have started doing it at home, too. One thing the Bishop said in regards to going to confession or not eating before receiving was, “If they don’t learn it here, where will they learn it?” He was a great teacher.
Korea is an interesting country. It’s so lush and green and the mountains just jut out of the landscape. The people are good, spiritual people. His Eminence really emphasized how beautiful and important the Korean culture is. He showed that Orthodoxy and the Korean culture can really exist together. They actually have a CD out now of Korean chanting. I’m not an expert, but I’ve heard it’s a bit of a mixture between the Byzantine and Russian styles, while also incorporating Korean traditional instruments. His Eminence wrote a very nice foreword in the CD jacket explaining how the two are joined. It’s beautiful!
by Mission Team Member Meredyth (Sophia) Houpos