My Trip to Korea was a Treasure
by Korinna Garbis
My trip on an OCMC Mission Team to Korea had the ingredients of a wonderful adventure: one part do-good, mixed in with one part spiritual journey. Words don’t seem to adequately describe the sheer joy I experienced in Korea, or the love I feel for my Korean family. My experience was very personal and in hindsight seemed to be something I worked toward my whole life without even knowing it.
I loved the Korean culture, and I loved the Korean people. While the Japanese culture gets the credit for Sumo Wrestling, Origami, Tempura, Sushi, Pagodas, and fan dancing, the Koreans have their own similar versions. The Korean culture is more familiar than I originally anticipated and left me wondering if they conceived of some of these beloved treasures. Most importantly, I fell in love with the children I taught. They were bright, inquisitive, fun, sweet, and respectful. Every day was great in Korea, which was probably why it was so hard to leave.
Korea is an industrialized country with hard working people, efficient transportation systems, and a strong economy. The country has been able to rebound economically after struggling to overcome the ravages of centuries of wars and what the children simply described to me as their “sad history.” Father Alexandros, the priest from the church in Busan, explained to me that the children are the best natural resource their country has. Anything they can do to improve their children’s future success is important. Learning the English language from a native speaker is a marketable asset for the Church to offer, and I was happy to help in any way I could.
I never expected to meet a family of friends in Korea. I walked my path to the church in Busan everyday with an amazing new friend. My fellow mission team member was a warm, knowledgeable, and helpful theology student. She answered my questions about Orthodox theology, which helped fulfill an educational component of my journey. That, along with the devotion and love of the people I met in Busan, helped to solidify my faith even more than I could have anticipated.
I was welcomed into this refreshing community with bright smiles and open arms. The Busan church has a nucleus of members including Father Alexandros, his wife Presbytera Patapia, teachers at the school, children, and other parishioners. They routinely attend church, share meals together, help one another, sing in the choir, and all work toward the same goal: serving God through serving others. There is no pretense here, just goodness. These people go out of their way for one another happily, and they did so for us. They came to trust us and let us into their world, which is a haven. I never wanted to leave.
Most of the people that I worked with at the church attended the daily services along with their families. They sang in the choir. They help their neighbors. After liturgy on Sundays they have a big Korean-style family lunch the church provides. It’s a good opportunity for everyone to be together. Afterward there are Bible studies for children and adults, and the smaller children are looked after. It’s all figured out.
Every morning we’d wake up, get ready, and go to church. At the church building, you could feel sustained all day and never need to leave. The actual church is on the fourth floor, a general recreation room is on the third floor, classrooms for the pre-school are on the second floor, and a kitchen and dining area are on the first. We would attend church in the mornings to start the day off right. When adults weren’t present to offer the responses of the “people” during the service, the older children would do so beautifully in Korean.
Our daily routine included an English language camp during the first week, and then assisting with the regular pre-school the second week. There were classes and activities for the children throughout the day. The children were meticulous artists and wonderful singers and dancers. Aside from their academic work, the pre-school students learned how to perform Korean fan dances and Korean drum routines. By 5:00pm children headed home. The teachers were bright, enthusiastic, wonderful caretakers of the children. They gave 100% every day. It was inspiring. Thereafter, the teachers cleaned up the school. The whole school is scoured top to bottom. Finally, after over a week of being there, I was able to convince the teachers they should let me take part in this afternoon ritual. It felt good to do something so small for them, especially after seeing how hard they work to instruct the children so well. In the evening we often had another church service, or some straggling kids left to entertain, followed by dinner prepared by Presbytera or some of the teachers.
The food we were provided was fresh and local. Busan is known for its fresh seafood. The children ate healthfully, and if they wanted seconds they were happily given. The children didn’t seem to have the type of body image and food issues that American kids do. They are happy just being, and it was refreshing to see.
I felt so accepted by the Busan church and so appreciated for simply being myself. What little I had to give they were happy to receive. I appreciated the opportunity to be a part of a close traditional Orthodox community. I’m enthusiastic about any opportunity to speak at length about the Korean Orthodox Church and the people I met and easily grew to love. I knew almost as soon as I arrived that I wouldn’t be able to stay away for long. I look forward to seeing my friends again soon and to helping to teach their children again.
The only concern I had about going on this OCMC Team was trying to determine what I had to offer. This was a teaching trip, and I am not a teacher. I’m a businesswoman, and I couldn’t immediately wrap my head around what my skill sets had to offer. But after I was there, I began to realize I was trying too hard. All I needed I had the whole time, and I am fortunate enough to have a lot of it. Since I’ve been given a lot of love, I had a lot to give. I could show my love by playing with the children, making them laugh and patiently teaching easy things like their letters, numbers, colors, etc. I could smile, laugh and give a big hug. I could hold their hand or play “Duck Duck Goose” with them. I could throw them up in the air and spin them around. And so I did. And that was enough.
The important thing to note is that everyone has something to give, even if they don’t realize it. Presbytera and I discussed this in detail, and it provided me the encouragement I was looking for. She was so helpful and always gave wonderful advice. When I shared with her that I wasn’t sure how my future career path would satisfy my desire to passionately serve our world in some grand way, she quieted me. She told me to remember that people can give in different ways, including their time, talents or treasure. Each is important, and having a solid career can lead someone to provide a great deal to the world. She made me promise I would work hard to build my company, and she is praying for me to do so.
Many people talk about fate as though it’s magic or luck. They think things seem to work themselves out in the cleverest of ways because fate made it so. As I get older, I realize that blessings are the only reason why things happen. By traveling to Korea, I was offered the blessing of a lifetime. I continue to immediately disregard any thanks that I am offered for going to Korea, because I was the one who benefited immensely from the experience.
My being in Korea allowed me to take a break from my day-to-day thoughts and responsibilities. All I had to focus on was the children and church. It was perfect. And amidst that focus there were certain moments of clarity that I couldn’t deny. It was the push I needed to re-center myself. I feel more at peace with my life after going on this trip. Being halfway across the world provided me with an opportunity to reexamine my choices with fresh perspective, and I feel I have a renewed purpose and appreciation for the many opportunities I have in my life.