Thanks for your faith and support for our 2019 August Mission Trip to South Korea. There was a lot of up and downs, but good in the end. Here’s a summary of what we did this trip to strengthen the church in the arts and the lessons we learned:
Week 1 Learning about the culture and mural in the countryside by Ritchie Kong
We started by meeting up with Janet aka ‘Smashed Saint’ who is a poet in our ministry, Urban Arts Outreach, who moved from California to South Korea a few years ago to do mission work full-time. We met her at Ocean City Church where she serves as a worship leader. Ocean City is a multi-cultural church (taught in English and Korean) in the heart of the student district of Seoul. After service and over a hot tofu meal she talked to me about the state of Christianity in South Korea.
Because the peninsula is cut off by North Korea, South Korea is kind of like an island with limited resources. The limited resources make people anxious, hustling to be the best and putting high expectations of performance on the youth. In addition, some churches are led by pastors that are not called to pastor but instead got into it as a profession during the recession, which has led to a lot of young people burning out without proper care and disliking the church.
This is why we believe arts are needed, to not only relevantly connect those with the church again, but also to provide rest from all the social pressure, because a culture of overwhelming input needs a space for output! People need rest, not more things to do. As Christians, we don’t win people over by better events, cooler artwork, and fancy words, but by love and trust in Jesus who handles our burdens. Little did we know we were about to be tested on this!
The next day we went to some stores to buy art supplies and paint. Although Janet had a lot to do at home and was recovering from being sick, she drove us a few hours over to the countryside of Korea called Cheungju to work on a mural for a school. The people we met there were very hospitable, but unfortunately with Janet having to go back to Seoul, this was the hardest part of our trip. We now had no translator, humid weather over 100 degrees without shade, and the plans had changed a lot. What we thought was going to be a small mural on the side of a building became three times as big on the front side of the building. Ritchie who planned out the mural project was very flexible and worked with all the changes given by the principal of the school even though we didn’t speak the language. With his leadership, it took us only a few days to paint the whole thing.
While Ritchie was finishing up the project on the last day, he got a chance to hang out with a North Korean defector who lived in the area and started a café next to the school. You would think he would talk about how bad it was in North Korea, but surprisingly he spoke of how he missed it and how quiet and simple life was there. Now looking back at it, ironically, it seemed like the things he missed from there were the things God was showing us was missing from South Korean culture. The lesson he shared with Ritchie was that no human made society is perfect.
Week 2 Connecting with local artists in Seoul
After the mural, we went back to the city to recover. After it was apparent our original plans to host a church block party was cancelled, I decided to make new plans and contact people online to see if we could help local Christian's in Seoul's hip-hop scene. I met a rapper named Rhino who worked as a full time missionary to many countries around the world. He said recently he felt that God was not letting him go on mission again to Brazil because of family health issues which he was very sad about. After we sat down and talked about hip-hop ministry and the PEACE Plan (Saddleback Church’s mission strategy), he said it helped him see he could do mission at home in Seoul through the arts. He connected us to some graffiti writers and Ritchie and them did a collaboration mural at a popular graffiti tunnel in the center of the city. The next day I hung out with Rhino again and talked about the Purpose Driven Church model. Afterwards he said that he now understood that the South Korean church was good at mission but was lacking in growing their members and serving at home. Since leaving Korea I have kept in touch with Rhino to see if we could help him start a safe space for the arts.