How Was the Trip?

Whenever we return from traveling (or at the end of some important experience), we’ll commonly ask each other: How was the trip? It gives us an opportunity to reflect on things we enjoyed, things we didn’t enjoy, things we learned, and things we’ll carry with us forever.

Here at the end of our 10-week journey (i.e. parental leave), which involved going to Korea to get our baby and 8 weeks of creating a family with Ethan, it’s a good time for us to reflect on our trip.

General Highlights …

  • Time in Korea. We enjoyed our time there, experiencing a new culture.
  • Making new friends at the Korean Methodist churches, especially the small group with whom we spent our first evening with Ethan.
  • Spending time with Ethan, getting to know him, sometimes entertaining him, and many times being entertained.
  • Introducing Ethan to family and friends.
  • Completing our dissertations (mostly).
  • Memorializing this experience and inviting others on the journey with us, through this Web space.

We’re grateful for God’s incredible gifts to us. And we look forward continuing this journey with God and each other.

Korea Photo Gallery

Twenty-seven photos from our adventure to and from Korea (a small sampling of the 250 photos we took) have been posted on our Galleries page (there’s also a link at the top of the page).

Most of these photos are in addition to photos we posted while we were in Korea. Probably the best way to find those is to click on Cross-Cultural Experience in the sidebar (under categories) and browse through the posts in that category.

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to/from Korea. Something that turned out to be one of the biggest blessings was the computer in our room at the guest house — being able to connect with others and share the experience was a highlight.

That computer also allowed us to post photos while we were there, although it did take us a couple days to be able to do so. To use our card reader, we needed a USB slot, which was located on the back of the computer. I had to find the slot with my hand because I couldn’t pull the computer out far enough to see the slot.

Anyway, we hope you enjoy the photos and that they give you a greater sense of our adventure to/from Korea. You should be able to click on any of the photos, then click “Next” or “Previous” underneath each photo to click through all 27 photos.

Let us know if you have questions about any of the photos or about the trip, in general.

Thanks again for sharing the experience with us!

Rare Opportunities 2.0

While we were in Korea, we reported on our experiences with The Holy Flames Methodist Church (a congregation of around 2,000 people) and Kwanglim Methodist Church (which, we’re told is the largest Methodist Church in the world with a congregation of at least 70,000 people, although we’ve seen higher numbers online, too).

If you missed them, click here to read Rare Opportunities. You might also be interest in Our Amazing Korean Church Family.

Since then, we’ve wanted to come back and offer a little more reflection. It was a jam-packed day, so it was impossible to summarize in one post.

Our host/driver from Holy Flames picked us up at the SWS guest where we were staying at 7:30 am and brought us to the church where we attended multiple worship gatherings, including a couple prayer sessions that preceded various services/events.

After the young single adults service in the early afternoon, we were dropped off at Kwanglim around 3:30 pm for a tour of the facilities. They were wrapping up their day of worship gatherings as we arrived. Our guides at Kwanglim took us to dinner then returned us to the guest house around 7:30 pm, completing a full 12-hour day.

A few things especially stood out to us …

Hospitality
We were treated like dignitaries. We were introduced and asked to stand at every worship gathering. In a couple settings, we were asked to greet the people with the help of an interpreter (children’s worship and young single adults).

Guides
While at Holy Flames, we were provided a guide/interpreter to lead us from room to room for the various events. Our first guide had just returned from the US earlier that morning so he was very tired, but still very helpful. A second guide relieved the tired one and joined us for lunch and the young single adults gathering (she was a young single adult, herself). At Kwanglim, we had two guides, one of whom served as an interpreter. They also took us to dinner before returning us to our room.

Great Hosts
Our contact person is Korea was Rev. Jun, the senior pastor of Holy Flames. One of the pastors on his staff, Jung-Sun, served as our guide and host for the weekend. On Saturday, he and his family took us to Insa-dong, a major shopping district, and to tour a palace. On Tuesday, he and his wife took us to see North Korea (from a lookout in South Korea). We concluded our time with them at a small group meeting on Tuesday evening (during our first few hours with the baby). We very much enjoyed our time with Jung-Sun, his wife, and their two children!

Accommodating Senior Pastors
We have a high regard for both senior pastors we met in Korea, Yong Jai Jun (Holy Flames) and Chung Suk Kim (Kwanglim). They were both very welcoming and hospitable. They went out of their way to make our visits meaningful. Chung Suk, who literally met with us after a long day of worship gatherings, met with us on the spur of the moment. Even after we returned home, he emailed us to see how we were doing, attached a couple photos taken of us with him, and expressed a desire to meet with us again sometime in the future. Both top notch people, in our book.

Shoes off!
slippersFinally, on a lighter note, the practice of removing shoes, while not specific to the churches we attended, is a common practice in Korea, particularly when entering homes and some places of business. We noticed that when worship participants at Holy Flames walked onto the platform, they removed their shoes and put on a pair of slippers (see photo). People did not remove their shoes when entering the main worship sanctuary, but they did for the smaller prayer gatherings we attended. We also removed shoes in all of the homes we visited. BTW, if I go back to Korea, I’m taking slip-ons! 🙂

Holy Flames and Kwanglim are churches that are making a difference in a culture where following Christ is not necessarily easy. Click here to read about the history of Christianity in South Korea, which is still relatively young. Amazingly, though, South Korea (officially know as the Republic of Korea) is the second largest missionary-sending nation in the world.

As Joleen noted earlier, Jung-Sun attributed the growth of the Korean Church to prayer and small groups. We got to see both of those vital activities in practice. It was very inspiring!

Of course, the Korean Church is certainly not without its challenges. Some challenges we were made aware of include busyness (most of us in the States understand that one). A second one was more surprising to us. Korea’s fairly recent promotion of education has led to parents minimizing high school seniors’ church involvement, in lieu of preparing for college (in Korea, the senior year is the critical time for college prep).

We are grateful for the opportunity to have experienced a little bit of the Korean Church’s world while we were there. Please join us in praying for them, that God will use them in their work in Korea and around the world!

Mirror Fascination

One of the things I was fascinated by while we were in Korea was the special mirrors that were on many of the vehicles, mirrors I’d never seen before (see photos below).

And there’s a good reason for these mirrors — in the second largest metropolitan area in the world (with nearly 4 times as many people per square kilometer as New York City!), there’s not a lot of extra room for driving and/or parking.

We didn’t drive while we were in Korea, but we were in several vehicles driven by other people. We saw drivers get through some tight squeezes we never thought we would get through. They parked in places I never would have even attempted. Thus, the reason for these extra mirrors.

We came away thinking you’d have to have ice in your veins to drive in Seoul. One woman, one of our guides (and interpreter) at Kwanglim Methodist Church, who went to college in Australia and worked in Canada and recently returned to Seoul, told us that people say if you can drive in Seoul, you can drive anywhere!

Take a look at the mirrors in these photos. You can click on one of them and click “next” or “previous” below the photo to cycle through them. Also, look for my descriptions below.

What a Ride!

We did a couple things pretty regularly while we were in Korea: 1) check the blog for new comments, and 2) check our blog statistics.

We enjoyed reading the comments; it gave us a real sense that we were not alone while we were in Korea. And judging by some of the comments we’ve received, it helped others feel as if they were with us, too.

StatsBy checking our statistics, we’d knew how many “hits” or views our blog received each day. As you can see in the image here, our statistics really started climbing when we went to Korea and spiked on the days we met Ethan and brought him home. Not surprisingly, the blog’s biggest day was “gotcha day,” February 12 when the blog received 531 views.

To put that into perspective, our old blog (willis.blogs.com) received about 10,000 hits from January 2007 to January 2008 (about 30/day). This new blog (williswired.com) has received more than 3,600 in about a month (125/day).

As we said before, we blogged in Korea for a couple reasons: 1) to help friends and family experience this part of our journey with us, and 2) to be a resource for other adoptive families who may come across our blog (our blog statistics reveal that people come to our blog through Web searches related to adoption). At some point in the near future, we plan to post some lessons learned along the way that may be helpful to other adoptive families (especially those adopting from Korea).

Thanks for making this a more meaningul ride for us!

Our Amazing Korean Church Family

If you haven’t read the previous post (First Hours with Ethan) yet, please do so. In that post, I mentioned attending a small group gathering of people from The Holy Flames Methodist Church (BTW, the Methodist churches in Korea are part of the Korean Methodist Church; I’m not accidentally leaving out the word “United”).

Originally, we believed that we would visit Ethan Monday (we did). We also expected to pick up Ethan Thursday morning on our way to the airport. That changed Monday when we were told that we would get Ethan Tuesday afternoon. Because we thought we had Tuesday and Wednesday on our own, we had planned to use those days for our cross-cultural experience (CCE).

When we connected with Jung-Sun, our host from Holy Flames, we said we’d need to be back by 4:00 pm, thinking that would be the end of our CCE. However, we got the impression that it would have been insulting for us to cancel out on the family hosting the small group we were scheduled to attend this evening. So, we said we’d try.

Earlier in the day, our host family took us to the border with North Korea where we got to see North Korea from South Korea. We rushed back for our appointment to pick up Ethan and were actually a few minutes late due to the heavy Seoul traffic (I plan to write about driving/parking in Seoul, at some point in the future; there’s probably no place like it!).

IMG_0427When we picked up Ethan, our host family waited for us then drove us to their apartment for a few minutes (Ethan was still screaming, at this point). Around 6:00 pm, we walked to another church family’s apartment in a nearby apartment building where we were served an amazing home cooked Korean meal, which was an extra-special meal prepared for guests. And it was excellent!

After the meal, we went down a couple floors to another church family’s apartment where they conducted their small group meeting — reviewing Rev. Jun’s sermon from Sunday, responding to a few discussion questions, and then praying for one another.

IMG_0430They finished up a little early and surprised us with a cake to celebrate Ethan’s new life with us. It was a special time — a night we will *never* forget!

To be honest, I was concerned about sharing this night with anyone else. I thought I would rather have experienced this time with just the three of us. At the end of the day, though, I believe it was an incredible blessing from God. In a time of transition, they provided some familiarity — looks, language, and Korean food. They held him, fed him, and prayed for us. Our Korean church family is amazing, and we are grateful to God for blessing us with them!

Ironically, we came to Korea with for completely separate tasks — adoption (the main reason, of course) and our cross-cultural experience. Today, these two separate things came together in a way we couldn’t have planned or imagined!

Contextualization

One of the greatest challenges in ministry is connecting the gospel to the surrounding culture.

I wonder if there was a time in US history when this was an easier task, back when the nation was young. In such a time, a one-size-fits-all approach worked fairly well. IOW, a Methodist church in one place could look very much like a Methodist church in another place.

Now, because there are far more cultures in the world, and even in the US, a one-size-fits-all approach no longer works. A United Methodist congregation in one place should look/feel different in one place than another United Methodist congregation in another place — because they are connecting the gospel to their own unique culture. I think this, at least partly, if not largely, explains the decline among mainline churches in North America.

The challenge for leaders is to become cultural anthropologists. We must observe cultures, other effective models, discern God’s heart for our local culture, and then, out of that mix, find ways to connect the gospel to the culture.

I recently talked about ethnocentricity, which prevents us from being observant/open toward other ways of doing things. Ethnocentricity leads us to believe that our culture, our way of doing things, our model is best.

This attitude often carries over into the business world, too, and here’s a great example of that here in Korea. Until recently, Wal-Mart had 16 stores in Korea, but apparently, Koreans didn’t like shopping at Wal-Mart.

A Korean shopping chain has done well here, though, since the early 1990s. Recently, they bought Wal-Mart’s 16 stores (bringing their total to 83) and have overhauled them into places where Koreans want to shop. An article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette tells E-Mart’s story. There are some great lessons for Christ-following leaders …

For all its Korean character, the E-Mart chain has thrived in part by emulating successes just like Wal-Mart. In 2001 and 2002, almost a decade into E-Mart’s life, Mr. Chung joined a group of merchandisers and buyers on a tour of stores around the world, looking for ideas to update the chain’s format. “We came out with a Korean model of a discount store that took elements from the U.S., Japan and Europe,” he says.

At one point, Mr. Chung spent two days hanging around Wal-Mart’s store in Bentonville, Ark., taking notes on such details as when produce is restocked and when the floor is swept.

The lesson here is to learn from others and then contextualize it — i.e. turn a successful American model (like Wal-Mart) into a successful Korean model (like E-Mart).

Churches, to be effective, must do the same. Learn from other effective models, then contextualize it for their specific culture. All too often, however, we’d rather just copy what another church is doing, because, well, copying is much easier than contextualizing!

We visited an E-mart store yesterday. It’s a nice store — household items, personal items, etc. (as well as Starbucks) are located on the main floor, and the food department is located in the basement. I was especially fascinated with the shopping carts. Because all 4 wheels turn, it was a lot of fun to “drive.”

We discovered, too, that the groves in the wheels kept the cart in place on the escalator. In fact, the reason I was in front to take the photo of the cart on the escalator is because I *thought* I was going to keep the cart from rolling down the escalator! (See photos from E-Mart below; I recommend clicking on the first one, then clicking “next” below the photo; also look for the description of the photo in the lower left corner.)

One more observation about E-Mart: Throughout the store, many workers are available to help customers and to promote items. As is common in the Korea culture, many of these workers bow as customers pass by, including the greeter, a young man in a suit and tie. The meat department is especially lively, as the guys who work there, yell out prices (we assume).

Anyway, back to contextualization. We must become cultural anthropologists so that we can discover ways to connect the gospel to our own unique culture. God set the model for us. John 1.14 states, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

Churches must also take God’s Word and connect it to the surrounding culture, “the neighborhood.”

Monday is Finally Here!

Yesterday was a long day. Our host/driver from Holy Flames picked us up at the guest house at 7:30 am and we spent much of the day at his church.

Around 3:30 pm, he handed us off to our guides/hosts at Kwanglim, who gave us a church tour, took us to dinner, then dropped us off at the guest house around 7:30 pm, completing an amazing 12-hour day.

Joleen took on the difficult task of trying to summarize Saturday and Sunday (we’re running out of time to process everything!) at the end of the long day. We will try to post more reflections on our cross-cultural experience in the days to come.

Anyway, Joleen also posted before we went to bed that Monday’s Getting Closer. Well, Monday is finally here!

We went to bed by 10:00 pm, and while we set the alarm for 7:00 am (hoping, but not really expecting, to get some extra sleep!), we’ve both been awake since around 4:00 am, processing stuff, and of course, thinking about what it will be like to finally meet Ethan.

Lots of Questions
What will it be like to meet our baby? What will meeting him be like for us? What will it be like for him? Will any, or all, of us be scared? Will we get choked up? Will any of us cry? Will Ethan wonder what’s going on? Will we wonder what in the world we’ve gotten ourselves into?

What will it be like leaving his foster family’s home after spending time with Ethan? What will it be like to not see him again until we pick him up on Thursday morning on the way to the aiport (assuming this will be our only visit)?

Lots of questions swirling through our minds this morning. Later today, we’ll try to give some kind of sense of what the day’s been like.

It’s shortly after 7:30 am here, so we’re just a couple hours away from seeing Ethan! Thanks for sharing this incredible experience with us!

Rare Opportunities

Saturday and Sunday were jammed packed days, as we spent time with pastors and church staff of two different Methodist churches in and around Seoul.

On Saturday, one pastor and his family took us to Insa-dong, one of the main shopping districts in Seoul, where we had our first Korean food. Afterward, we toured Gyeongbokgung Palace (see the previous post for images), the main palace during the Joseon Dynasty, the longest running dynasty in Korea.

Originally the palace was a complex of 330 buildings, but most were dismantled during the Japanese occupation. A few of the most important buildings remain. They are extraordinary in architecture and very colorful.

Today, we visited multiple services at The Holy Flames Methodist Church, a congregation of around 2000 people. We began by attending the staff worship service, followed by worship services for teens, children, young single adults, and part of the traditional worship service.

While at Holy Flames (from around 8:15 am – 3:00 pm), we also experienced the prayer times before two of the services. We had a Korean lunch in the church dining hall with the senior pastor, Rev. Jun, and because we were guests, they served us a plate of fresh fruit.

In speaking with the associate pastor we were reminded that the Christian church is young in Korea, perhaps around 100 years. He attributes the fast spread of Christianity to prayer and small groups.

Each service is preceded by an intense time of prayer, and every day an early morning prayer session begins 5:00 am with about 100 in attendance. Members belong to small groups which meet together during the week. In fact, we will attend a small group Tuesday night.

I’m impressed that Holy Flames designates one third of its budget for missions. They regularly send groups on mission trips abroad, as well as participating in local mission. They send their children on mission trips to other countries so that they can begin to be exposed to missionary evangelism.

We also visited Kwanglim Methodist Church, the largest Methodist Church in the world with a congregation of 70,000+ people. We had two excellent tour guides to tell us about the church and to take us to the young adult worship which was complete with a worship band, drama, and a soloist who wrote his own songs.

We briefly met with the senior pastor, who must be commended for taking the time to meet with us, especially on a Sunday. We were touched by sincere words of appreciation regarding our adoption of a Korean baby.

Following our time at Kwanglim our tour guides and driver took us to Bennigan’s where we enjoyed a meal together. They thought they would give us a break from Korean food, but I think they enjoyed the Western food at least as much as we did!

All in all, we have spent our days with people who have very quickly come to feel like old friends. Everyone has been so gracious. And I must comment on one Korean tradition: gift-giving. Both churches showered us with gifts expressing their appreciation of our visit. The Koreans are wonderful hosts … and the joy is really all ours!

Images from Saturday in Seoul

We took a number of photos today — at Insadong, at Gyeongbokgung Palace, and various other shots.

We’re posting several here. You should be able to click on any one of them, then click on “next” and/or “previous” underneath the photo to cycle through all nine, which appear in random order. Let us know if you have any questions.