THE JOURNEY BEGINS, BUT FIRST…!
Our 5-month Sabbatical began with nearly a month in Korea. Why Korea? Well, that’s a story that goes back a ways. It was Easter, 1974. I was a teenager, living in the Peace Country of northern Alberta, and after a series of frustrating and painful events, I surrendered my life rather quietly to Christ. I tried to do so “under the radar,” so to speak. I didn’t want my parents to know, as I wanted the decision to be my own. I also wanted to make sure my commitment was for real. That very Easter, my dad took our family on a holiday to Vancouver, my first visit to the city. It was pretty exciting as before then, the biggest city I had ever been to was Edmonton. I was immediately captivated by the beauty, mystery, and wonder of Vancouver. For the next decade, I cherished any opportunity I had to visit. A few years later, Kathleen and I got engaged in Vancouver at the city centre!
After we were married, I accepted an invitation to be a youth and associate pastor at Calgary Christian Centre – a rapidly growing church in Calgary. Our youth group, after struggling for the first two years, grew from a handful in 1978, into the hundreds by the early 1980’s. The influx of teens and young adults resulted in the launch of a local church based discipleship training school, and a Bible College that graduated dozens of Christian leaders, pastors, and church planters. We garnered a lot of attention and I became increasingly in demand as a guest speaker across the country, particularly at youth related events.
KOREA, TAKE ONE
In 1985, I was asked to be part of a small delegation of youth pastors from across Canada and the US to visit the world’s largest church – Yoiddo Full Gospel Central Church in Seoul, Korea. At the time, the church claimed over 500,000 members.
The father of one my friends on the tour was on the board of
Yonggi Cho, the pastor of the church, whom I had the opportunity to
meet briefly. Visiting Korea was one of the most remarkable
experiences of my life. As I have shared many times, I was
particularly impacted by the prayer life of the Korean Christians, to
which they attributed their remarkable growth. I have relayed the
story many times, but for decades, I never gave a thought to ever
visiting Korea again. I felt like a “tourist” on my first visit
and I couldn’t relate to the Korean culture nor to the sheer
magnitude of the Korean church.
|During some sabbatical housecleaning, Kathleen found this photo from 1985,. |
We're with Yonggi Cho, pastor of the world's largest church.
Can you guess which one is me? Minus the tie, not much has changed, eh?
A SLIGHT DETOUR
Back in Calgary, I began to feel a deep restlessness to leave everything behind and start a new life in Vancouver. But, due to a lot of demands on me, both locally and abroad, and especially because of my inability to come to a resolution, my nervous system broke down. In 1988, I suffered a severe breakdown that left me incapacitated and there followed three years of “wilderness wanderings” which included Kelowna, Calgary, Zimbabwe, Lethbridge, and then two years with the house church movement in the UK.
Finally, in 1991, with virtually no earthly possessions besides our little K car, and a U-Haul full of mostly my books, we arrived in Vancouver’s Eastside, with our two children, Christian and Danielle, who were 11 and 8 at the time. We rented a little 2 bedroom apartment at 3rd and McLean. We felt God say, “Just live in the city, and love people without an agenda.” I took a clerical job at UBC and worked there for 5 years. Gordie Guiboche, whom we knew from our Calgary days, was our first housemate, (along with Gizmo, our Vancouver cat!) We soon joined Joe and Charmaine Kelder and the Vancouver Vineyard, who welcomed and embraced us. In 1996 when Joe and Charmaine took a one-year sabbatical, we became lead pastors, and have been so since that time.
Through my tuition benefits at UBC, Kathleen, who was already a school teacher, was able to obtain her TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language). She began teaching international students and new Canadians through various agencies in the city. She soon became much in demand by Koreans to teach their youth English. Three years ago, we made connections with an agency from Korea that began to send university students for English language intensives with Kathleen while living in our home as homestays. Having these students in our home changed everything for me. They quickly became part of our family and worked their way deeply into our hearts. They would stay from one to three months. Every parting was heart-rending. This started in 2012 and by January of 2015, we had hosted nine different students. All were unique in their own right, and completely lovable, and enjoyable. We prepared and ate meals together. We went on at least one weekly outing or recreational event together. Most loved helping me do the weekly shop to the great amusement of the Safeway cashiers.
KOREA, TAKE TWO
Initially, when I had first visited Korea in the 1980’s, all I had seen was the passionate church culture of the Korean Christians. I had little engagement with the Korean culture outside of the church. Yet, in spite of the massive mega-churches in Seoul, most of Korea is still not Christian. Right in our own home, we got the opportunity to experience this whole other side of Korea that I had missed when I had visited there the first time. Most of the students who came into our home were not Christians and some were actually quite hostile to religion, having experienced what they called the “aggressive” tactics of Christians back in Korea. Others were quite put-off by the perceived corruption of the megachurches due to their size and influence.
One student, Eunsoo, initially refused to come to our home when she found out I was a pastor. The agency encouraged her to reconsider based on our good references, and later, she told us that when she viewed our profile and picture, she felt “something warm” come over her, so she decided to give it a go. She felt that same feeling when she walked into our home, and when she first walked into our church! We’re so glad she came as we are now friends forever. She had a remarkable encounter with God while she was with us, but, we always left it up to the students as to whether they would come to church or not. Some did, and some didn’t. We loved them all the same, of course.
Those who did come to church
became a beloved part of our community. VEV has been so wonderful in
welcoming people like Eunsoo, HanKyeol, HyunJin, and SoHee, who last
year went with us to Lower Post and was such a delightful addition to
our Mission to the Kaska Dene First Nations – a dream come true for
us! Koreans have a remarkable connection with First Nations –
partly due to sharing similar stories of having to overcome
colonization and oppression.
|Kathleen with one of our homestay daughters, HyunJin, |
affectionately as "Jini" to many at VEV.
Do you think she loves Kathleen?
Another significant person in our remarkable Korean adventure was a young woman named Kyung Jin who showed up at our church in 2013. Kyung Jin was referred to the Vineyard by her spiritual director in Seoul, and she quickly became a part of our church and joined our worship team for four or five months. She then returned to Seoul and we lost touch for some time, but later, she became the “angel of Seoul” for us on our sabbatical in Korea.
Through all of these amazing encounters, I began to feel a deep desire to return to Korea again after 30 years. Kathleen had previously asked me to consider going to Korea several times, and, at first, I had no desire at all, but our homestays changed everything. I wanted to visit again – but this time, not as a tourist, but as a friend, who had grown to deeply love these Korean people. As the time for our sabbatical approached, it became apparent that this was how we wanted to begin our sabbatical - by going on an adventure to a completely different land, culture, and people – a people we had so completely fallen in love with. For Kathleen and me, Korea was where our vocational worlds came together wonderfully. Through airmiles, we booked our tickets in January 2015. We found out our flights took us through Beijing, China, so we planned to stay there for a few days on the way home. During the fall and winter of 2014/2015, I learned the Korean (Hangul) alphabet and took language lessons. I did an intensive study of Korean history – from the ancient Chosun Dynasty to the present time. By the time our sabbatical had come, we could hardly wait to get on the plane. All of our homestays could hardly believe we were coming when they first got word.
I must confess, that while we were excited, we were also scared. We had never done anything like this before. We’d always had a tour bus or agency, or some kind of host to receive us for international cross-cultural travel. This time, we read lots of “Lonely Planet” books, and made all our own arrangements for guesthouses. We did get some help from our Korean friends for various aspects of our trip, but not as a whole package. What would we eat? Would the Koreans understand English? Would my limited Korean be enough? How would we get around the country, as our homestays lived in various parts of Korea? In all honesty, we began to have misgivings about whether this was the best way to start a sabbatical. The potential for stress seemed really high.
However, on Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015, we were given such a remarkable sendoff by our church family. During that service, we were prayed over and Kirsten, one of our elders, gave us the prophetic word, “Have Fun!” There was something releasing about that word that seemed to clear away any residual anxiety, and on Monday, April 6, we embarked on our long flight for Seoul, not sure what would be waiting for us on the other side, but excited and much more at peace that a wonderful adventure truly awaited us.
NEXT WEEK – SEOUL ADVENTURE