Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I'm sorry...

Dear folks out there who care enough to read this pathetic attempt at a blog,

Thanks for being patient, or not, cause I really don't know what you've been thinking. If you were thinking, "She's up and died on us"- well, know that I am still among the very busy living. If you were thinking, "she's been kidnapped and buried alive somewhere"- you might be suffering from slight paranoia. And if you were thinking "She's gone and become a hermit like she said she would do when she was a kid"- I laugh in your face because my life is so un-hermity like its ridiculous.

Anyhow, enough with the sarcasm and dull humor. I do sincerely apologize for doing such a lousy job at being a blogger. Let's face it: I am not a blogger. I am a person who has a life and school and a part time job. But I also have family and friends who care about me and would like to know what I am doing. If you fit in that category, thank you and God bless you for the saint you are.

I am currently humoring myself with the fact that I am going hiking tomorrow (make that today) with Michael Charles Aubrey and may not get much sleep beforehand. In other news, I am on a 10 day break from school and only have church responsibilities to do.

I plan to get a blog out on the rest of my China adventures soon. Lots of pictures of the Great Wall and Forbidden City forthcoming! Oh, and I will post a blog about my school as well. I am determined to catch this thing up this holiday. Horrible bit of English there, but as you may determine, my English is slowly falling apart bit by bit. Ok, well, enjoy the posts and sorry about the sudden inundation but I've been working at it for a while now and just got them all done at once.

Take Care.

Day 9

Day 9: Return to Korea

The next morning we are all dragging as we get ready to leave the hotel. I am thinking maybe we will never get gone when suddenly and miraculously, we have all the luggage and all the people. Our bus chugs away from the hotel and out to the airport. We are seen off by the remaining people at Yeongil and clear customs with minimal trouble, though the wait is long. Even though the plane ride is short, it seems like hours before the captain announces we are preparing to land in Seoul. As we descend, I am struck by the fact that I feel like I am returning home.

And yet, in a sense, I AM home wherever I am among God’s people because they are my family and family is home. The Wangchung Love House is my home while I am there. The people of Wangchung Love House are my family when I am there. And I am at home in Daegu where my family at Dongshin Church is. North Korea will be my home one day Lord willing, because my family in Christ lives there. I am reminded of the verse in Mark 10:29 “Jesus said ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and land, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life’”.

I truly am blessed to have been able to receive a part of the hundredfold family by my visit to Wangchung Love House. I can honestly say it was one of the most impacting and memorable experiences of my life. Not only did I get to be hands and feet to God’s people, but I got to witness others doing the exact same, even better! I went to serve and was served; I went to teach and was taught; I went to love and was loved. The Wangchung Love House is a living example of the poor woman at the temple who gave all she had in her poverty with joy. They are changing lives and all through the joy and love of God, which knows no social, racial, or ethnic barriers. May they ever increase in their love of God and each other.

Day 8

Day 8:Church and Shabu-Shabu

Today we rise and head down to the hotel dining room for breakfast, then it’s back to our rooms to prepare for church. The church we are going to is built at the former site of a crematorium and is a Korean speaking congregation. It located behind the Yeongil University and it is to here that we have our multiple taxi drivers take us. It’s a long hike in the hot sun up the hill to the university and we are sweating by the time we reach the church. Inside, we have a traditional Korean worship service and our group is introduced to the congregation. After the service, we head back up to the university to have lunch at the cafeteria and then are given an overview lecture and summary of Yeongil’s mission by a member of the staff. By this time, several adult members of our group are nodding off in their plush chairs around the conference table, at which point some of the kids start taking sly cell-phone photographs. Soon, we are on the bus back to the hotel and Jae Young and I again opt out of the market excursion and take another nap instead.

After everyone comes back from the market loaded with goodies, it’s time to go back out for dinner. And tonight is a special treat. Real Chinese Shabu-Shabu. Shabu-Shabu is a dish which they have in Korea but which originates in China. It is very thin strips of beef or pork boiled in a dish of boiling broth for a few seconds and then eaten with many vegetables which can also be thrown in the pot. At this restaurant, which is very nice, each person gets their own personal boiling pot and can cook away to their heart’s content and desire. It is very delicious but the smell which is generated by all the boiling pots is not delicious. We leave the restaurant with very full tummies and clean teeth. Why clean teeth? Because the restaurant provides all their patrons with a disposable toothbrush and toothpaste! Pretty spiffy I thought.

On this last night, we all gather in Pastor Daniel’s hotel room for a time of sharing and expressing praise and gratitude to God and to each other. Each person sits in the “special chair” and shares something he or she learned on the trip and then the others take turn sharing what they thought was special about this person. It is a very special time and we are all touched by shared thoughts and experiences. At the end, we have a special prayer time and pray for the ministry in China and North Korea in particular. Then, everyone disperses for their various rooms, needing to make final preparations for the morning’s departure.

Day 7

Day 7: Presents and Farewell

Today is bittersweet. We know we are leaving the WLH but we know that we get to give them their gifts so we are in a state of excitement for that. We have to pack up everything and load it into the bus which is driving us back to Yeongil. Riding out to the WLH for the last time is surreal for me. Was it really only 5 days ago that we bumped down this rutted road? I feel like I know every curve and pothole now. We greet our welcoming committee that has become standard for us and get down to the business of distributing the presents. As the children’s’ names are called one by one, I watch as their faces fill with joy and excitement, thankfulness and shyness at the shoes and other gifts. When it’s our class’ turn to get their presents, we are happy to see they each look thrilled with their new bags and supplies. Song Hee is so excited by her present she gives little squeals of delight and hops up and down clapping her hands. All of our group each wrote notes to the children as well, so they can read them after. When Chung Ryung’s turn comes, I stand and unstrap my watch from my wrist, saying “It’s your watch now Chung Ryung.” His look of pure joy as he looks at the watch he had worn and admired is thanks enough for me.

Sadly, the time has come for us to depart. We all begin to say our good-byes. People everywhere are hugging, crying, stammering out thank you’s and well wishes. Some of the WLH kids and our kids begin crying especially hard and their distress is hard to witness. I hug all the kids in turn and whisper in broken Korean “I love you.” And in English, “I will miss you”. There is an ache in my heart which I have felt only when leaving my own family time and time again. But I feel comfort knowing that someday, perhaps on earth and certainly in heaven, that I will see them again. We slowly tear ourselves away and begin to load the bus. It is so moving to see the WLH kids standing there, tears dripping down their faces as if they are saying good-bye to blood family. Our group all press our faces against the glass windows and return their frantic waves and tears. Soon, the dust swirls and hides them, then the bus rounds the corner and they are lost from view.

We are all exhausted emotionally and physically so the bus is quiet on the ride back. We stop at a famous Korean poet’s birthplace to visit and take photos then press on for Yeongil, arriving a little before twilight. Before grabbing dinner, Jae Young and I take some much needed rest in our room while the others go out to shop in the market. We are surprised when the kids bang on our door, declaring it is time to go to dinner. That night, we have our teacher’s meeting and Pastor Daniel outlines the details of the next day. I am glad to slip between my sheets in our hotel room, where in spite of our sleepiness, Jae Young and I talk drowsily of Korean names and fried chicken (how’s that for falling asleep conversation).

Day 6

Day 6: Market day

Morning light streams through our widows as we hold devotions and prepare for the day ahead. Today we will buy all of the children presents and supplies for school. Guided by some of the older girls from WLH, we traipse down to the nearby market place to gather everything. Pastor Daniel is buying all of the children new shoes because theirs are so worn and some are too big or too small for the owners. Each of the kids from our group is getting a special present for one of the WLH kids and the teachers are all buying things for their classes. Jae Young and I take our helpers and go to a few stationary shops where we pick out shoulder bags, pens and pencils, notebooks, and even a few stickers to fill them up. All the shopping takes us the whole morning, so after we drop off our purchases at the hotel, we head back to WLH for lunch.

I have been experiencing stomach problems for almost the entire trip (as have some others in our group) but this day is much worse, and by the time we reach WLH, the stomach pains are bad enough to prevent me partaking in the delicious looking meal of ox tail soup. Instead, I eat a little guk (rice gruel) and take it easy the rest of the afternoon while the others play soccer and other games.

Once again in the evening, we have a time of sharing from Pastor Jeon and then a special treat. The older kids have prepared some worship song dances for us and have been practicing them all week. They perform them for us and they are absolutely terrific. Everyone cheers and claps for them, then Pastor Daniel gets up and thanks them. After thanking the kids, he then starts kidding the women who help out at the orphanage. During the dancing, they had been enthusiastically clapping along and shouting loudly so now he wants them to come up and speak. But they are so shy and embarrassed they hide their faces and laugh. He ribs them about being so animated one minute and so shy and demure the next, and they good-naturedly smile and then eventually say a few words about their volunteer work.

Tonight is tough work for me to keep awake. I am glad and yet sad to get in the van to go back to the hotel because I know tomorrow is our last day with the kids. But I am comforted by the fact that we get to share our presents with them. When I crawl into bed, I lay there think how fast the time has gone by, yet I feel as if I have known the WLH people my whole life. I feel now that they are somehow family, somehow connected, and best part is, it’s true because they are part of my heavenly family; God’s family.

Day 5

Day 5: Trip to North Korea border

As the new day dawns, we have devotions and get breakfast, then head down to the bus that will take us to the North Korean border. I am brimming with anticipation. This is the day when I will finally be able to physically see the land and hopefully the people I am called to minister to. The trip is long and bumpy but part of the journey is along the Tumen River which divides China from North Korea. We reach the river and I get a little jolt in my heart when I look across and see the land of North Korea for the first time. I continue to stare out the window as we drive along the river, taking in the bare and treeless hills and mountains, the fields of grains, and the occasional building. Then, unexpectedly, we pull off on the side of the road at what looks like abandoned farm buildings. Pastor Jeon, who has accompanied us, tells us he knows of this place. We walk down a dirt road which ends up leading to a bridge going out across the Tumen River. The bridge is filled with rotten cobs of corn and broken and cracked in several places and halfway across, comes to an abrupt end, with a gap of about 100 meters separating it from the other section on the North Korean side. I am told that the bridge was bombed by the Americans during the Korean War to keep Chinese soldiers from using it to keep the North Koreans supplied. We all stand at the end of the bridge and stare across the divide at this mysterious land nicknamed the “Hermit Kingdom”. Soon, we see some men coming out of the house on the riverbank. I am thrilled! We also spot a transport truck full of what we think must be field workers driving along the opposite riverbank road. Richard takes pictures of the land and the men and our team standing on the bridge. But then, we hear shouting. The men are shouting at us from the house in Korean. Pastor Daniel says “They are saying not to take pictures, so we better go.” I keep looking back as we walk, trying to capture that view in my memory. Later I find out that where we had stood on the bridge was technically North Korea because the bridge extends over the line in the Tumen River that separates China and North Korea. So now I can tell my friends “well, technically I have been in North Korea”.

We arrive at a town called Hunchun and have a delicious lunch of bibimbab there. In no time, we’re off again to another destination, this time to a spot along the Tumen that is very narrow and very famous. After stopping to take pictures and purchase snacks, we clamber aboard the rough riding bus and continue on to the final destination. The spot we are heading to is the place where the Chinese, Russian, and North Korean borders meet. When we FINALLY reach the military post after what seems like a lifetime of pothole filled roads, everyone climbs up to the tower to get a view of the three countries and the sea beyond. It is truly a magnificent view. We take more pictures and then quickly head back to the bus. I am dreading the thought of the return ride in the “bouncy buggy” but fall fast asleep and awake to find that I have had my photograph snapped with my head back and mouth slightly open. After the hours of bouncing and jerking, my head feels like its coming unhinged from my neck!

Night has fallen by the time we arrive in Wangchung where we drive to the restaurant to meet the WLH people. They are all there and boy are they glad to see us. You’d think we had been gone a year instead of a day! After greetings and hugs all around, we settle down for a dinner of what I later learn is their favorite food in all the world, skewered lamb and beef. The meat is brought out on small skewers with about 5 chunks a skewer. There are 2-3 roasting pits at each table, so we get to roast our own meat. It is delicious! Jae Young dares me to eat 30 skewers of meat. I challenge her back but she begs off on a weak stomach. Along with all the side dishes, I am quickly getting full but the WLH ladies simply won’t stop feeding us. Every time I protest I am full, they just say “Manni mogoyo” which means “eat a lot”. I try to say “I did eat a lot. I am very full” but they aren’t having any of it. And Jae Young is egging them on, when finally I declare “that’s it, I’m done” and throw in the towel at 20. Despite the protests and attempts to drag me back to the table, I resolutely walk away and go around to the other tables to see how the kids are faring. They are still going strong, eating away as if their lives depended on it. I am totally blown away when I hear how much they have consumed. 30, 35, 40, up to 52 skewers of meat have been eaten by one person! The top eater is 13 year old Yoo Nan, the tomboyish girl who is fiercely competitive and does her utmost to not be beaten in anything. At one table, some of our party is sampling roasted worm cocoon. They declare it to be yummy but I think it is mostly bravado. After dinner is finally finished, we leave (or rather roll out) the restaurant, and say our goodbyes to the WLH people, then walk back to our hotel. On the way back, I hide and then jump out, scaring several of our group. Laughter and silliness are rampant tonight because our spirits are so high from exciting travel, good food, and great friends.

Day 4

(Note: Sorry no more pictures for the mission posts. I ran out of batteries and no one had any spares. :( )

Day 4: Mountain lake trip

When the morning dawns today, we all have an excited feeling for the coming day. The previous night, Pastor Daniel has told us that since the kids don’t get to travel much, we were going to treat them to an outing and go with them to a mountain lake park to have our classes and have lunch. So, after breakfast, we get on a special chartered bus and head out to WLH to pick up the kids and travel together to the park. I actually end up in a smaller van with about 15 others. To get to the lake, we have to pass through a security checkpoint with policemen checking our van. When they catch sight of me, the only “white” face in a crowd of Asians, they demand to see my passport. I try to explain I don’t have it with me, as all our passports were being carried by Pastor Yoon for safekeeping. They start to protest but then as most of can’t speak a word of Chinese, they finally just wave us through. I feel a huge sense of relief, having been thinking that I was going to be taken out of the van and taken to a police station and perhaps jeopardize our mission trip. Jae Young is laughing at my freak out conjectures, but once we get through and she sees how really freaked out I am, she starts to reassure me that everything’s ok. The rest of the trip is uneventful but extremely bumpy. The road we are traveling on is under construction and trust me when I say that construction in China is in a whole nother league than the US.

At the lake, we travel across the lake in a ferry boat, after which we set up our lunch things at the main big pavilion and separate into smaller pavilions for our lessons. Today, our class is learning the first half of the alphabet. Jae Young’s alphabet flash cards prove effective and entertaining. We get to the letter G before we break for a game or two and then troop over for lunch which is chicken, kimbab, fried potatoes, and kimchi (of course!). We also have squid (which I don’t partake of) and boiled eggs, along with watermelon for dessert (also a delicacy for the kids-they ate several slices each).

After lunch, a lot of the kids start an impromptu soccer game, which happens quite frequently, and after a bit, I decide to join in. All is going well and the students exclaim how good and strong I am (sidenote: In Asia, girls who are into anything physical and can play sports are considered in this light). Then, in a scramble for the ball, I get tripped up and skin my knee on the dirt playing field (pitch if you’re British). Ok, in America when one gets a skinned knee, you might dust it off, spit on it, and go on about your business. Not so in this case. I keep playing but soon I hear shouts of “Teacher, teacher…Vanessa Teacher! Your leg is bleeding!” I brush them off saying “I’m fine, it’s ok. Really!” “No, it’s not ok!” they insist. “You need medicine, you need a doctor!” Finally, surrounded by a dozen concerned kids, I am literally forced off the field and into the care of Jae Bek’s mom, who is a nurse. She clucks over it and daubs antiseptic on it “Oh, it stings!” the kids say knowingly, wincing in sympathy. She winds gauze around the wound, tying it off with the warning to take it easy. Jae Young comes over and makes fun of me for making light of it. In fact, it becomes a running joke the rest of the trip that I am not really human but rather machine who feels no pain. “Teacher, you are Robo Cop!” the students tease. Pastor Daniel says “Vanessa is bleeding-“Oh that’s ok, I’m fine”. Vanessa’s leg is cut off-‘That’s ok, I’m fine!” And so on it goes.

Soon after the soccer accident, we board two lake ferries for a trip around the whole lake and end up being dropped at the base of the mountain trail. The kids are raring to climb the mountain so everyone gears up and starts hiking up the steep stairs. I am climbing with the kids who are still concerned about my knee and wondering whether I should be hiking. I think, I’m going to put their worries to rest once and for all. I start hiking at my fastest pace and soon I’ve passed everyone except the kids who started first. About two thirds up the mountain, I catch them and pass them with a cheery wave and a assurance that my knee feels just fine. Up at the top, I relish the rush that comes from climbing and conquering the steep path. The kids come staggering up one by one. All of our legs feel like jelly now. But after a brief rest, a group of us go bounding back down, arriving at the bottom filled with a euphoria born only of being able to enjoy God’s creation at its finest. There are cold water bottles and icy popsicles waiting for us in the cool shade and we rest our rubbery legs and fan our hot sweaty faces as we wait to the others to return. When everyone has descended, we walk back to the pavilion and gather up our things for the return trip. As we bump along the pothole filled road, we sing worship songs in English and Korean, and Jae Young and I belt out a rendition of “You Raise Me Up” that will not be forgotten!

Upon our return to WLH, we gather in the front room for final good-byes and the kids are a little sad because we are not coming out to the house tomorrow but traveling up to the North Korean border. But we cause excitement for them by telling them that after we return in the evening, we are meeting up with them at their favorite restaurant and treating them to dinner. We wave goodbye out the van till we can’t see them and arrive at the hotel exhausted but happy from the events of the day. In Pastor Daniel’s room, we teachers have our daily planning meeting before bed. Pastor Daniel tells us all the things we will be doing the next day but I am sitting by Jae Young and we keep talking to each other and not paying attention, so Pastor Daniel has to repeat some of the information because we didn’t catch what he said; in English or Korean. He laughs good-naturedly and dubs us “Dumb and Dumber” because together we make each other dumb. Eventually though, we get everything straight and head to bed, full of excitement for what the next day holds.