Dr. Paul Numrich, MTSO professor in the Snowden Chair for the Study of Religion and Interreligious Relations, has spent a portion of this summer at Methodist Theological University in the Republic of Korea, teaching a class on Abrahamic faiths to students of varied nationalities and Methodist affiliations. (He is fourth from the left in the class photo above.) Here, he looks back on the experience.
My 2015 journey to the Republic of Korea began at England’s University of Oxford in 2013. President Jong-Chun Park of Seoul’s Methodist Theological University gave a talk at the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies during which he invited seminary faculty to teach at his school.
I had visited Korea once and plan to co-lead the MTSO cross-cultural trip to Korea next summer with MTSO Professor of Hebrew Bible Paul Kim, so it seemed fitting that I should take President Park up on his offer. In June, I spent two weeks teaching the course Abrahamic Faiths to Methodist students from Fiji (Methodist Church in Fiji), Kenya (Methodist Church in Kenya), Liberia (UMC), Myanmar (UMC), the Philippines (UMC), and Togo (Korean Methodist Mission for Africa).
The experience was memorable and inspiring in so many ways. Dr. Kim, who was at MTU on a Fulbright grant, was my unofficial guide on many days. MTU’s president, faculty, administrators, staff and students all welcomed me warmly, graciously accommodating my clumsy American ways. (I have not mastered Korean chopsticks.)
My students were diligent and enthusiastic, and several brought experiences of Islam that differ greatly from those of most American students. To a person, they took to heart the course objective of learning how to engage both Jews and Muslims with Christian integrity and sensitivity, and they were well aware of the important role they play as Christian leaders in the complex and often contentious interreligious relations of our day.
Methodist Theological University has a striking campus in the heart of Seoul. The school operates a successful program called International Graduate Studies of Theology, in which my course was offered. MTSO and MTU have a rich relationship. Dr. Duck-kwan Koo and Dr. Pil-hyung Yum, former presidents of MTU, are MTSO alumni. In 2009, the schools initiated an exchange program; among those to benefit is MTSO student Clara Kwon, who will study at MTU this fall.
On the last day of class I taught, my students sang a song of appreciation for my teaching and presented me with a plaque quoting Philippians 4:6 in both Korean and English: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
I recalled that the words “travel” and “travail” probably come from the same root. My journey to Korea this time had some travail about it – a long and difficult flight plus anxiety about Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. But in the end, I was blessed by my travels and by my students, whose gift continues to remind me: “Do not be anxious about anything….”