October 24, 2016


In Korea, hope for an unseen reality

Reflecting on an MTSO cross-cultural immersion trip

Twice each year, MTSO faculty lead students on cross-cultural immersion trips of roughly two weeks. This experience, which is available to all students and a requirement for those seeking a Master of Divinity degree, is not a mission trip. Rather it provides an opportunity to truly experience, rather than attempt to impact, a culture different from one’s own. Professors Paul Kim and Paul Numrich led a trip to Korea June 17-July 2, 2016. Here is one student's reflection on his travels.

MTSO meets MTU (the author is at far right)

By Anthony Thomas

When I began to explore the options MTSO offered for cross-cultural immersion, the Korea trip seemed to jump off the page. My wife has family in Korea, so when she was approved to travel as an auditing student, I realized that I was Korea-bound.

During the two weeks spent in Korea, we were immersed in a culture seemingly built around religion and faith. We visited Buddhist temples high in the mountains and tucked away amongst the tall buildings of Seoul. We visited many different churches, including some of the oldest in the country, each with a story of struggle and survival, all with the tenacity to continue to be a shining light.

The tension between Christianity and Buddhism was not terribly evident in our time there, though it was shared that the two have not had the best of relations. It brought to mind that even back here in the United States, relationships between religions have not always been respectful. However, our time with students at a Buddhist seminary demonstrated that it is possible to sit with those of a differing faith and have honest conversation.

The rest of the world may think that there is peace in Korea. Koreans, however, know that there is only a ceasefire. On the two occasions that we visited the Demilitarized Zone, there was a definite tension in the air. My wife, having family in both North and South Korea, was not able to look at the dividing markers at either site. She could not bear to look through the magnifying viewers to catch a glimpse of North Korean farmers – people who might be family.

This experience of division was juxtaposed with prayers in the churches, prayers that always began with a call for unification. Even in the midst of destruction and division, hope survives. The faith of the people astounded me. I am reminded of Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

The people of Korea hope to be a united people, a reality they can’t see. Yet their faith in God to bring about that unity and peace is unfailing. This is a lesson for everyone: Even in the uncertainty that is life, God does not forsake, and God does not forget.

My experience in church, both as parishioner and pastor, has been somewhat plain. Traditions are kept, time frames are kept, and little change is allowed. I would imagine that this is a similar reality for churches in Korea. The difference I experienced is how those Korean Christians live into their Christian calling. As a United Methodist, I was deeply moved to see so many people of different ages participating in the Wesleyan tradition of early morning prayer, at 5 in the morning! They would return to church for two other services, essentially spending the day at church. We struggle with spending 45 minutes in church.

I have been challenged to re-examine my own church experience. Am I here to follow tradition or to awaken souls? Are we as Christians called to go about our humdrum existence, always following the status quo? Or are we, possibly, called to much more? The culture and faith of Koreans reminded me to have faith in all things, to pray without ceasing, and to keep a religious fervor (Romans 12:11), always, in all circumstances, serving the Lord.

Methodist Theological School in Ohio prepares leaders of many faith traditions for lives of lasting significance in service to the church and the world. In addition to the Master of Divinity degree, the school offers master’s degrees in counseling, theological studies and practical theology, along with a Doctor of Ministry degree. 

Engage with MTSO through Facebook and Twitter (@MTSOedu).

CONTACT: Danny Russell, director of communications
drussell@mtso.edu, 740-362-3322