Leaning into the Future of Mission: Korean and non-Koreans as Partners in the Mission of God
by Jeff Ritchie
I have just finished a two-week visit to Korea. Twenty-one of us took advantage of the invitation of the Rev. James Kwon to see the Korean Church at its best, and we were not disappointed. For those who have followed our trip blogs, I will not repeat our day-to-day observations (see www.theoutreachfoundation.org/news/trip blogs). What I would like to focus on in this blog is the biggest take-away for me from this trip, namely, the opportunity that non-Korean churches and mission organizations in the U.S. have to link with the Church in Korea and with Korean churches in the U.S. for greater faithfulness and fruit as we participate with God in mission.
The way that this trip was led from start to finish by leaders of a thriving Korean-American Church was the first sign that it is time connect. In fact, Korean Christians have already taken the initiative! James Kwon, Paul Kim, and the rest of the leaders of the Community Church of Seattle who organized our trip to Korea have a deep sense of the calling that their church is to be more than a familiar “home away from home”-type of church for the Koreans who have come to America. Rather, they as a Korean American church have a calling from God to be outposts of God’s mission in their communities of the U.S.
In response to this call, Community Church of Seattle has started a Christian school for a constituency that includes many South Asian (India, Pakistan, etc) immigrants among their student body. They have a thriving English-language church led by our trip’s co-leader, Paul Kim. They are committed to global mission in many parts of the world. Further, they have an annual conference to share with Korean churches how they’ve moved from the traditional immigrant church to being a church-in-mission in the wider community. Finally, they have taken a leadership role in a presbytery in which Korean American churches account for about a third of the presbytery.
Regarding this latter phenomenon, I was delighted to learn that the Northwest Presbytery (PCUSA) of which they are a member has a dedicated Korean American staff, the Rev. Jin-Suk Kim. The Rev. Kim works alongside Presbytery Executive Corey Schlosser-Hall to ensure that the gifts and energy of the Korean churches find expression in the missions and ministries of the presbytery.
The second sign that a part of the future of the North American Church is linking with Koreans in global mission was the global commitment of every single church we visited during our ten days in South Korea. Myung Sung Church has invested millions of Korean won in medical missions in Ethiopia. Onnuri Church is supporting almost 1,000 missionaries at present. All the churches we saw are engaged in some way in mission to North Korea and among North Koreans.
Individual Christians are deeply involved in global mission as well. I spent the past weekend with the Rev. Ahn, Young Ro, one of my early mentors in mission when I was in Korea in the 1980s. After his retirement as pastor of a local church at age 70, Pastor Ahn started a mission to the South Pacific Island of Vanuatu. He worked with the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu country to develop a nursing school. In ten years the school has produced 65 graduates who are serving this island country. Most are serving in places where there had never been medical care prior to their going out as health workers. Pastor Ahn did not retire from ministry when he “retired.” He simply changed his mission field!
Our group heard a common testimony everywhere we went: “We learned Christianity from the missionaries. Now we are repaying the debt we owe them by engaging in Christ’s mission elsewhere.” I heard that message. But I sensed something more was going on. In the Korean Church I saw a living example of what Paul Borthwick was talking about in Western Christians in Global Mission: What Is the Role of the North American Church?
1. The Korean Church has come to North America. Now is the opportunity for non-Korean churches (especially Presbyterians who sent so many missionaries to Korea) to build relationships with Korean churches in our own communities and learn with them deep faith, fervent prayer, and intentional disciple-making in our own neighborhoods.
2. The Korean Church is global. While Korean churches tend to do things among strictly Korean networks, churches like the Community Church of Seattle and many of the churches we met in Korea have people who are bilingual, cultural bridges to non-Korean churches. Through relationships with such bridges who knows what kind of renewal of mission we might experience when Korean and non-Korean churches are partners in God’s mission?
3. The Korean Church is a leader. Sixteen years ago at a Presbyterian mission conference, a Brazilian mission leader, Oswaldo Prado gave a talk, “Is the Third-World First?” In that talk he shared about the rise of Third-World Missions (we might say today, “Majority World Missions”). It was exciting to hear about the missionary movement outside of North America in 2000, and it is amazing to see how much the “majority world” mission movement has advanced since then.
If we take this opportunity to join with Korean Christians in global mission, what might this look like? In the case of mission in North Korea and among North Koreans, the Korean Church has a unique calling and is in a position to be the lead partner in this work. We need to work alongside them and at their direction in order to be effective in that particularly difficult part of the world.
In other places, particularly in those countries with a history of Presbyterian mission work, there are opportunities to engage with the Korean Church in mission with churches in other countries where there has been a long history with the historic American Presbyterian Church. In this case the non-Korean church or mission might be the door-opener for new mission initiatives. No matter who takes the lead initially, we all have something to share with and something to learn from each other and from the church in those places.
Relationships take time to develop. Doing mission with a cross-cultural team has its challenges. But the “upsides” to mission through cross-cultural partnership offer more opportunities than going it alone does in this 21st century. So let us lean into the future as God may direct us.
Associate Director for Mission