Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Reflection and some news

The following is a Lenten Reflection that I wrote for a reflection series done by Trinity Commons Episcopal Student Center, and I thought I would share it here too. It is written about Psalms 91 and 92.
Sometimes life is hard. Ok, life is hard much of the time. You all know this, you don't need me to tell you this. For the past 6 months or so, I have been acutely aware of this fact, living in South Korea. Sometimes you get tired. Sometimes the food is weird. Sometimes you have no idea what is going on around you. Go back and replace "sometimes" with "often" or "usually" and you have a pretty good idea of what it's like to live not only here, but I feel like most places.

As I read these two Psalms for the first time, I did not see how they intersected. Besides being numbered together, they seemed like two facets of a highly multi-faceted machine; not necessarily unrelated but not necessarily related either. Reading them again, I begin to see that they can be more accurately described as two halves of a whole. Psalm 91 is a song of protection. Psalm 92 is a song of praise, of joy. What better reason is there to sing for joy than the protection of God? 

However, I think sometimes this protection can be misinterpreted in our society. I often feel that we are being told that if you have a fear or a pain, simply praying about it will make it go away. While I do think prayer is important (of course), I think that this sort of "magic" prayer can be harmful. Sometimes in our lives, there will be suffering. I see it everyday, in the faces of the men, women, and children that I work with and in the dark, deep scars that war and foreign colonization and occupation have left on the Korean peninsula. If you pray through the suffering, you can gain strength. This is particularly important to remember during this season of lent, a season of repentance and suffering but also the joy of coming out of the darkness. If we praise God not only when we are joyful but also when we are suffering, I think that we can come to have a fuller and more meaningful relationship with God. Amen.
Well, what else has been happening? Much. In January we visited Jeju Island, a smallish island located off the southern coast of the peninsula. There we learned about many issues concerning the island's past, present, and future, including the 4-3 Incident, in which 30,000 islanders were killed or disappeared under the pretext of quelling a communist rebellion, and the current issue of Gangjeong Village, the protested site of a new South Korean naval base. If you would like any additional info on these issues, please let me know and I can send you more information personally. We also got to experience the beautiful (snowy!) scenery of the island, such as a large lava tube and the Jeju Stone Park, which featured some volcanic rock formations found on the island.
In March we returned to Seoul for a longer visit and got to experience big city life and met some new companions. We visited Durebang, or My Sisters' Place, a center to help women from abroad who work in clubs and bars near military bases who are often forced into prostitution. We also visited the Wednesday protest, or the protest to get an official apology from the Japanese government for the forced sexual slavery of not just Korean women but many other nationalities as well, during the period of Japanese imperialism. It is the longest protest on record, occurring every Wednesday for longer than 10 years. In Seoul, we also received an entire day of free time, which I spent exploring the shops in Myeong-dong, a popular shopping district, and relaxing with Tisha in a jjimjilbang, or Korean-style sauna.
Well, that's it for now! Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Two months have come and gone: Part 1

It’s been two months since I last blogged, and what a two months it was. So many things happened that I won’t be able to talk about all of them, so I apologize in advance.

First though, I want to talk a little bit about what I do at my site placement, because I realize I haven’t really talked about it. I work 4 days a week at Saenaru Gongdong Che (Saenaru Community Center), a church and (you guessed it) community center located near Daejeon Station. On the third floor of the building is a children’s center called Samsung Center (not related to Samsung the company, but named after the “dong”, or neighborhood it is located in). The first part of my day begins with working on the first floor, where a meal is served to the local homeless and/or poor population who live near the train station. Most of those who do have somewhere to sleep do so in tenement-like one room apartments, some of which are barely large enough to fit a bed or sleeping mat. Downstairs I answer to Jipsanim (deacon), whose name I don’t actually know partly because nobody calls him by his name and partly because I’m too afraid to ask. For a long time I didn’t know his title either, so in my head I referred to him as happy-jolly man, because he is usually smiling and in good spirits (a notable exception is when he tells me to do something 4 times and I still don’t know what he’s asking so he physically moves me to where I need to be…this actually happens fairly often).

After serving the meal comes clean up, an assembly line operation that the folks at Saenaru have gotten down to a science. My favorite position is position 4, or Aquarius (I made up this name). It is this persons job to not only give the trays their final go underneath the faucet, but also to ensure that no water is wasted and that each sink has enough water (hence the title of Aquarius). I haven’t come up with nifty Zodiac associated names for the other positions yet, but I’m working on it.

With clean up completed, it’s upstairs I go, where I eat dinner with the children and teachers from Samsung Center and then do those dishes. Doing the dishes on the second floor is much less stressful, partly because the woman who cooks helps. She is a very nice woman who is always concerned that I didn’t eat enough and saves me from being given more donuts than anyone could possibly eat by Jipsanim (the Dunkin Donuts at the train station donates all of their leftovers to Saenaru, and Jipsanim usually attempts to send me home with about half of them, which is a whole lot of donuts).

Finally, I head up one more flight of stairs to the children’s center itself, where I teach English/play games with the middle and high school students who go to the center after school. All of the children I teach come from either poor or unstable home environments, usually both. Most of my students are girls, and my absurdly extensive knowledge of Korean pop music comes in handy. For example, my lesson on superlatives consisted of questions like “Which member of EXO (a hybrid Korean/Chinese boy band) do you think is the most handsome?” which unintentionally sparked controversy when the girls disagreed with each other. I’m still surprised they know all of their names…there are 12 of them after all. After about an hour of teaching, it’s time for me to head back home.

Ok, so know you know what I do…onwards to other things! What else has been going on? Lots of things! At the end of October we attended part of the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, which was kind of one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. It was an incredibly jam packed 3 days, and I met people from all over the world. We participated in bible study, ecumenical conversations, prayer services, and worship services. The theme of the assembly was “God of life, lead us to Justice and Peace”, and this theme was apparent in every aspect of the assembly. I will dedicate a later blog post to explore the assembly in much more depth.

Ok…I am all written out at this point…I know it’s been way too long since I last posted and I truly apologize. I will attempt to be more intentional about posting in the future. That’s all for now, stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Random Musings on September

I woke up not quite in the best mood this morning and a little homesick (Ok, very homesick), so I thought blogging it out might help.

I still can't believe it's been six weeks since I arrived in Korea. Where has all that time gone? September came and went very much like a KTX train (Korea's high-speed rail system), leaving me breathless in its wake, grasping for meaning amongst the myriad images whirling around in my brain. Breathtaking mountains, strange and uninviting cuisine, Hangeul (the Korean alphabet system); these things permeated my existence, invaded my dreams, forced themselves upon my every thought, while I, at times willingly and at other times not-quite-so willingly, allowed them this insistent persistence, filling me to the brim with too many thoughts and too many questions. At times I wanted to cry, at times I wanted to laugh, at times I did both and at times I did neither, retreating to my room and reading, looking for an escape to far off lands much like the one I was living in. It was all right to read about them, but it is another thing entirely to live in one.

I have found that visiting another country, although I have only done so a few times, is much like learning to swim without a life preserver. You long for a gentle slope into the deep end, and this is at times possible, but eventually, some person, some food, some interaction with the unknowable nuances of another culture push you forcefully into the deep-end, leaving you struggling for breath and understanding, and finding none. It is an exhilarating experience, which explains why traveling is such a common pastime. When I visited France, I was enchanted by the foreignness of the food; bedazzled, not frustrated by the inability to communicate beyond ordering a croissant. When returning home to the safety of America, I relished these feelings, knowing that I had become more "worldly" out of the experience, whatever that was supposed to mean. Being somewhere for six weeks puts an entirely different spin on these feelings. The foreignness of the food becomes at times intolerable, the inability to communicate insufferably frustrating. I knew this would happen, but experiencing it in the flesh as opposed to abstractly thinking about it are very different.

Then there are the times when there is a spark of understanding, a pinprick of meaning shining through. So far it has not happened very often, but each time has been more insistent. It happens when my site placement supervisor says something to me, and it is translated, and I realize that I didn't need the translation. It happens when I'm eating dinner at my site, a spicy stew, and I realize that I'm not the only one who's red-faced and sweating. It happens when I think I want to go home, and then I realize that God would not send me here if God didn't know that I could handle it. And I can. Those pinpricks will eventually become hole punches, the moments of understanding will eventually become minutes. It's sink or swim, and right now I'm paddling to the surface.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

I'm Here! Part Two: Arrival and Culture Shock

Wow. So much for this being posted "tomorrow". Once again, my new life in Korea got away from me and it has taken way too long for me to post something new.

So, when we last left off I was headed towards Newark Liberty airport. What followed was luckily not a repeat performance of my flight to orientation and was relatively smooth. The flight to Korea was mostly just really long and boring, the food was ok and the movies United decided to play were awful.

Fast forward 23-ish hours and we arrive at Incheon International Airport, just outside Seoul. After clearing customs and immigration, we head out the arrivals gate to see a familiar face: Kurt! One half of our fearless site-coordinator duo. Only he's speaking this language...Korean! Egads...somehow, we can communicate enough to find our way onto a bus to Daejeon, and little did I know how normal this sort of interaction without complete comprehension was to become in just a few short days.

My first bit of culture shock hit me when we stopped halfway to Daejeon for a bathroom break at a travel center (which was enormous and had a food court and small mall in addition to the standard vending machines) and I realize: We are the only non-Koreans in sight. It's a bit overwhelming to be perfectly honest, and a dim sort of understanding of what it's like to be a minority back in America slowly begins to bloom inside of me.

When we get to Daejeon, I'm already not having any of it. I can't read any signs without having to stop for about a minute, I'm tired, I'm jetlagged, and my bags are entirely too heavy and I'm wondering why I packed so much. We're met at the bus terminal by Chung Moksanim (Reverend Chung), one of the chaplains at Hannam University and were escorted to our new home. There we met the other half of our fearless site-coordinator team, Hyeyoung! Maybe I was imagining it, but she seemed to sense my trepidations and emanated a calming presence in response...maybe this is not so bad, I thought. We went to eat dinner at a place nearby that has an enormous menu, and we are gratefully submersed relatively easily into our first Korean cuisine experience: Gimbap (meat and vegetables wrapped in seaweed and rice, kind of like sushi but not really) and donkkaseu (breaded and fried pork cutlet topped with a sweet sauce, delicious).

Things get a little easier over the next couple of days. We begin our orientation in Korea the next day, which involves a week and a half of discussions about Korean history and culture, traveling around to our site placements, eating more food that's delicious and interesting, taking a pretest for our Korean class (hahaha...ha), and just in general getting our feet wet in Daejeon. Slowly but surely, I began to get my bearings in and around Hannam University, our home away from home.

Early on in our orientation, Hyeyoung asked us to try and look for God during this time. At first this was difficult. Everything around me was so foreign, even God seemed foreign and distant from me. I felt cut off, enjoying the Korean culture but not really feeling God's presence in the midst of all of it. However, slowly the clouds began to shift and I did begin to see God: In the smiling face of Kim Moksanim, my site placement supervisor; in the many interactions with new friends, all of them so welcoming and warm; and God even crept back into my own times of personal reflection, providing me with inner peace as I began the long and arduous process of adjustment to life in Korea.

This process still continues to this day, and I know I will still be adjusting next July when it is time to go home. Thankfully, I'm beginning to see God in even more places now, and each moment of recognition puts a new face on the multi-faceted existence of the Trinity.

I promise not to take so long next time!!!! Hopefully I can post about my day-to-day experiences soon!

Friday, September 6, 2013

I'm Here! Part One: The Journey

I'm finally back blogging again. Sorry it has taken me so long to post a post, but I have had very little time.

Where do I even begin? So many things have happened in the past couple of weeks, and they are all weirdly blurred together while also being distinct in my mind, if that makes any sense. I suppose I could start with orientation.

Probably the worst thing about orientation was the trip to New York from Alabama. I have never in my life encountered so much difficulty in air travel, and this day made up for my former lack of such problems greatly. Delays, missed connections, misplaced luggage, you name it, I experienced it. At the time, I couldn't help but wonder: Is there some sort of message in this? Is God trying to send me a sign? Should I just accept defeat, and take the next red-eye back to Birmingham? Looking at it now, I know that the answer to the first question was a resounding yes, but not in the way that I thought. At discernment and orientation, we YAVs were constantly reminded of the need for flexibility, for the ability to adjust our expectations to reality, and I got my first lesson in that my first day as a YAV. Would I have preferred a smooth transition? Absolutely. However, I learned that day that I have a lot to learn when it comes to trusting God and not getting worked-up or stressed-out. Hopefully this year will allow me to explore these things.

At orientation, I got to reunite with the International YAVs that I had met at the discernment event, and also meet the many National YAVs who had done their discernment process over the telephone. There were so many people with so many interesting stories and backgrounds, and I wished I could have met them all, but I didn't. We engaged in discussions about cultural competency and sensitivity, self-care, and many other important things. We were also led in bible study each day by Rick Ufford-Chase, co-director of Stony Point Center and former moderator of the PC(USA) General Assembly. He led us in difficult yet enlightening discussions on familiar passages, and attempted to open our eyes to new ways of biblical interpretation in light of poverty, evangelism, and reconciliation.

Of course, there was also plenty of time for fun. Just existing and talking with so many like minded people was fun in and of itself, but there were also big group games, dance parties, late-night gas station excursions (particularly important to me, as I attempted to gain 10 pounds of American junk-food prior to departure), bowling night, a talent show, and just plain good ol'-fashioned fellowship. I made so many new friends, and I can't wait to follow their years, just like I hope they want to follow mine.

The final true day of orientation was when we YAVs got commissioned at local churches. For me, this involved an unexpected trip into New York City, or just "the city" as seemingly everyone but me knew to call it. I went with three other YAVs to Broadway Presbyterian, which was close to Columbia University and Union Seminary. After the sermon (which, by the way, the pastor closed with a musical theatre number he sang himself with a Broadway calibre voice; AKA my kind of sermon), we were sent out to do our work by what were once strangers, but now more friends on the journey. They might not be coming with us, but they will be in our hearts as we journey on to new places and experiences.

And then it came. The moment. The departure. My van left at 2:30 AM, so instead of sleeping, I stayed up, soaking in the last moments with my YAV family for a while. There was music, there was laughter, there were tears, there were countless embraces and countless smiles. We knew our time together was coming to a close, but we also knew something bigger was about to start and only God knew how it would change and influence our lives and the world around them. Being in the presence of those people, I knew we were that much closer to the Kingdom on Earth.

The goodbyes made, the vans loaded, we headed for the airport, each of us with our own destinations in mind. What would my life look like in a year? How would I change? I didn't and still don't know, and it scares me. But I did know, that regardless of delays and missed connections, lost bags and interminable lines at security, that I was with my new family, and with them came their music, their laughter, their tears, their countless embraces and countless smiles. And I did not fear, for in them was God.

I'll try to post Part Two as soon as I can, most likely tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Generosity and Kindness

I'm back again! I can't believe it's now been over 2 months since placement event and in less than 3 months I will be leaving my home! It's a feeling that is difficult to describe. I'm both incredibly excited and incredibly terrified about my upcoming adventure, and I've learned much about myself just during the past couple of months.

The past few weeks have given me an opportunity to make a sizable dent in my fundraising requirements. First of all was a talent show at Trinity Commons Episcopal Student Center at UAB, which was a big success! Thanks to all who came out and supported my cause. There was a much larger crowd than I expected, and Trinity Commons was generous enough to match the total donation up to $100! Thanks again to Father Bill and the rest of the Trinity Commons gang for making it possible.

I was also given a chance to give a short Minute for Mission at Second Presbyterian in Birmingham. The congregation made some nice donations, and I very much appreciated making me feel welcome back there. I even got to go back and help some with the choir! I miss singing with them.

This past Sunday was when I went to my home church, First Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa to give my Minute for Mission there. It had been some time since I had worshiped there, and I was a bit nervous about standing in front of the congregation, but I was met with such kindness and generosity from the congregation. I was also pleased to find out about some other former FPC-Tuscaloosa youth who were also going on world mission adventures, Miller Wright to East Asia, and Genny Weaver who has spent the last year in Uganda and is about to spend 3 months in Mozambique. As Dr. Charlie Durham said in his sermon, "Who would have dreamed that these three would be going on to make such a difference?" Well, God did! I received some very generous gifts from the congregation, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

Coming up, I hope to be able to connect with the congregation at Southminster Presbyterian in Birmingham. Southminster has served as a church home away from home for me this past year, as I have been a choral intern. I hope to be able to tell them about my upcoming year soon,

If you would like to support me as well, remember you can easily donate online! A link to my page on the Presbyterian Mission Agency website is below. It still says I am Anna Curl, but it is the correct page. Of course, please continue to pray for me as well, I definitely need your prayers!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Greetings! Here we go...

Hello there! Come on in...I know, it seems a little empty at this point, but hey, it'll fill up soon enough. This is it, the first blog post of many! It's been a wild ride these past few months, which I assume will be nothing compared to the times to come.

So, you may ask, what is this blog all about? I'm glad you asked! Questions are always welcome. This is my blog that will chronicle my experiences this upcoming year as I move to Daejeon, South Korea as part of the Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program. You can find out more about this wonderful program here, or by accessing the link below. "South Korea!?! That's amazing!" The preceding seems to perfectly sum up people's general reaction to my news. Let me say that I too had that reaction, and my excitement and anticipation has been building ever since I got my assignment. How did I get my assignment, you ask? (Wow, you guys are asking some great questions!) Well...

It seems like yesterday but it was really three weeks ago that I was off to Louisville, KY for the YAV Discernment event. The Discernment event was held on the campus of Louisville Theological Seminary, which provided a beautiful and relaxing backdrop to the inner turmoil of nerves and excitement felt by me and I'm assuming many of the other potential YAVs. We got a chance to meet with international and national site coordinators, and also the YAV staff that we had previously known only as a voice on the telephone. It was a great weekend filled with fellowship, worship, and of course, the interviews. The interviews turned out not to be a hand-wringing, nerve-wracking experience but much more of a laid back conversation with the site coordinators.

Then came the assignments. We got our assignments Saturday night, after a moving worship service. Luckily, I was asked to help play piano for the service, which definitely took my mind off the fact that I was about to learn where I would be serving for the next year in just an hour or so. I was handed my envelope, completely unsure of what I was about to read...and then a huge wave of relief, unbelief, and excitement washed over me as I read the words: "South Korea". I immediately posted on Facebook and called my parents with the news.

In the weeks following placement, It has been difficult not to try and do all the preparations for my year all at once. The most fun I've had since placement has been being able to tell my story to my family, friends, and congregation. There are many things I have to do before I depart Birmingham on August 19th for Orientation, and one of the ones all of you can help me do is fundraise! Fundraising is an important part of the YAV experience for all YAVs. I have to raise $4,000 total, $3,000 of which must be raised by July 15.

One of the things to help kick-off my fundraising is a talent show that will be help at Trinity Commons Episcopal Student Center at UAB. The talent show will be held on Sunday, April 21 following the 6 PM Eucharist...not too long from now! The suggested donation at the door is $5. Please contact me if you would like any additional information on the show. Acts will include myself, Callie Courter, Hillary Miller, and many more, plus various combinations of the above. One of the great things about being a Music major is that you have lots of friends who are willing to showcase their talents!

If you can't make that event, you can always donate online! You can donate here or by clicking the link found below. (Don't worry if it says someone else's name, it will change to my name soon, and anything donated now will still go to me).

Another important way to support me is with prayer! Your prayers are definitely welcome and needed as I undertake this adventure.

Thanks for reading all of this! I don't expect to be quite so verbose in all of my posts. I can't wait to be able to share all of my experiences with you, loyal readers, come August when I depart Birmingham. Until then, be on the lookout for possible future posts. See you later!