The jet lag is real but it is worth it as I’ve just returned from a 10 day trip to South Korea. I traveled from London to Istanbul to Seoul with Oong Lee who was a tremendous help in translating both the language and the culture.
Following up on an invitation from a British-Korean pastor, the purpose of the trip was to encourage the IPC churches in South Korea and build connections with us in Britain. I preached 4 times, visited the Korean L’Abri (a Christian study centre), spent two days to exploring Seoul and spoke at the IPC presbytery meeting. I was also able to meet up with a Korean-American friend who has church planted in Seoul.
A few thoughts on the trip:
The Korean people I met were extremely hospitable and generous. They welcomed us into their homes and served wonderful food. Seoul is a clean, highly functioning and densely packed city. Even though I can’t read anything in Korean, there was enough English around that I quickly felt comfortable traveling by myself. The countryside is beautiful with mountains and coastline.
North Korea is impossible to ignore. It’s like living with your crazy cousins next door who usually stay inside and don’t bother anyone. But everyone once in a while, your uncle runs outside with a shotgun and fires it in the air making the whole neighborhood nervous and you even more embarrassed. The younger generation try to ignore them while the older generation can’t forget the past.
The church is in trouble. I’ve always heard glorious stories of the Korean church and it does have a glorious past. But as one friend put it, “I think the church is falling apart just as quickly as it rose after the Korean war.” A booming church grew hand-in-hand with the booming economy since the 1970’s. But now the younger generation is leaving Christianity in droves. The post-Christian culture of the West is rapidly being reproduced in Korea.
The twin problems of the prosperity gospel and legalism have crippled the spread of the gospel. There are giant churches with adverts around but the message being taught in many of these places is dubious. Huge buildings and bright shiny faces reek of a gospel devoid of repentance, sacrifice and suffering. A lack of cultural engagement and an emphasis on outward forms of spirituality (no alcohol, coat and tie wearing, hymn only singing, etc.) signal churches trapped by legalistic tendencies.
I met faithful people who were seeking to address the issues facing the church by bringing the gospel to the Korean people in culturally relevant ways. There are men and women who recognize that Korea is quickly becoming post-Christian and are striving to think through the issues and plant gospel-centered churches.
May the Lord continue to work in the land of Korea for His glory and for the good of the people.