Learning from the Korean Diaspora

I was proud to join 30 Korean church leaders from across Asia, America and Australia at the biennial Korean Overseas Diaspora Conference held in Toronto, Canada earlier this month.

Four Korean Ministers from the Uniting Church attended: NSW/ACT Synod Moderator Rev. Myung Hwa Park, Revs. Kisoo Jang, Kiduk Hwang and Sunil Jeong, and I was delighted to be able to join them to hear about their experiences of ministry and mission.

The Korean Overseas Diaspora Conference started 20 years ago in Sydney and was an initiative of Seongja Yoo-Crowe, who was the Assembly’s first National Director for Multicultural and Cross Cultural Ministry.

The theme of this conference was ‘Proclaim Shalom of the Land’ based on the Jeremiah reading (chapter 29: 4-7 and 1 Peter 2: 11-12).

There was encouragement for the Korean diaspora to be peacemakers wherever they live. It is not always an easy way of life.

For example the Korean community in Japan. According to Rev. Dr Sung Jae Kim, the Moderator of the Korean Christian Church in Japan, a UCA partner church, Korean people in Japan face daily discrimination and still they want to be peacemakers.

Rev. Dr Kim says his Church works hard to bridge the gap with their Japanese neighbours, focussing their ministry and mission more on the theme of reconciliation and renewal rather than growing congregations.

The issue of Korean identity was central to every presentation by representatives from USA, Asia, Canada and Australia.

In his address, Rev. Professor Hak Joon Lee from the Fuller Theological Seminary in the US explained that members of the Korean Diaspora had been theologically uprooted from their identity on Korean soil and transplanted into different land around the world.

Some Korean communities still live as they did in Korea, having little to do with their neighbouring communities, he said. However, more and more Korean diaspora members are beginning to intentionally engage with other communities.

Rev. Prof. Lee shared his work with other 16 second-generation leaders in publishing English language resources for second generation Korean-Americans: Living Between, Living Together and Living Faithfully.

The Milal Korean Church in Toronto, was the venue for the conference. Milal’s own story is an inspiration. The church started in 1994 with a few family members, but has now grown more than 2000 members, with more than 400 children and led by four ministers.

In the Korean language ‘Milal’ means ‘grains’.  The Church’s first generation leaders recognised the importance of growing second-generation leaders. Ten years ago, their second-generation leaders led their English Ministry Bridgeway Church. The first generation leaders supported and encouraged their second generation to form their own congregations. Under the leadership of Senior Minister Rev. Sung Hwan No there are now two separate congregations: Milal Korean Church and Bridgeway English Church.

Rev. John Kim, the minister at Bridgeway Church, told me that as a second-generation Korean he cannot speak Korean, and that the vision of Bridgeway church is to love God and neighbours in everyday life.

While in Toronto, I had an opportunity to preach at the first and only Korean Retirement House. The house was build by Rev. Myung Chun Kim, who was the first Korean woman Minister to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church in Canada after she graduated from Toronto’s Knox College.

Myung Chun was born in Beijing, the daughter of a North Korean businessman who had moved to China and enrolled in a theological seminary during the Japanese occupation of Korea. The family moved back to Korea after the liberation but later fled to South Korea with the communist takeover of the north.

She is an amazing minister. Her ministry with elderly people goes way beyond Korean communities.

At the end of the conference, Rev Kisoo Jang from the Hanbit Uniting Church in Melbourne was elected as the chairperson of the Korean Overseas Diaspora Conference.


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