My first week here was exactly what I expected it to be. Time has taught me that moving requires people to be gentle with themselves. You cannot expect a place to feel like home in less than a week. How can you? You can’t even find the cereal aisle. So I’ve been easy on myself. I’ve had days where I fed myself and managed to get to the E-Mart, Korea’s version of Wal-Mart, find a few things to eat and furnish the new place with, pay, manage to carry it all home, not break the eggs, and that’s winning. And then you have days where you master the bus system or subway system (with transfers! In a foreign language!) and feel like a total badass. And then you have days like Sunday this past week.
Sunday was the first day where I woke up and for the first time really thought to myself, “What the fuck have I just done?” And I feel like the intensity of the feeling came out of nowhere, but I saw the emotion creeping in. Essentially, I can’t go anywhere without being stared at by someone. I walk by men in the street and while I see that they see me, their eyes dart away when they meet mine. Then, after I pass, I slowly feel them turn back to stare. Children don’t hide it as much, and the women seem to get it. They know what it’s like being stared at, and so they make an effort not to. Korean ladies, if you’re reading this, and have ever made the conscious effort not to stare at a foreign woman, thank you. You rock.
I can’t go anywhere without being stared at, and then to add to it, my day-to-day life is now different. It revolves around a bus schedule, or subway system. If not that, then finding places, such as the post office, and other random information such as my zip code, which isn’t that simple in Korea, apparently. And to top it off, my school is on vacation until August 8th, and most of my colleagues are out of town, traveling. So there’s been a lot of time by myself.
You gotta find your people.
Until Saturday. Saturday, I met up with some other expats. A lovely Irish couple, in Hongdae, where we walked around a bit in search of an authentic Korean restaurant that never surfaced, and settled for a western restaurant, which had burgers. It was a breath of fresh air to meet with like-minded individuals who quit their jobs to up and move around the world and hear of their adventures. It was satisfying to be with someone who let me into their lives and their hearts, and allowed me to hear their stories. They’re real, and they allowed me to be real as well.
On my way home that night, I ended up messaging one of my dearest friends, who had just given birth to her second child, another girl. I had so hoped Dottie would come before I left, but that girl was quite comfortable and decided to stick around in utero. While I’m so grateful for the modern technology of Facebook messenger, FaceTime, KakaoTalk and WhatsApp, it doesn’t take away from the fact that I won’t get to hold little Dottie until she’s not so little anymore. I remember going to see Rosie, her first little one, when she was about three weeks old, and it changed me. I think it was then that I realized for the first time that my friends and I are no longer young women, but are real, full grown, and fully capable of being adults. Not playing, but being real. And it had been that way for some time.
Before I left, I broke down in big, wet, blubbering tears while in a therapy session (I never cry like this in therapy) over the fact that some of the people I know and love the most are going to continue to live life while I’m away and that I’m going to miss it all. I won’t be there for births, engagements, weddings, graduations, etc. Sure, social media is a gift in this way, but I won’t really be there, and damnit, I love these people. I want to be there for them and with them as they go through life’s events, like they’ve done for me over the years.
So when I woke up Sunday and thought, “What the fuck did I just do?” I did what any normal person would do. I called home. I talked with about three different people, and sobbed to two of them, and they all said what I knew I needed: Get thee to a church home. So I up got ready, googled the location and directions of the first church on my list, and set off.
I’ve never been the sort of woman who is easily deterred.
I should clarify that the reason why I chose this church to try over all the others is that it advertised on their website that they have an English ministry (with their own English service!) and it’s in my city. They’re also Baptist, and I read their vision and mission statement and it all seemed pretty mainline and normal Protestant Evangelical.
I should also clarify that it’s humid and hot right now in South Korea. Like Houston. Gross. So I walked, rode the bus, walked some more, and when I arrived, a sweet older Korean gentleman tells me (in very broken English) that the English ministry had closed and was no longer in operation. Frustrated, I pulled out my phone, and showed him the website (update your website, folks) as if to say, but your church says it exists, so it must be so. No, it closed a year ago. I still didn’t believe him. He didn’t speak very good English; maybe he didn’t understand me. Maybe he doesn’t know! I don’t know about all the ministries that go on in my church at home. I started wandering around the building. When I came down from an elevator, feeling defeated and ready to go home, a Korean woman (whom I’ve since befriended) was waiting for me. She had been sent to wait for the crazy redheaded American lady who just didn’t believe they didn’t have an English service.
“I’m so sorry, but we don’t have a service in English anymore.”
Cue tears. No shame, just tears.
She listened to me, offered me water and tissues, and then said,
“I know exactly how you feel. I used to live in Boston.”
I then stopped, sniffled and managed, “Oh yeah? What took you to Boston?”
“I was studying piano there.”
“I’m a musician too. I studied voice.”
And like that, a friendship was formed.
She knew of an American missionary who would be visiting later and if I wanted, I could wait and I could speak to her to find churches in Seoul that hold English services. I agreed, she bought me coffee, and sat and chatted with me until the American arrived.
When the American missionary arrived, I learned that she is working to plant a college ministry in association with a Pentacostal Church at a Korean university in the Seoul area. I don’t know much of the Pentacostal church, but I know when in a foreign country, you can’t always be picky or quick to turn away those God might place in your path. I accepted.
After the service, I met her intern, who turned out to be from Belgium, and we went with two other Koreans to a restaurant nearby.
After some time, the American asked me what my church background is. I shared a Reader’s Digest version of my spiritual life story, which entailed specifying a reformed background, predestination, but also free-will and my story of baptism. I didn’t hesitate in this at all, as our church is fairly mainline Protestant Evangelical; we’re fairly normal, in the most respectable of ways. However, this incited quite a conversation with her intern, who plainly said, at the dinner table,
“The reformationists are heretics.” Please note the present tense. That escalated quickly.
Them’s are fightin’ words.
I had never heard of such a thing before, and while I deflected the conversation in that moment, he managed to get my contact information and proceeded to send me articles about the heresy of the Reformation. Nevermind that the Pentacostal movement probably never would have come to existence had the Reformation never happened. This guy, however, brought a knife to a gunfight. It’s not worth it to go into the details of what the articles specifically said, but they were littered with red herrings, straw man arguments, and circular reasoning. They contradicted scripture (even though they reference scripture, it’s taken out of context with little to no regard of the author, audience or time period), and also failed my age-old theology measuring stick question of “Does this make God bigger, or does it make God smaller?” Every single argument in these articles made God smaller, and made the writer or mankind bigger, an outcome that I, like many Christians, reject. It was clear the authors never fully read any theology, or ever wrote a proper persuasive essay. And of course, along with all this, there were all the usual marks of the enemy’s influence: a current vulnerable state, feelings of frustration, anxiety, and isolation, and inciting questions of God’s time-tested truth.
Lies. What he said he supported, it was all a pack of lies.
I hardly think I’m in a place to consider or call someone a heretic. I’m no theologian, but simply a humble servant. I merely dabble in reading what greater and more learned men and women have to say with regards to God, but I feel confident in saying he was, in fact, a false teacher. I eventually got him to stop harassing me, but not without a fight. I definitely don’t think all evangelicals fall into this category, for indeed, I’ve met many wonderful believers who are evangelical who are not jerks or false teachers. But if time has taught me anything it’s that when you step out in faith and obedience in the Lord, the enemy ties to unfurl you and God’s plans, and he will do whatever he can to do so. However, as a friend reminded me, the devil hates to be found out, and he usually goes off skulking. I’m sure I’ve not seen the last of him here, but these plans are not mine, but belong to the one who created me for them. That’s the truth. And my God is so much bigger than lies.
But one good thing came of this crazy day of reckoning. The Korean woman who has lived in Boston, she is now my friend. My first Korean friend here in Korea, who took me to lunch today and wandered through cosmetic counters with me, interpreting skincare lines, and drinking coffee, and just being women together, living life. Already, the anxiety from Sunday has been completely worth it.