Joseph picked me up around 5:00 on a Sunday. Together we drove to Blue Sky, his church, about 5 minutes from my school.
We made our way up the stairs into the "church" hall (standalone church buildings are virtually unknown here; due to lack of space, most are single floors in a larger building, thus you have doctor clinics, restaurants, churches, and small academies like my school sharing space) where I was greeted by many smiling faces.
I did my best to shake hands, bow, and say "ahn-yung-ha-sae-yo" to everyone, but honestly it's never not awkward. They often ask me questions in Korean or make comments and all I have in my arsenal of vocabulary is "hello," "thank you," and "yes." Koreans use "yes" much more. When you say thanks or goodbye, the most common response is just nae! "yes."
I really wonder what they make of me, because if you flip it around and imagine some foreign guy in the US that can only smile and say "yes" in response to anything you say it's both really funny and really sad.
I hadn't been there for more than a minute before someone told me I was handsome. I'm not letting it go to my over-sized head. It's pure fascination with westerners I think. I've even had taxi drivers take a good long look at me in the rear-view, gesture "face" and then give the thumbs up. I'm told that Koreans think their noses are too flat and they really admire larger noses. You see, the Leech hawk nose as mother has affectionately called it has it's place in the world.
After the 15th person told me I was handsome, things got underway.
I should do better to explain. Joseph (I call him by his English name) is one of the new teachers that just started at my school. We went through a bit of crisis a few months ago when one teacher got pregnant, one got engaged, and another booked a ticket to live abroad and they all put in their notice to quit within the span of a week or two.
A few weeks ago, he invited me to his home for lunch on one of our days off. At the recommendation of Mr. Lee (he's great for giving pointers on correct cultural politeness) I brought a gift. His wife recently got pregnant, so I went to the baby shop across the street and got a mobile. It was pretty adorable.
Joseph is one of the happiest, friendliest Koreans I've met here. He talks to me in English and uses English around me whenever possible (even addressing other Korean teachers), which I was not really used to at first. To be honest, I had my doubts and actually wondered if he was full of it. Luckily he's not, and at lunch, he asked if I would attend a special church event where members were asked to bring and introduce a friend that doesn't go to church. I didn't want to offend him and turn down the invitation, and I also jump at any chance to meet more people and gain some insights into what has become a big part of this society.
As is often the case when I'm invited by a Korean friend somewhere, I was the only foreigner. The church was very casual and laid-back, very different from the formality and ritual of a Catholic service. The preacher was a woman and though she had a sport coat on, I definitely saw pink slippers on her feet behind the podium. There were breaks in between things where everyone was just encouraged to chat up their neighbor. There was a choreographed dance (of course, right), a few pianos performances, and a few singers. All music was geared towards love of God, and Joseph translated lyrics for me in snippets.
There was no reading from the scripture. Instead, the lights suddenly went down and we watched a movie. It was a little bizarre. From what Joseph was telling me, the subtext told the creation story, and the rise of good and evil, and the temptations of sin. The bizarre part was that the video was, of all things, an epic montage of Lord of the Rings clips. While Joseph was telling me stories of human nature and humans relationship with God, there were orcs, hobbits, and elves running around on the screen. I decided it best not to inquire why.
Eventually, some clips from the Passion of the Christ slipped in. Much more theme-appropriate.
After the sermon, we shared a delicious bulgogi (spicy stir-fried meat and vegetables) and rice dinner. Kimchi, ever present, had a supporting role. At the beginning, all those who brought friends stood up to talk about their friend and introduce them. Joseph had some wonderfully touching remarks about me that he said in English. They were translated and projected on a screen behind him so the audience could understand. He gave me a copy which I will share a part of:
Welcome to our blue sky church and thank you very much for all coming this way that you were willing to accept my invitation.
We have a group of youth named "Passion" which means passion for Christ. Everyone has expected you to come to our church and we are pleased to see you now.
I am really glad to introduce you to my church family and to my God. I believe God led you here the house of God bless you to know him that how much love he has for you!
Anyway when I work with you, I think that you have warm heart and sense of humor and good manner, I feel deep affection for your life that you've been living not in your country but in Korea which has different language and culture. It's not easy to get along with foreign friends who are sometimes afraid to speak in English but you have an advantage others to come to you easily because you have good smiling and sense of humor.
As you know I also lived another country so I know you might sometimes face difficult situations coming from different culture. Above all things you may miss your people you really want to see. Your family, your girlfriend, your friends because without them it's not easy to tell something you love to talk from in your heart and in foreign country Korea it's not easy to be comfort from someone who know you very well. I did. I also sometimes got depressed to live abroad so I thought I like hometown which has the same culture and language. Keith, you're also supposed to come back to your country...
I'd really like to give thanks and glory to Our God to bring you Keith to the House of God. And God bless you in the name of Jesus.
I don't know if I'll go back, but I definitely appreciate what churches like that one do. God is important, but it really just seems to be mostly about community and having a social outlet to see other people and share talents and show love. It's good to have a friend like Joseph at work.