We arrived back in Scotland from Korea last Friday evening and reached home on Saturday morning. Although we were only in Seoul for a week, I suspect it will turn out to be one of the most important weeks in my life. Time will tell!
It was a busy week. I had to preach four sermons, take part in other services, attend meetings of the hosting presbytery, and give a lecture on the spirituality of the Free Church of Scotland to one of the classes (about 300 students) in the denominational theological seminary. I also said a few words at the seminary's chapel service at which 1,600 students were present. Of course, a Korean pastor put my efforts in perspective when he casually remarked that he preached nine sermons a week and has not had a day off this year. Later, I asked him if he had heard of ministerial burnout, and he looked at me with that strange look one gives to those who refer to theological novelties.
It was an informative week. In addition to the above activities, we visited some of the historical sights in Seoul: palaces and other important buildings where leaders once held sway. I like wandering around such places. Doing so in Seoul was slightly different because in it the ideas of the past have been replaced by the Christian faith in the outlook of a large proportion of its inhabitants (the opposite of what has occurred in Britain).
It was a tasteful week. Every day I was introduced to a different feature of Korean cooking, and I can assure you it was all wonderful. Those that know me will respond by saying I would say that about any meal I have eaten. Whatever! The next time I see a Korean restaurant, I am heading into it.
It was a realistic week. I should not have been surprised to find in one museum bookshop a book on display detailing the suffering of the Christian church during the Japanese occupation connected to the Second World War. Needless to say, I bought it. Mentioning that period of suffering is also a reminder that the church in Korea has known martydoms during the last 120 years. It was very moving to visit the special memorial building to those who gave their lives in Korea in modern times for the Christian faith.
It was a spiritually challenging week, especially in three ways. First, there is the emphasis on prayer by the churches. I don't know why I used to wonder why the church in Korea has had such blessing. Once I saw their emphasis on prayer and their practice of prayer, the answer to my puzzlement is obvious. Second, there is the attentiveness of the congregations to the ministry of the Word. They listen to what is said. Third, there is the overflowing kindness of both the pastors and the people. I was made to feel as if they had known me all my life.
Will I be different Christian, more devoted to Christ? Ask my wife in a year's time. But I certainly hope so.