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I Sing the Lord’s Song in a Foreign Land

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(This reflection was written while Paul was in South Korea during one of his teaching appointments).

I’m a foreigner who, contrary to the unfortunate circumstances of the writer of Psalm 137, can sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.

That I came here to Korea, in 2001, was the result of noticing by chance a tiny advertisement in a Melbourne (Australia) newspaper to teach in Korea: I phoned the number and was immediately offered a position with airplane ticket supplied! It was, I remember, an answer to a brief anguished prayer: “Here is an impasse in life. What should I do now? I have no idea.” I knew nothing about Korea. I had never met a Korean. I had not mulled foreign residency.

That I came to Chungdong First Methodist Church, in June of that year, was again a chance. Exiting the cultural center opposite (I was keen to see what kind of culture had produced such loving Korean families that I had observed on the flight from Sydney to Kimpo) I noticed the “English Ministry” sign that hung on the church fence.

I found the familiar buried deep in the B2 basement. Helen Sheperd led the service and the Rev. Bill Cutter preached finely: they were both native English speakers.  The choir sang beautiful music beautifully, and the Shalom Trio played amazingly well: I’d loved this kind of music in worship since my graduate college days. After the service, friendly folk offered tangerines, coffee, and donuts – that sweet tradition still continues – and they enquired: How is Korean food? How do you cope with the crowded trains and buses? Do you like teaching Koreans?  Have you visited Duksugong Palace? Seoul Tower? I was very grateful for this kind attention when the country was new.

Then I was invited to church activities: to Korean classes after Sunday worship, to midweek Bible studies (I couldn’t attend), a camp – at which I experienced sleeping on mats on a hot floor with many Koreans. As part of English worship I got drawn into the preparations for the wedding of the two English ministry Jundosas: soon I worried about how much money I should give as wedding present. Through all these activities, I appreciated the warmth of relationships, and I learned how a church could be a focus of life activities, and that those life activities are an expression of the Christian faith, Christ among us. 

That November I visited Melbourne. Korea followed me back. Displayed in the State Library was the magazine, Korea Now. In it was a reprint of an article I had written for The Korea Herald. The magazine was produced for the Korean Department of Culture, in French and English versions, and sent to all Korean embassies and major world libraries. I was astonished. Then, I was momentarily flattered that my name was widely, though ephemerally, cast. Then I was dismayed when I realized I hadn’t been advised it would appear in that magazine.

So, on returning to Chungdong, during 2002, my part in the English ministry was every Sunday after worship, sitting with two bright and cheerful Jundosas in the English ministry office and with them editing pictures they had taken of the congregation and its visitors, and considering what news we should report in the next Fountain. That was a pleasure to do. 

In March 2003, on leaving to Australia to do something about my collapsing 19th Century wooden house, the Jundosas, on behalf of the English congregation, gave me a nice Parker fountain pen. Some ladies of the congregation took me to lunch at Agio restaurant. And the Rev. Dr. Sam Paik said some kind words during worship; I had attended regularly, I had even, as a native English speaker, for a few weeks, led English worship: since not succeeding to ordination after graduating BD years before, I’d not believed that that was my gift.

In Australia, for the next two and half years, I had much contact with Koreans. Traveling Korean students stayed together in my house. I kept in touch with Chungdong by regularly reading Sam Paik’s emailed sermon. Two or three times a week I attended the Melbourne Korean Church. There, I heard a young Korean wife explain how each morning she brought to God in prayer her concerns for the day: whom she would meet, what she should do and say. From this and many other examples I slowly learned what I had already seen at Chungdong but never done: the practical attitude of allowing hearts and minds to be regulated by God’s Word and to take all things to God in prayer.

paulcommunionThese days I live and work in ByeonChon, a far distance from Chungdong – but still my connection with Chungdong remains. I attend English worship whenever I can. I have contact with Chungdong friends. This year at SungMin University, I am a teaching colleague of the Rev. Javed Rafiel, whom I met in Chungdong. A picture of me bearded and on my knees receiving communion elements from the Rev. Sam Paik still appears in the Chungdong English ministry information brochure.

And I have marvelous memories of Chungdong Christmas Eves. It is the picture of Christians dressed snuggly, carrying lit candles, going down the snow-sprinkled steps of Chungdong church into the refrigerated air, and singing a welcome of joy to our Savior.

And then seeing in front of Duksugong Palace the huge Christmas tree glittering with lights and topped with a cross. Is this not the most wonderful place in the world at the most wonderful time of the year?

Though one day I will return to my country, I sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.

The church also holds worship in English. The Rev. Daekwang Choi may be contacted on: (031) 813 4674, 010 5552 4675.

This report written by Paul Langkamp, who returned to Australia in 2011. Paul Langkamp is a member of the Uniting Church, and during the last decade spent several years in South Korea, and also worshipped for three years at the Melbourne Korean Church.