What service is God calling you to?
The following article first appeared in The Korea Herald in May 2006. It describes the medical mission undertaken by ChungDong First Methodist Church in Seoul. Of course the many doctors in the congregation lend their specialist’s hands: but it is the whole church working together - providing its building and organizers of every hue; faces that radiate God’s work in their lives - that make possible this natural expression to others of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ to us.
What reforming work in God’s church is he calling us to do at this time? Is it not to confess Christ, follow his precepts and then offer ourselves in service to Him. The harvest is great – both within and without the church – and labourers are few. The ACC needs workers in the UCA – and it needs faithful confessing Christians – to do his work in his church.
Agape Clinic Shares Korean Christians’ Love
In the late 19th century, foreign missionaries at Chung Dong First Methodist church, behind Duksu palace (near City Hall Station), saw the need for education, opened Ewha Girls School – which later spawned the famous university of the same name – and accepted its first student, a young . These days, Chung Dong church is still driven by the idea of service to the needy; but it’s not foreigners serving needy Koreans, it’s Koreans serving needy foreigners. Every second and fourth Sunday afternoon, from 2 PM to 5 PM, the church’s 300 medical doctors and a host of helpers open a free clinic for foreigners. They have named it “Agape Clinic” after the Biblical word for Christian love.
The doctors and their helpers have set up the clinic in the church’s Social and Education building. The modern building is handsome behind the historical – and pretty - Chung Dong church. On clinic days, many of the building’s 8 floors are temporarily converted from church use to an array of hospital uses.
By 1 PM on clinic days, the first of the usual 150 patients are already arriving. Some have the signs of debilitation and hobble in on crutches, some with back-braces, and many wearing the long faces of a body that’s not working properly. All of them are foreigners seeking assistance. Many have no medical insurance, work for low wages, and are in no position to buy the otherwise expensive specialized services which, thank God, are offered here for free
At 1:30, many go upstairs to the first floor meeting hall where they register their attendance and collect a large patient number to hang around their necks. Some of the early-arrivers choose to attend the pre-clinic service of Christian worship. The Rev. Daekwang Choi, an assistant minister in this church of 2000 people, is the spiritual leader for the Agape Clinic. The service of worship is simple, he says. Hymns are sung to guitar accompaniment and a short address is given. Last Sunday he pointed to the historical figures of Moses, Abraham and Jesus and observed that life lived according to God’s guidelines is not necessarily easy but maybe meaningful. It’s hardly high-pressure evangelism. In Agape clinic, patients receive the medical service and hear the reason. They may respond. The purpose of Agape Clinic, he says, is to offer both physical and spiritual healing.
Dr. Hyung-Sik Park, D.D.S. M.S.D. Ph.D., a Professor at Yonsei University Dental Hospital, is the leader of Agape Clinic. He agrees with this goal. He says that, “We want to share our love with foreign people, and we want to have a strong service mind”. So, Dr. Park asks his staff – identified by their bright yellow “Agape Clinic” vests – to sit among the patients during these minutes of worship. It is to show that the doctors and the staff and their patients are equal: the free service is provided with humility. It’s the only way.
Soon after 2:00 PM, more patients arrive in the registration room. The Agape Clinic helpers are busy organizing. They give every patient a number, then in an orderly fashion, call them up to the registration desk. The patients are asked for information needed by doctors: name, birthday, occupation, nationality, allergies suffered, drugs previously taken and previous medical conditions. Patients are not asked for passports, nor visa status: the clinic provides a confidential medical service. Medical insurance is not needed. Although patients come from 32 different countries, the majority are from Mongolia, China, Philippines, and fewer from Bangladesh, Vietnam, Russia, and Morocco. All foreigners are welcome. While patients wait for their number to be called, they are offered refreshments of soft drinks, tea and cake; it’s all done with a smile.
Then patients move to another desk where their blood pressure is taken on an automatic machine and where they are interviewed prior to medical consultation. Of course many suffer common complaints such as colds or flu. Others are looking for treatments for stress and blood conditions, and Agape clinic offers consultations with a range of medical experts including eye conditions, oriental acupuncture, pathology, pediatric and obstetric services. Limited surgical procedures are also undertaken, and dentists are on hand. Gordon Craig, an auditor in the American military and volunteer on the registration desk, says that the dental clinic, even with four patient chairs, backs up pretty quickly. It is sometimes necessary to book in weeks in advance. After the initial interview, patients are directed to the services spread over four floors. The services offered by Agape Clinic are wide-ranging, like a hospital.
But this Agape is more than a hospital. After consultation, patients can take their prescription to the in-house drugstore and receive the required drugs – again free of charge. AhnSung Ja is the pharmacist in charge. She says that on typical clinic day of 150 patients, 100 will require medication. She says it’s hard work making up that many prescriptions in 3 hours, but a happy atmosphere prevails and her helpers work as a team. She says that the church pays for the drugs, but they also regularly receive donations of drugs from Kookmin Ilbo, newspaper.
And, while patients are receiving medical attention and medication, they can also take advantage of the free barber and beauty shop. Like the other services in Agape Clinic, it is also very popular. The beauticians are kept busy all afternoon. And if clothes are needed, then patients can pay a visit to the small in-house clothing shop. Items aren’t free, but they’re nice and very cheap: just 1000 won each. By 5PM on clinic days, patients leave the clinic, in a much happier frame of mind, and enjoy the beautiful trees and streetscape that surrounds Chung Dong church.
The twice-monthly clinic at the church is not the only free service offered by Agape Clinic. Dr. Hyung-Sik Park, says that they open another free clinic in another part of Seoul, in Koyodong, for aged Koreans. He says that the Agape clinic committee has also decided to undertake 3 foreign missions a year. Two weeks ago a team of 2 medical doctors, 4 dentists 3 pharmacists and 8 helpers went to Siemrip, near Ankorwat in Cambodia. They treated 1300 patients in three days and ran out of prescription slips. They had to use blank papers. He said that such foreign medical missions are very impressive.
He explains that, like all the services undertaken by Agape Clinic, for the doctors and their helpers, it is a kind of training. The service of love has a positive effect on those who give. He says this very important, especially for the many young people of the church who help with the simple organizing tasks. 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.
Paul Langkamp is a member of the Uniting Church, and worshipped for three years at the Melbourne Korean Church, as well as teaching in South Korea for different periods between 2001-2011. These days he is back in Australia and involved in a number of different ministries.