Faculty Stories

New Life in Old Connections

Lessons from Garrett’s Delegation to South Korea

“Rather than attempting to ‘convert’ the Ethiopian to his way of being, his culture, his assumptions, Philip recognizes God already at work and present in the life of the Ethiopian.” President Javier Viera spoke these words in a two-day Bible Study he delivered at the Dong Bu Annual Conference of the Korean Methodist Church in South Korea. While there, he also led a Garrett delegation to explore partnership with churches and theological institutions in the country.  “Both the Ethiopian and Philip experienced conversion that day,” he continued, as he outlined mutuality and reciprocity as essential qualities for ethical mission work. It was a fitting theme for a trip seeking to build upon a historic relationship while simultaneously opening fresh horizons.

Joined by colleagues including the Reverend Dr. AHyun Lee, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology, Care, and Psychotherapy, and The Reverend Scott Ostlund, Garrett’s Vice President for Enrollment Management, the group traveled with Bishop Hee-Soo Jung and members of the Wisconsin Conference—who have been cultivating relationship with the Dong Bu Annual Conference for more than twenty years. Ties with Garrett run deep, too—the earliest students from Korea graduated in the 1930s, and the conference concluded with the hymn “Call’d of God, We Honor the Call,” written by Dr. Ho-un Lee in 1950 while he studied as a master’s student at Garrett. Despite this longstanding history, however, there was a palpable sense that they arrived at the beginning of a new chapter for the Korean Methodist Church.

“The Korean church, much like its U.S. counterpart, is going through a crisis of legitimacy, particularly with younger generations who have tended to see it as spiritually disengaged from the reality of the Korean people,” Viera explains. “Younger generations are wanting much more engagement, particularly on issues of justice.” This broader context swirled around his comments about missiology. Reflecting on how we can faithfully bring the gospel into new communities, an underlying truth emerges for both countries: If the Church is going to flourish in this still-fresh century, it will need to change. Fortunately, there are myriad lessons our countries can offer one another.

Dr. Lee provided translation for President Viera’s address, but their collaboration in this important moment went deeper. “She helped me understand the needs and context of the Korean Methodist Church,” Viera shares. “and a whole generation of Korean clergy who are pushing the church to embody a different spirit and way of operating.” One of the issues Dr. Lee discussed concerns how patriarchy shapes both church and country. “I got ordained as a very young woman in Korea,” she says. “It was always a fight, to be able to offer communion, give sermons or lead worship like my colleagues did.” She left to study in the United States, in part, because it offered her a different opportunity to live into her call. Returning twenty years later, she says it’s still a struggle. “Changing gender roles won’t be easy without changing the full structure,” she names. “And there’s still too few women in leadership.”