As we were surrounded by Russian hills filled with blooming flowers and lush green trees, I was daydreaming of frolicking in the open vast field like a child who didn't have a care in the world. In reality, I was cramped in the backseat of a minivan. We were on our way to some remote town that was about an hour outside of Vladivostok, and my stomach was in knots trying NOT to think about the English camp we would be running the next 8 days. We were a team of 6 brothers and sisters from Charis Choong Hyun Mission Church that individually said "YES" to God's calling, but collectively our interactions were awkward and uncomfortable in the beginning because we knew very little about each other.
I was certain God was calling me out to Russia this summer, so I didn't hesitate to commit to whatever came my way. However, the last thing I wanted to do was be the team leader, but somehow I ended up with that role. Although I reluctantly took on the position, I trusted the Lord would meet me and supernaturally make things come together. I knew I didn't have the time or energy to lead since I was already juggling a million other things. The preparation prior to our departure was quite a challenge due to schedule conflicts, language barriers, and shortage of funds. We felt unprepared as we set off to Russia, but we were thankful we managed to create a gospel centered English curriculum to use during our English camp. It was clear the people of Mikhaylovka Grace Church were eagerly awaiting our arrival, as we were welcomed with warm smiles and heartfelt greetings. For me, that meant the pressure was on! If I wasn't already feeling anxious, I was definitely feeling it now!
The following morning, we could hear boisterous laughter and chattering of children fill the church building, and our team nervously gathered together to greet them. We immediately discovered that most of the students knew little to no English, and the English curriculum we developed was too challenging for them. Throughout the day, I would try one thing, but discovered it was too difficult for the students. So I attempted to try something else, but that would also go over their heads. Having been an experienced teacher of 11 years, I thought I knew how to think on my feet and make quick adjustments. However, I realized that when resources are not readily available, it poses new challenges. By the end of the day, we all felt defeated! We were left with no choice but to surrender our personal expectations and control up to our faithful Father so He can reveal His perfect plan.
When it's done God's way, He can make the impossible possible by extending His supernatural strength, He can expand our creative minds by sharing His vision, and He can increase our capacity to love by showing us how much He loves us. It is our choice to receive the fullness of His goodness. Our team managed to use parts of the curriculum we developed with supplemental materials and appropriate modifications, and God challenged each of us to step up as leaders and share our unique talents. While one toughened the kids up with their Tae Kwon Do skills, another won the hearts of students through their amazing artistic abilities. We even helped revive a vision the church once had (to build a community center for the neighborhood children) by creating a mural that embodied their hopes and dreams of what the center could be in the near future. Even though we couldn't speak Russian and without our translators we were helpless souls, the students showered us with overwhelming love and appreciation for the little we had to offer. Everyday they were overflowing with joy. Everyday they were present and engaged. Everyday they thirsted for more knowledge and wisdom. The success of the English Camp was a manifestation of His faithfulness, and I am thankful God chose our team to be witnesses and stewards of His glorious work. It may have been a rough start in the beginning of our mission trip, but everything that came to fruition thereafter was by God's amazing grace.
When God called me to go out to Russia, I simply decided to be obedient to his calling even though I didn’t know why I was going. Although teaching English to students that were hungry for truth and knowledge was a great reward, there was more God had in stored for me. Another great reward I was able to take away from this trip was learning the history of Koryo Saram (the name Soviet Koreans use to identify themselves).
The first wave of Korean immigrants journeyed to Far East Russia during the 19th century Joseun Dynasty to escape famine and poor living conditions in Korea. In 1863, the migration started off with just 13 households, but by 1902, there were over 300,000 Koreans living in different parts of Russia. The Korean community was thriving and there were many prosperous Korean farms throughout the land. However, in the early 1900s, both Korea and Russia came in conflict with Japan; and by the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, the Russian government confiscated land from Korean farmers and laid off Korean laborers. Despite the unfortunate circumstance, South and North Koreans continued to migrate to Far East Russia with hopes of living a life of freedom and better opportunity. Vladivostok became the central meeting grounds for Korean Independence Leaders to gather and organize strategies to oppose Japanese forces. Unfortunately in 1937, Josef Stalin deported over 180,000 Koreans living in Far East Russia to Central Asia (Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan), claiming Koreans were spies for Japan. Many lives were lost during the long train ride over to an unfamiliar territory, and the Koryo Saram were forced to stay in concentration camps for over a decade and a half. With this misfortune at hand, the deportees decided to turn it around and band together to build irrigation and grow rice farms. Because of their strong will to survive and succeed, the Koryo Saram were able to recover their prior standard of living. However, they were prohibited to speak Korean for decades so current generations have lost the language, and the Korean culture has evolved and changed over the years as they assimilated to Russian culture. Despite the years of persecution, the Koryo Saram have proven to be survivors even in the midst of hardship.
By the grace of God, there are missionaries in Russia like Moon Kim (the missionary our church is sponsoring), who are contending to restore and rebuild the Korean culture and language, working hard to sustain a flourishing farming industry, and cultivating an education system that integrates the gospel. I am thankful God has opened my eyes and heart to a part of Korean history I was unaware of, and instilled a greater love and appreciation for generational struggles and history. This trip gave me a greater purpose to encourage others to embrace and love all parts of who they are, good or bad. We have a choice to grab a hold of our generational blessings or let them slip through our fingers. We have a choice to break free from our generational curses or complain about them and play the role of the victim.
From my heart to yours #2:
It really doesn't need to take a trip to a far away land for God to shift our perspective or be used to expand His kingdom. It's about understanding and seeing that all aspects of our lives are mission fields. It could be within our family or community of friends; it could be at our workplace or even church; it could be here in Los Angeles or out in different parts of this world. Sometimes the work may last a lifetime, while others may be a short-term task. As long as we are always willing to say "YES", even when we want to run the other direction, God will open doors and pave the way; He will carry our unbearable load; and He will abundantly bless us far beyond our own expectations! So look around...What do you see? How can God use you in your mission fields? Are you willing to say "YES"?
I'm using this space to simply share the meaningful things that burn my heart and the random things that run through my mind. Simply desiring more vulnerability and authenticity in my life.