Answering God’s call to ministry is a fundamentally transformational experience. Vocation Sunday is a great opportunity to lift up these reflections from those who God called to leave their home community of faith and engage in ministry with Mission & Service Partners in other parts of the world. The People in Partnership program of The United Church of Canada supports face to face encounters between United Church people and global partners, allowing us to accompany each other in God’s mission, and learn more about the joys and challenges of each other’s contexts. Here are stories of encounters that changed people’s lives as they answered God’s call to ministry through global engagement.
I’ve been asked to write something on my call to global ministry. This is a challenge, because that is exactly what I’ve been trying to figure out every day since I arrived here in Korea seven months ago!
Let me start off with some context. I’ve discovered that I stand in a long line of mission co-workers in Korea. The first (official) missionaries from The Presbyterian Church in Canada arrived here in 1898, landing at Incheon on September 7 before moving on to Wonsan (now in North Korea), which became the central point for the Canadian Mission in Korea. The relationship between the church in Korea and the church in Canada has been continuous ever since, and has yielded many benefits for people on both sides of the Pacific (as I keep discovering first hand).
It seems funny now, but these first missionaries perceived that the terms of their assignments would be short—no more than a few years. Their goal was to establish Christianity in Korea and then turn responsibility for the church over to the local people. This is in fact what (eventually) happened, but the need for mission co-workers has continued over the years, as the political situation in Korea changed, and as the relationship between the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK) and The United Church of Canada evolved. Those first missionaries remained here until they retired, and many others have followed in their wake, giving their whole lives to the service of the church in Korea. Knowing I stand in this line is both daunting and inspiring: it reassures me to know that they faced many of the same challenges that I am facing (even if on a totally different scale).
To focus on my own call to global ministry, I am here in Korea because The Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea made a request to The United Church of Canada for a co-worker in mission to work in their Department of Partnership and Ecumenical Relations. I was the one who responded to this call, arriving at the beginning of September of last year to serve a four-year appointment (coincidentally also landing at Incheon on September 7).
I didn’t plan to come to Korea at all. Little did I know it at the time, but when I was working for various congregations in Calgary and Toronto on the edge of intercultural ministry, what I was really doing was preparing myself for special intercultural work half-way around the world. Nor did I know that my academic work in Asian biblical interpretation while working on my doctorate in New Testament at Emmanuel College was preparing me for a role here.
Folks back home keep asking me what exactly it is I am doing here in Korea, and I have difficulty giving them a simple answer. I have found that the best thing to say is that I am here, first of all, to embody the relationship between the PROK and The United Church of Canada, and secondly to offer my skills and gifts to assist the PROK in its ministry here in Korea and beyond. Primarily this means assisting with English communications in the General Assembly Office, but there is so much more to it than this. Last week, for example, I met up with some folks visiting Korea from the United Church, who were here from the new Pacific Mountain Regional Council to reaffirm their relationship with Gyeonggi Presbytery of the PROK. This week I’ve been busy with long-distance arrangements in Ontario for a ministry consultation that the PROK is hosting for its ministry personnel who are serving in Canada. Next week I’ll be visiting the children at Hanshin congregation to participate in their English language program. And the week after that I’ve been invited to a prayer service for migrants and refugees sponsored by the Human Rights Centre of the National Council of Churches of Korea. And while all this is happening, I’ll be continuing my Korean studies five days a week at Yonsei University.
I have to admit that this is both the easiest, and at the same time, the most difficult work I have ever done. Easy, because it sometimes feels like I’m just hanging out; difficult, because “just hanging out” is sometimes incredibly difficult work that draws upon the full range of my skills—educational, analytical, linguistic, pastoral, diplomatic. This shouldn’t be surprising, because we—that is, The United Church of Canada and the PROK—are having to rediscover in our own time how to be the church in 2019. We need each other to help us learn how to do this, and to help us open ourselves to what new things God is calling us to in our own situations.
The world looks so much different than it used to. It might seem that those mission co-workers who arrived in 1898 had it easy because the needs at that time were so clear and they knew exactly what God was calling them to do, but in fact, I suspect that it was not nearly so clear to them at the time, and they had to struggle to figure out their call to global ministry, especially when things didn’t work out as they had imagined. And no one could have predicted the convulsions that lay in store for Korea.
So here I am in Korea as all this unfolds, helping the United Church and the PROK discover how to be in partnership with each other at this important time in history, and, as the Korean future unfolds, to share in God’s ministry for the sake of the world.
—John Egger is a theology alumnus of both St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon and Emmanuel College in Toronto. He is currently serving as a United Church Co-worker in Mission with the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK). Discover more about John and his ministry in Korea by visiting his blog.