The ties between the United Church and the church in Korea are strong and deep, and go back many years.

A small group of Korean women, wearing festive red sweaters, lead worship at a church in South Korea.
Worship with members of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea during Advent.
Credit: John Egger

During this past Advent, we put ourselves in the shoes of God’s people in biblical times as they wait for God to act. But the difference is that for us, we know what we’re waiting for (or we think we know), whereas for God’s people at the time, I don’t think they were quite sure what God had in mind or knew how long they were going to have to wait.

The Korean people can identify with this. They have been waiting for decades. When World War II ended, they thought the long years of Japanese occupation were over and the Korean people had finally found their independence. But it was not to be. The powers divided the Korean peninsula and set up hostile systems that have continued to this day. So after decades and decades, and even more decades, the Korean people are still waiting.

I can identify with waiting too, though not on the same scale. Since arriving in Korea three months ago, I have been doing a lot of waiting: waiting for my Korean classes at Yonsei University to begin, waiting for my visa to be approved, waiting to set up a Korean bank account, even waiting for my wonderful ondol floor heating to kick in (sometimes it gets very cold here in Korea!)

Let me pause to say a few words about myself by way of introduction. Since September of this year I have been serving as co-worker in mission in the General Assembly Office of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK), sent from The United Church of Canada. I am a native Calgarian, with a doctoral degree in biblical studies, and a background in congregational ministry in the United Church, mostly working in educational ministries with youth, children, and adults, but I have experience in Anglican and Presbyterian congregations as well. Much of my academic work focuses on contextual hermeneutics, particularly Asian and Asian American biblical interpretation, and much of my congregational experience is also with congregations with strong Asian connections. Working here in Korea is an exciting way of expanding on these interests.

As I keep discovering, the ties between the United Church and the PROK are strong and deep, and go back many years. As I understand it, my role here is, first of all, to embody this relationship just by my presence here on the ground, and secondly, to offer my gifts and skills to support the PROK in its ministry here in Korea. I want to say that the first of these is easy and the second is harder, but I am finding that it is more complicated than this. For one thing, I’m eager to learn the language so that I can engage with the people and the culture here more deeply, but language learning is a slow and torturous process! This too of course is a kind of waiting, but a kind of waiting that requires constant, dedicated, engaged effort, not passive waiting.

This is the kind of waiting I also see going on in Korea. On the surface of things, you’d hardly know that Koreans are suffering. At least in the South (and at this point I can really only talk about South Korea), Korean society has not been standing still: it has seen massive social and economic changes in the past few decades, and in the midst of these changes, the PROK has been at the forefront of the struggles for human rights, peace, justice, and reconciliation in Korean society, laying the groundwork towards the eventual reunification and independence of the Korean people.

I can’t quite put myself in the same league, but I’m being called to this kind of waiting as well: to join with Koreans in their waiting, to open myself to discovering what it means to be in solidarity with the Korean people in their suffering, to open myself to discovering what God is asking me to do here, to open myself to discovering what it means for the United Church of Canada to be in partnership with the PROK at this critical time in Korean history.

—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 by visiting his blog.

The PROK's mission is to reach out to the minjung—the oppressed, exploited, and despised: homeless teenagers, sex workers, orphans, the elderly, the disabled, and the unemployed. The United Church has been a partner with the PROK since 1955. The two churches work together closely on justice and peace issues.