first: funniest thing so far on this trip… a few partners on the event we’re planning were surprised to find out i’m not korean. they’d heard my name was marko, and thought it was my first and last name; either “mark oh”, or “mark koh” (both common korean last names). funny!
so, sunday was a good, but very long and tiring day.
started with coffee and pastries with charles to talk about the day. then we began our trek to three major korean churches to meet with senior pastors. first up was a short walk to sarang church (a church of about 50,000 people). we met with the senior pastor in his office, just after one of the many services. this church has already contributed financially to help make the ys korea convention a reality. we had a brief but nice chat about youth ministry and the vision for ys korea. these meetings have been so interesting for me — great cross-cultural experiences.
after leaving, we took a cab to the world’s largest church: yoidi full gospel church. we’d been there the day before to meet with the current senior pastor. today we attended a church service where the pastor emeritus, david (paul) yonggi cho, was preaching. the whole thing was quite an experience. we were treated like special guests, and there were reserved seats for us in the “foreigners” side balcony. they have live translation (on headphones) in 8 languages! this church has 700,000 members; but many of those are in satellite churches all over the world. the main campus has (only) a couple hundred thousand, with 12,000 in each of the services, plus video overflow rooms; and they have services all day long. a giant choir, a big orchestra. the singing was really cool, actually.
then came one of the most unique experiences of my life, one i’ll remember for a very long time. we got to meet with the founding pastor, dr. cho. it felt like i might imagine meeting with the pope would feel like. we were ushered into a lobby of an office, where a couple dozen handlers and security and other pastors were waiting. at some point (i think they knew he was on his way), they hurriedly moved us into a meeting room with comfortable furniture. the current senior pastor was there with us, and a film crew was videotaping the whole thing, along with a couple people taking photos the whole time (apparently, someone had convinced them that i was some kind of VIP, which was simultaneously funny to me and a little bit freaky – i’m told the video will be part of a report on korean christian tv, and the photos are for newspaper and magazine articles). most church leaders i met in seoul have never even had a meeting with cho, and it was truly a weird god thing that we were given this opportunity. when cho entered, we all stood up and did some formal greetings. i shared what an honor it was to meet with him, and how encouraged we are with the support his church is giving us. then i was silent, and waited. he shared a tender story with me about the american soldier who led him to christ. he asked a few questions about our plans, and he talked about the importance of reaching teens and young adults. at some point, the current senior pastor asked him, on our behalf, if he would act as “honorary chairman” (along with the two other most influential pastors in korea — a presbyterian and a baptist) for our event, and he graciously agreed. i asked if he would pray for us, and we stood together. he held my hands and prayed in english — it was really moving. then we were ushered out.
that’s when i started breathing again.
we grabbed a cab to the neighborhood of the third church we were visiting, and poked around in some stores while we waited for the right time. this church — young nak presbyterian — is an older church, and was historically the most influential church in seoul. it’s another church of 50,000 members (with about 25,000 adults attending on a given sunday). we had a much longer meeting with the senior pastor of this church. they’re actually hosting the event in may, and not charging us anything for the facility. we also asked if they would consider giving us a space in their building to have a youth ministry center for seoul, where a library of youth ministry resources could be kept and smaller meetings could be held (and maybe a future staff of ys korea could work). they were very open to this idea (this was just the initial ask).
we went for coffee with the education pastor of the church, then came back for a dinner and gathering with about 30 parachurch youth ministry leaders, to talk about their involvement and partnership in the event. it seemed like the meeting went well, but i was really tired, and it was 3 hours long, and it was — no big surprise here! — almost all in korean, which meant i was completely in the dark most of the time.
so, it’s late sunday night, and i’m cooked. up tomorrow: a press conference, an interview with korean christianity today, an interview with a newspaper, and a dinner with a couple publishers.