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A happy train to a broken place

30 Jul

Recently I traveled to the DMZ with a group of youth from the Cayuga-Syracuse presbytery.
We were on a week long journey in South Korea, where we enjoyed the hospitality of our mission co-workers and YAVs in Daejeon a city of about two million people, and the people of the Ilsan-Hosu Presbyterian Church just outside of Seoul. We were able to see the beauty of Korea as we traveled by train, bus, and car in many directions. We even stood on the beach of the Yellow Sea outside of the Incheon airport. It was a week of beauty, miracles, and unexpected surprises around the most unlikely corners.
On Tuesday, we awoke early and headed over to the train station and ate breakfast as we waited for departure. We needed to have our passports and fill out paperwork that would allow us to enter and then exit the area known as the DMZ, a line of demarcation between the two Koreas. We were not traveling to the usual spot for this experience. We were going to Dorasan Station, what we were to learn was the spot where the seperation was the most lean. It was only the beginning of what would be a time of mystery, tension, and amazement. The train itself was a vessel of hope and joy. Bright colors and symbols of hope, peace and harmony were written on a myriad of languages on the inside walls. Music and pictures meant to uplift the traveler filled the cabins and on the return trip a few games and pictures were taken to help relieve the tension of the day. We left the train behind and the counting started. Almost every door had someone counting off those entering and those exiting. At some places two folks counting, making sure that the numbers were correct, and even the bus driver made sure that he had exactly the right number of riders. Once at the station we placed our bags in some lockers and headed down a tunnel into the earth. We picked up our helmets and headed straight down. This access tunnel was cut to intercept a tunnel that was being carved out by the North Korean army, and it was discovered only by accident. At the end a wall and observation port had been constructed and this was only the first of four such spots to choke the tunnel off. We learned that this was the third of four tunnels that had been discovered but the belief was that there were many more. After returning to the surface we were able to see another video and some museum displays of artifacts that have been discovered around the Station. Back on to the bus and off to the observation deck and another video describing all that we were seeing and how the landscape has changed since the armistice was signed in July 27 of 1953. The video shared of Kaesong, which is an industrial area in North Korea that is still open to commerce with the South, and the black structure at it’s heart that dominates the view. The most striking aspect of our time here was the idea that this place, sometimes called the largest mind field in the world could be a place of peace and reconciliation for the world, a place where the lines that separate us might be erased. Today it is a nature preserve full of the flora and fauna of the Korean peninsula.
Our day although busy and full was an amazing window into the peace process and the hope that South Korea has for the future. Now is the time for us to pray for Korea, for the war-torn nations of the world, and for the peace of Jerusalem. Amen.


Off to Church

24 Jul

Traveling across the South Korean countryside we were able to see farms and gardens tucked away in any available space and to start to process some of the tragic and amazing sites, smells and conversations that we had already seen. Our plan is to travel from the city of Daejeon to the capital of Seoul and meet up with some of our partners in the train station. Fortunately the announcer on the public address system shared information in English so we did could collect all our luggage and get off the train. We arrived at the end of the line about two hours after our departure and we missed our new friends Kurt and Hyeyoung who were behind us and preparing for the end of their first year with young adult volunteers, (YAV) but we were also anxious to see our partners in Seoul. As we moved up the escalator we were greeted by Pastor Pack and his associate Pastor Jonathan. It was so very good to see him again after the time he spent with us in Syracuse and working on Hurricane Sandy relief. A walk through the city was in order. We visited the largest book store in Korea and had lunch, and then wandered down the main street seeing statues of Admiral Yi Sun-shin and King Sejong the Great as well as visiting the Gyeongbokgung Palace. A gorgeous expanse under the mountain and beside the river so as to have the most benefit from the spirit of the earth. The palace was painted in the traditional colors of green and red and protected against the birds that would try to nest along the roof. After exploring some we headed out of Seoul and to the city of Goyang and our host church Ilsan Hosu. A test was upon us as we were separated into groups and a family would take us in for the evening. Language would be a struggle as none of us spoke Korean and most of our host families spoke only a little English, but food and a hot shower would cover a myriad of obstacles and pave the way for friendship and fellowship. This foundation would help us as we awoke on Sunday and returned to church and Sunday school, Morning worship, fellowship time, and afternoon worship. In the United States, we struggle for one hour to set aside for God and our partners in Korea spend six to eight hours on Sunday singing, praying and spending time in God’s Word. Later that evening we were able to relax and for perhaps the first time let off some steam. Our hosts put us up in a hotel for the evening and gave us a bout two hours of rest before dinner. It was for most of us the first time we were not vigilant at al of the social mores that in the United States are no longer politically correct. Our day was long and full of so many times of fellowship and fun. It was a great day to spend in Church and as the body of Christ, because even though we do not speak the same physical language, we are still serving and loved by the same God.

Pray with me for energy and stamina as our students head toward the finish line. It is a wonderful experience but also a daunting one and we are so blessed to be in this place with people who care so much about us. Amen.

Peace in our time

20 Jul

In the book of Revelations there are several times when the people cry out to God. In each instance God answers. They are longing for an end to war and that the New Kingdom will begin. The echo over the years is a prayer for the peace of Jerusalem. Perhaps in our time we do not cry out to God enough, at all, or maybe we do not listen. In Jeremiah’s time the people closed their ears and eyes to the tragedy all around them. The war was at the front door and folks were unwilling to believe that the discipline that God had promised had finally arrived. Today this small group of Presbyterian American students traveled to a little known place; No Gun Ri Peace Park. While there we learned viscerally that war, any war is violent and ugly. This little park stands alone against the giants in our world and asks; who will take responsibility? They continue to point out the bruises and scars of our past, regardless of your ethnic background. The scars here are evident as you walk by and see the impact of bullets from over sixty years ago. The emotional trauma remains because everyday people are wounded by loved ones, strangers and their government. What will you do? It is a question asked by the director of the park who sat with this collection of youth and urged them to return to the international peace conference, or at the very least to live their lives for another. To not be selfish and insular but to strive to make a difference in the world around them was the charge issued to each of us.

The morning was as heavy as the rain clouds pouring out their treasure upon the earth and then as lunch arrived we were greeted with the shining sun and much of the weight was lifted off as we visited the Korean traditional music museum. We were given a short lesson on playing a traditional drum and for many of us sitting cross legged on the floor with the drum between our feet was hard enough. We played and laughed and enjoyed our music even though we could not always cross the language barrier. The music did this for us, even sharing our thanks. These bookend experiences only magnified our exhaustion and excitement as we continued our second full day.

One last experience was to help out in the soup kitchen. We worked and sweated with the regular workers and offered hospitality to the people who came for a hot meal, sometimes the only one for that day. This time was an exchange as we took some powerful lessons and then gave back in a very small way.

Continue to pray for the health and strength of the delegation as we travel by train today and look for God in the faces of those around us.

A new journey

17 Jul

Our journey began with a gathering outside a ticket kiosk in Syracuse’s Hancock airport. There are eight of us five female and three male. We are all going to South Korea as part of a week long trip to continue a relationship between the Pyongyang and Cayuga-Syracuse presbyteries, which had started fourteen years prior. Many of the travelers on this mission have never gone this far from home and been so completely immersed in a language and culture as unique, confusing and loving. Home is a very long way away and we cannot even read the traffic signs. It would be easy to panic and run back to the safe bubble of CNY, with our familiar patterns, shows, music and food. This is not that story.

Everything started out great as we collected our boarding passes through to Japan where we would need to pick up our last piece and transfer to our third airplane of the day. Once all of the good-byes and hugs were given the group of eight climbed the stairs and went through security. We huddled near the gate for our first plane ride and talked nervously, trying to sum up the others who were around us. Where do we fit and what is my job amongst this group of young adults are questions each asked in our hearts. Then the plane was ready for take off and before long we were wondering what was for lunch in Chicago. From Chicago we flew twelve hours to Japan and then through security and one last plane to Incheon, South Korea and once all of the paper work and money changing was over a sense of relief began. We were greeted outside by our hosts and off to the cars we went. Stopping for a drink and bathroom break along the two-hour drive to Han Nam University in the city of Daejeon. Everything seemed to be going so well and the rest we all longed for was so close. Then the realization came that one suitcase was missing. One person was lost and alone, a world away from home. No shoes, no toiletries, no change of clothes, and many questions about how and why. The emotion and exhaustion of the day bubbled up and spilled over in us all. Everything, after all, was supposed to be okay. We are the people of God and nothing should happen to us, right? The book of Hebrews tells us that God will never leave nor forsake us, but there is no promise of an easy life. So very often we in the Church look at the world through rose-colored glasses and believe that everything is okay. The world is a dark place and sin is everywhere. Pray with us as we travel this road together.

Pray with me for a small group of people who have ventured into an experience that is exhausting and life changing at the same time. Pray that as they hear a story here it will find fertile ground in their hearts and when they return to the United States they will be able to share the passion and perspective of the faithfulness of the Korean people.


Summer time and a visitor

17 Jun

Hello all, it has been some time since that last posting and I am sorry that I have been out of contact with our website.

Many of you have noticed that we as a congregation are moving in new directions.  We have begun the process of hiring a new office staff person and a new organist.  We also have changed the time of worship for the summer time to 10 o’clock.  There are other changes going on as well, but what I really wanted to share with you is a new visitor we have had.  His name is Paul and his desire is to travel with you this summer.  He was all alone in the church pew where I found him recently and he shared that he feels a little neglected.  His hope as it has been for almost two thousand years is to keep the local church connected and living out the truth of Jesus, which is to make disciples or “interns” who teach, preach and heal much as Jesus did when He lived amongst us as Immanuel. So as you head out on an adventure this summer, whether to the market or across the globe make sure to take “Paul” with you and document the journey.  We would love to see where you both have been and what you have been up to.  You can pin it the church’s facebook page so that others can se too.

Let’s have  great summer and remember that God goes with us.  Peace,



21 Oct

In the last few days it has become very apparent that the world around us is preparing for the winter coming.  The fish we saw moving from the Lake into a more secure and safe body of water so that they might lay eggs and produce next years hatchlings told the story on one page, while the trees and the fruit they produce whether it be apples, cones, or berries marketing their produce so that the consumers will take the gift of fruit and scatter it far and wide on another.  In each case the change is happening and we need to be prepared.  In that direction that church is also moving.  Change happens all around us and we are asked to meet the issues head on by some who desire us to take a stand on the environment or some political issue, while on the other hand there are those who simply want the church to bury its collective head in the sand and wait for the storm to pass.  Both avenues have been explored by the church over the last two thousand years and in some cases have proved successful and in others they have failed.  What is the church to do?

There are two passages that come to mind when I think of these issues within the church.  The first is in The Gospel according to Matthew where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats.  There is no question of theology or polity but hospitality.  Did you feed sheep, did you visit the sick and imprisoned?  The answer determines on which side you find yourself.  The second passage is from James, a letter often overlooked in the Church today.  There are two verse in the first chapter which help us, I think, to navigate the troubled waters of today.  The first is to be slow to speak and quick to listen (v.19) and the second is to look after the widows and orphans, which is a mandate that comes to us from out of the Hebrew Scriptures.  (v.27)  None of these verses ask us to be the body politic or to allow our faith and the Good News to become a matter debated in the marketplace or courts.  Jesus asked us to go and spread good news through the entire world.  We are the result of this journey which started with the few disciples who were in the upper room and present when Jesus Ascended.  They started the journey in Jerusalem and spread out to Judea, all of Israel and finally to the world.  Offering grace and mercy.  Grace is not a tool of our economy and it is not able to be measured in a valid study or in market research it is about faith.   Faith is is not science, or politics, it is raw and visceral and gut level and different for everyone who ever experiences it.  God meets us where we are not where we should be or where we feel we ought.  Where does God meet you?  In the quiet of your home, the changing leaves in the park near your house, with friends around the lunch table?  The times they are a changing but God remains. How will the Lord find you?  

The Quaker’s ask this question of each other as a greeting.  Wondering out loud with each other how the Spirit of God was moving in and among the body of Christ.  So I am asking you to think about the changes and the world around us and whether or not they are going to distract us from the calling that God has placed upon our lives; to go and spread good news, or will we become mired in the chaos of budget problems and closed governments, wars, famine and judicial wrangling?  The church is at a crossroads in time so I will ask again; How is the Spirit with you?

Aside 17 Sep

God thunders with His majestic voice, And He does not restrain them when His voice is heard. God thunders marvelously with His voice.  He does great things which we cannot comprehend.  For He says to the snow, “Fall on the earth’; Likewise to the gentle rain and the heavy rain of His strength. He seals the hand of every man, That all men may know His work.  The beasts go into dens, And remain in their lairs.  From the chamber of the south comes the whirlwind, And cold from the scattering winds of the north.  By the breath of God ice is given, And the broad waters are frozen.  Job 37:4-10 

So very often we get busy.  Busy trying to complete all of the tasks on our lists.  Busy trying to finish one major project or another, and we can finally see the light at the end when it goes out.  The other night I was busy working on a project and had set a time to wrap up and go home.  Minutes before and with no warning the lights simply went out.  They tried to come back on quickly but could not, so I was done.  I had no choice but to stop and wrap up what I could see, turn off the lights so they would not blaze on in the middle of the night and off to bed I went.  

This passage from Job reminds us of just this fact.  So very often we are busy, so busy that we loose sight of God and God’s plan for us.  So God turns out the lights so we have no choice but to remind ourselves that we are not in control.  Job was reminded of this when the ice and storm came and he had to stop and stay home just like the animals that find shelter in their dens and nests.  How often do we find shelter under the wings of God?  How often do we allow God to provide shelter for us in the midst of the storms that rage all around us?  Maybe that is why the lights go out from time to time.  God is waiting to talk to you and the list you carry has distracted you from that conversation.  This past week there have been a large number of cars in the parking lot as apples are being prepared for apples in the morning and pies are being finished in the evening.  Remember that with each pie, and apple that God is there with you.  God wants to be part of the conversation that you are having around the table and as you travel between the kitchen and freezers, so make sure that we all take time to listen to God’s word for each of us and to give thanks that we are part of a congregation that gathers around the table, maybe even whispering the prayer; “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10