|The flag of the Republic of Korea|
I have now lived as a missionary teacher in South Korea for 15 months. A number of people have asked me where I prefer to live, and I have come to one very clear conclusion: I prefer to live in South Korea. This is an unsettling answer for my dear friends and family whom I miss and who miss me, my wife, and our children. This answer is as much a surprise to me as any, and it has caused much reflection. Why do I prefer to live in South Korea?
Given my theological understanding of humankind, I dare not say that Korea is exempt from the sins that have beset American culture. Koreans are just as sinful as Americans, even if the sins of greed, lust, pride, and arro
gance manifest themselves differently. One man's (or culture's) sins may not be another's, but we are all cut from Adam's cloth. (Romans 3:10-18, 23; 5:12)
So, why do I prefer to live in Korea? In Korea, I get relief from the myriad things that drive me crazy, because I'm an outsider. There are divisive and unintelligent political debates here, too, but I don't hear them, because I don't speak the language. I'm certain there are profit-driven media outlets masquerading as objective sources of news here, too, but I don't watch them, because I don't have Korean television. Americans are bombarded daily by self-centered Lockean individualism, and Koreans are bombarded by self-consuming Confucianist collectivism. Both of these philosophies in their extremes are destructive to the person, because both pervert the imago dei.
So, what it comes down to is that I have found some relief in hiding in Korea. Korea is not better than the United States, but here I can hide in plain sight. My white skin, western clothing, lack of native language, and unusually hairy face are something of a cultural Teflon. The problems of Korean culture usually just slide right off of me. The problem now is that this type of cultural isolationism is exactly the sort of thing that I've criticized in others. I've repeatedly condemned this in my own American evangelical tribe, but I am able to hide my own isolationism under the cloak of mission work. 
There lies within me a hypocritical contradiction in the form of a self-centered escapism, which I have baptized as mission work. This calls for a level of sober self-awareness about my motives for being a missionary. Am I content in Korea because I'm loving the Lord and his people here, or am I merely enjoying an Amish-esque vacation from my native culture? Or maybe both? 
Vacations become boring and exhausting in their own way if they go on for too long. If I'm not motivated by a genuine, persevering love for God and his people in Korea, what will happen when the vacation becomes wearisome? What will happen when I do learn the language and become annoyed with the South Korean culture? It will happen. People are people. Will I move again? Will I be propelled by annoyance of the culture I'm leaving or by love for the people to whom I go?
I welcome your comments and advice below, but, for now, I have to keep my eyes on the Lord and those I came to serve as a teacher. I have to learn the culture and language here and press into it when it becomes exhausting. I have to quit pretending that my motives to serve here have been pure and ask the Lord to forgive me and cleanse my heart. I have to remove the plank from my own eye. (Matt. 7:5) I have to love God and love people. These are the two greatest commandments. (Matt. 22:36-40)
|Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul|
 Please understand that I do believe God called me to the work I'm doing in South Korea, and I love doing it. I do genuinely believe that God has called my family to this nation. (Matthew 28:19-20) This post is not a subtle hint that I'm going back to America this year.
 God has an incredible, sovereign way of taking our own sinful actions and desires and orchestrating them in such a way that his perfect story is told. Satan thought he had won at the moment Jesus died on the cross, but that was actually the crushing, mortal blow to Satan and his kingdom. (Gen. 3:15, NIV) The paradox is also stated by Joseph, who confronted his brothers who had sold him into slavery many years before: "...you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive..." (Gen. 50:20) I'm glad that, even when I've been evil, misguided, or self-centered, God still does his good work through me.