Grace Ji-Sun Kim is an associate professor of theology at Earlham School of Religion. Grace Ji-Sun Kim obtained her M.Div. from Knox College and her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. She is the author of 16 books, most recently Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love. You can find more of her writing HERE or at the Huffington Post blog.
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Strangers in a Strange Land
MY FAMILY EMIGRATED from South Korea to Canada in 1975 when my sister and I were 6 and 5 years old, respectively. Before I left Korea, I had no idea where Canada was. With our mother, we boarded a plane that took us to Hawaii, then Alaska, and finally Toronto.
Korean was the only language I had ever spoken. I assumed that everyone spoke Korean. I had no idea what people were saying when I arrived in Toronto. My uncle in Korea gave my sister and me each a cute little necklace to wear with our name, address, and phone number written on the back of it. It was a round red necklace with a picture of an adorable puppy. We wore it around our necks on the plane so that if we got lost, we could more easily ask for help to find our way home.
After 40 years of carrying the necklace with me as I moved from place to place, my children threw it into the garbage last year as they were doing spring cleaning. They thought it was a piece of junk. It may look like junk, but to me it provides a special reminder of my childhood, family, and the home from which I emigrated. Luckily, I liberated it from the garbage before trash day. Now I keep it safe as one of my prized possessions, one of the few things I have left from Korea and from my childhood.
My necklace reminds me from where I have come, what I have experienced, and what I have endured. As my necklace has survived all the moving and tossing around in my life, I too will survive.
As an immigrant family, we had few earthly possessions. We lived in a two-bedroom, cockroach-infested apartment. I had only one little hand-me-down toy doll that someone passed on to me rather than throwing into the trash. My library consisted of a few books that I read over and over. My parents had one car, and they worked different shifts, so they were rarely home at the same time. There was no car at home to drive us to the library to sign out books. After awhile I allowed my creativity to run wild and made up imaginary stories based on the pictures in the few books we had.
Sustainability and Care for Creation: WCC and Climate Change
About 30 global religious leaders working in their churches and organizations on environmental justice and advocacy for climate change met last month for the World Council of Church’s (WCC) Working Group on Climate Change in Wuppertal, Germany.
This group tackled the urgent issue of climate justice — as there are environmental problems caused by rich nations that affect others. This includes, for example, the great Pacific garbage vortex and depletion by U.S., Japanese, and Norwegian fishing of species, such as cod, on which smaller countries depend for sustenance, creating conditions that affect vulnerable communities around the globe. Climate change is affecting those in Africa as it dries up their land and enlarges the size of the Sahara desert. It affects Asia as huge storms flood broad areas of coastline, devastating homes and lives. Climate change is affecting the most vulnerable populations, which live near vulnerable croplands and shorelines and depend on farming and fishing for their livelihood. Climate change creates weather that takes lives and destroys communities.
Climate change workers realize that those who have contributed the least to CO2 emissions are (and will be) suffering the worst consequences.
The Church in a Media-Saturated Society
I grew up in the days of the encyclopedia salesman. I clearly remember the day when a clean-cut well-dressed man knocked on our apartment door to sell the 26-volume World Book Encyclopedia.
We were recent immigrants and could not speak English fluently. We had few worldly possessions and the last thing we needed in our house was a 26-volume encyclopedia.
After the hour presentation during which we flipped through the volumes full of exciting information, my dad said no. The salesman looked sad and pitiful as he packed his sales kit. As he exited the door, he gave one last pitch and, suddenly, my dad changed his mind and we bought the whole set.
Either the salesman was good or my parents had this strong desire that their children needed to know “everything there is to know about the world.” Maybe it was a bit of both.
In 2014, long gone are those 26-volume encyclopedias that once filled the bookshelves of many of my childhood friends’ homes. Now we have everything that we need to know at our fingertips through iPads, computers, cell phones, or other gadgets.
Kenneth Bae's 500th Day: Life’s Cycle of Fear, Pain, and Suffering
Today marks Korean-American Christian missionary Kenneth Bae’s 500th day in a North Korean prison. Bae was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tourist group. State-run media reported that he was convicted of attempting to lead a religious anti-North Korean religious coup. He has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Bae is a reminder to all of us that Korea remains divided. Brothers and sisters are separated and friends are divided between the 38th parallel.
I was born in Seoul, South Korea. My mother and father were children during the Korean War, and my mother told me a few stories of how they had to flee during the war. She was a young child, one of eight. My grandmother would gather the children and walk for miles and miles making their way down into southern Korea. As they were fleeing one day, a bullet went through my grandmother’s thigh and created permanent damage to her leg. As a young child, I thought it was a wonderful war story of heroism and courage. I didn’t realize then the agony, fear, and suffering that my parents or my grandparents went through to keep safe and keep alive.
As the Korean War lingered on, it ended with the division of Korea at the 38th parallel. That division is a stark reminder of how a beautiful, lovely country can be filled with pain, sorrow, animosity, and suffering. The 38th parallel has kept family members and loved ones apart for almost 60 years. Many divided families are unable to reunite or unable to know if their relatives are still living and doing well. The heartbreak of living apart in their own country has brought lots of anger, tension, loss, and suffering.
In Korea, people have a term for such suffering: han. Han is a difficult word to translate into the English language. The best way to do so may be through ‘unjust suffering’ or ‘piercing of the heart.’
Walls That Divide
Walls exist between U.S. and Mexico. A few years ago, I took a class to the Mexico-U.S. border through BorderLinks, an organization that provides educational experiences to connect divided communities, raise awareness about border and immigration policies and their impact, and inspires people to act for social transformation. We visited the metal wall that separates the United States from Mexico at Nogales, Mexico.
The walls went up in 1994.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), established in 1994, was supposed to help with trade and the economic status of Mexico. However, it failed to do this. It backfired and made the economic situation worse for the people of Mexico. Rich corporations and companies that benefited from the Free Trade Agreement as they were able to move their factories down to Mexico where the labor was cheap and profits higher. As the economy of Mexico suffered, more people made their way, without documents, to the United States to seek work so they could support their families.
In 2006, the United States responded with the Secure Fence Act. As President George W. Bush signed the bill, he stated, “This bill will help protect the American people. This bill will make our borders more secure. It is an important step toward immigration reform.” The act included provisions for the construction of physical barriers — walls — and the use of technology to these ends.
This wall is under constant surveillance to prevent people from entering into the U.S. illegally. Ironically, it is a wall built from the remaining metal landing scraps of the Gulf War. The border is highly militarized with patrols who treat migrants as “prisoners of war.” It symbolizes militarization, greed, xenophobia, hatred, pride, nonsense, and fear of the other, a reminder of wanting to protect what is yours and not sharing what God has given you. Walls continue to go up along the border as the people of the United States continue to fear that undocumented people will take away jobs. These fears may devastate the lives of the poor in both countries.
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