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Korean churches meeting focuses on 'happy families'
Friday, Jun 30, 2006
By Karen L. Willoughby

WHEATON, Ill. (BP)--“Happy Families” was the theme of the 2006 annual meeting of the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches in America. The theme was chosen because of the rapid increase in the divorce rate in Korea, organizers said.

Council leaders saw the need to educate pastors as well as to provide tools for them to pass on to the people in their congregations, said Tae Hwan “Timothy” Park, executive director of the council. The meeting was at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.

“We wanted to focus on loving relationships,” Park said. “This is very important for Christian witness.”

The divorce rate in Korea today is third highest in the world, (trailing only the United States and United Kingdom,) according to Korean government statistics. More often than not, the divorce is sought by a woman, and after 20 or more years of marriage.

Dong Sup “Andrew Chung, of Daejeon, South Korea, spoke twice on the subject; his wife, Young Ae Lee, also spoke. But the three-day event opened with Manpoong “Dennis” Kim, the council’s immediate past president, who brought the opening sermon June 19 and spoke on how the Old Testament Joseph blessed his father, in three particular ways:

-- By maintaining good health.

-- By loving his brothers.

-- By providing for his father in his old age.

In all, 600 adults, more than 100 youth and perhaps 50 youngsters gathered June 19-22 at Wheaton College for the 25th annual session of the Korean Council, which was a slight increase over last year’s attendance, leaders said.

Today more than 750 churches identify themselves as a Korean language Southern Baptist congregation; when the Council organized in 1981, there were only between 100 and 250. The 1970s and ‘80s were marked by tremendous growth in numbers of Korean churches, various denominational reports show: from 50 churches in 1976 to 115 just five years later, and 253 two years after that, according to statistics compiled by Chul “Tim” Chang of California.

Most churches call a pastor from Korea, which means there’s a continual influx of first-generation leaders in the Korean American church, Park said. Addressing the need for happy families at the council’s annual meeting sends a message that happy families are vitally important to the growth of God’s Kingdom, the executive director continued.

Guest speaker Chung said the first eight years of his marriage were typically Korean: He was a public affairs specialist at the U.S. embassy in Seoul, king of his house, and everyone served him. His wife, an intelligent and educated woman, felt stifled even as she tried to be a typically Korean obedient wife. She paid the price for that with increasingly poor health: migraine headaches, gastro-intestinal issues and other maladies, he said.

Then in August 1980, an American missionary friend invited him to a revival service, and there the Holy Spirit convicted him of the anger and verbal abuse he routinely dished out to his wife, Chung said.

“I went home and knelt before my wife and begged her forgiveness,” Chung said. “This is very unlike [the] Korean way, but it was not me; it was the Holy Spirit. She saw consistency in my [changed] behavior after two months, and forgave me.... Now we share our deepest feelings and she is a happy wife. She has no more physical problems.... I was so happy I wanted to share this kind of companion marriage with everyone.”

Chung left the business world and studied Christian counseling in the U.S.; his Ph.D. is in family ministry. After teaching at Korean Baptist Theological Seminary for 18 years, in 2002 he founded the Family Relations Research Institute in Daejeon, Korea.

He spoke about the theology of families, with lessons to be learned from the New Testament. Healthy families, he said, are characterized by:

-- unconditional love.

-- grace, where forgiveness is extended.

-- encouragement that empowers and comforts. Chung called this “psychological oxygen.”

-- spoken intimacy -– honest communication where truth can be spoken, and where it is spoken in love.

The opposite of unconditional love, Chung said, is conditional love that is characterized by disrespect, alienation and no forgiveness.

“It is only the Christian church that can provide an answer to this dilemma,” Chung said. “Since I got to know the Lord at age 34, 26 years ago, I began to apply these principles, and our marriage began to breathe. The Lord transformed me into a new model I did not know before, and I was able to purify my family.”

In a second message during the meeting, Chung spoke about the ingredients of happiness.

“Loving relationships are most important between husband and wife and kids,” the speaker said. “If your family life is in jeopardy, you cannot be happy.”

Contrary to the Korean system, husbands and wives “must learn” communication skills, Park said.

“In Korean culture [there is] no cross communication,” he said. “Men are handicapped; they don’t know how.... You must learn to talk to one another in order to enjoy a healthy relationship. Pastors must learn these skills and then teach them to their congregations.”

Nearly as important as communication skills are conflict resolution skills -- that is, how to process anger, Chung said. He advised using a group setting, such as a weekend marriage retreat, as a way of acquiring skills in a way that wouldn’t put either party on the defensive.

Chung’s wife, Young Ae Lee, is the best-selling author in Korea of “A Wife Who Has Produced a Wonderful Husband” and four other books that have gone through multiple printings. She talked about “bibliotherapy” and reading clubs.

For 16 years she led five “reading clubs” that totaled about 100 participants, for books about relationships, Lee said. She gave several advantages for participating in reading clubs, including:

-- Reading clubs help improve self-expression as the women learn in the safety of a small group how to share their thoughts and feelings.

-- It’s more economical to read a book than it is to pay for a therapist.

-- Books help expand the Christian's worldview.

-- Reading is an enjoyable hobby.

-- Reading leads to successful living.

-- Reading can bring happiness to your life.

“When we read the Bible, we can understand God,” Lee said. “When we read books, we can relate effectively with each other, and from that comes happy families. … After you read the book, you can absorb the conflict and have a happy life. I know. I was an unhappy housewife but now I am very content.”

The gathering for “PKs” -– preacher’s kids –- at the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches in America also dealt with healthy families. Led for the past 19 years by Jey Kim, pastor at First Virginia Baptist Church in Springfield, Ill., and a psychologist by training, the gathering is an emotionally intense time designed to meet the needs of teenagers.

“I speak Konglish,” Kim announced to the roar of the crowd, who knew exactly what he was talking about: The need to speak two languages nearly simultaneously.

“Everything has a purpose and an origin,” Kim said, preaching from Ephesians 2:8-10 in his opening message. “We are created to do good works. … Little things lead to destruction. Pay attention! Don’t talk about God with your lips only.”

Jonathan So, 16, of the Korean Baptist Church of Baton Rouge, La., said he looks forward each year to the PK retreat.

“It’s a part of me,” he said. “When I was in the fourth grade, it was the first turning point in my life to not be ashamed to tell people I’m a Christian.”

Esther Chung of Glory Korean Baptist Church in Crestview, Fla., said she treasured her time at the PK conference.

“A lot of people don’t understand the things PKs go through,” she said. “It’s really easy to relate to people here; it’s very easy to open up and release tension that’s been building up.”

Younger children also had a gathering that fit their age group: coloring, playing games, singing and listening to flannelgraph stories.

The 2007 session of the Korean Council is set to coincide with the annual meeting of the SBC in San Antonio, Texas.
-- With translation by Eunice Lim.

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