REAL International Engagement: Candler Advantage Takes Students to Kenya and Korea
Corey and Shin are two of the 14 Candler students who are spending the summer working full-time in ministry through the Candler Advantage program [see previous story]. Students can choose their placements, so Corey and Shin decided to head overseas—Corey to an orphanage in Nairobi she encountered 10 years ago, where her parents adopted her little brother and sister, and Shin to his hometown of Incheon and Sun-Lin Methodist Church, which is pastored by Guhyun Kwon 06T.
“My focus has been families and adoption in Christ,” she says. “The kids want to be adopted by families so badly, but as they get older that becomes less of a possibility. I’ve been trying to encourage them to see themselves as part of the family of God and as adopted in Christ.”
As part of her curriculum, Corey led a worship service in which each child was given a letter from a caregiver or administrator at New Life Homes. The letters told the child why New Life Homes was grateful for him or her and detailed the gifts that God had given that child. As the letter was read, candles were lit and Corey gave each child part of a long scarf—a symbol of a “family tie” that eventually wound in a circle around the whole group.
“I loved watching the kids’ faces light up as we called their names out loud. They have been through so much: abandonment, disease, near-death experiences, even abuse in some cases,” she says. “As I watched each person present their letter to a child, I realized how many people were really represented in that room.
“There are birth mothers and fathers that we will never know, but will always be connected to. There are local and international people that sponsor the children who are always thinking and praying for them. Coming from a family with adopted children, I think that it is one of the most Christian concepts. We’re all connected; we’re all in the family—it’s one of those things that we always hear and it sounds so simple. But it’s really complicated and big and beautiful.”
Corey has also been helping students with their homework, keeping them on track with their medications, and learning the many ways that play dough can keep a child busy. She has helped the organization improve its volunteer capacity, written children’s curricula that New Life teachers can use in the future, and learned about how programs like New Life Home Trust rely on the hospitality of others.
“Hope is a little, physical presence here,” she says. “It comes in the form of a malnourished, abandoned infant who grows into a fat, bouncing baby in one month’s time. It comes in the form of mothers and fathers who come to meet their new child for the first time. And it comes in the form of a ten-year-old boy who returns to New Life with his parents and meets the caregivers who held him, fed him, and clothed him for the first years of his life.”
The young people Corey serves are deemed successful if they survive childhood after abandonment and disease; the young people that Won Chul Shin works with will only consider themselves successful if they’re accepted into the best higher education programs. And those impossible standards form the basis of Shin’s work this summer.
In engaging the book, Shin decided that the life of a young person in South Korea isn’t defined by consumer culture, but it is defined by the Korean version of the SAT, the test that high school students take for college admission. This test, thought Shin, was the new Korean religious system, and the focus on it was devastating young people’s faith and their vocational imaginations.
Shin is working with the youth at Sun-Lin Methodist Church to, as he says, “lead a gradual shift from their devotion to the Korean SAT system to genuine Christianity” through widening their perspective of “vocation.” Shin has preached several sermons to the entire congregation, explaining how the emphasis on this one test has become a faith system, a distraction from the Christian faith. Instead of dwelling on future vocations dependent on a good score on a test, Shin preached that the youth should find “their genuine vocations from God.”
“I suggested that our congregation work with the marginalized people in our society as a communal vocation,” says Shin, who then designed an outreach program for the youth group that would show them there were more important things in life than a test.
Shin’s group visited the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum in Seoul to learn about the issue of “comfort women,” who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. These women are now a marginalized, mistreated group in Korea.
“After visiting the museum and listening to stories of women whose human rights have been violated by war, we could understand their pain and suffering. Then, our youth members participated in a demonstration to seek apology and appropriate reparations from the Japanese government for these women. From the reflection times after the program, I know some youth group members realized joy, importance, and the power of ‘WITH’—having solidarity with the marginalized.”
In addition to working with the youth at Sun-Lin, Shin is teaching Korean to congregants from the Philippines and Cambodia and teaching Tagalog to Korean congregants readying for mission work in the Philippines. He helped to plan and lead Vacation Bible School and has translated for Candler alum Susanna Haynes 12T, who was just hired by Sun-Lin.
“I’m receiving practical wisdom for applying academic work and skills into real contexts of parish ministry,” says Shin.
And that, of course, is the goal of the Candler Advantage program. Come mid-August, Shin and Corey will be back on campus for a week of reflection and wrap-up with the rest of the Candler Advantage students who had internships this summer. Whether they found new uses for play dough overseas or preached in a pulpit just a few miles from the Emory campus, these students will enter their last year at Candler with a rich experience in ministry under their belts and the knowledge that they made a real difference in the lives of others this summer.