By Stephen Knoll
Any big event in life comes with equal parts excitement and trepidation, especially if one is immersing themselves in an almost entirely new culture.
New Life Methodist Church in Seymour welcomed a new visitor in Pastor Hyoung Lai Kim, a Methodist pastor from South Korea.
He has served at his current church in Cheolwon-gun since 2003. The region is similar to Seymour with it being mostly rural and full of farmers.
Here in the U.S. on a sabbatical, Pastor Kim says he’s hoping to learn more about the history of the church in America and the culture around it during his time at New Life Methodist Church in Seymour.
While the differences are plenty, Pastor Kim says there’s also been a lot of similarities between Seymour and the province where he comes from.
“The people here are very similar,” Kim said. “And the weather it’s so cold,” he added with a laugh.
The town is located at one of the northern most spots in South Korea, only about 10 miles away from the border with North Korea.
That distance doesn’t bother Pastor Kim though, who focuses on his small rural church.
The congregation is made up of about 60 people including children, but that number is growing.
“About half of our church is children,” Pastor Kim said.
Pastor Kim says one of the biggest differences he’s noticed is the role of pastors in the community.
In South Korea he explained that pastors are much more involved directly, visiting with and sitting down with people regularly while the atmosphere was more relaxed in the U.S.
Part of the role is tied back to the history of the church and the struggles some Christians faced on the Korean peninsula.
The province where Pastor Kim lives used to actually be within the borders of North Korea, but after the Korean War redrew the border they found themselves in South Korea.
At that time pastors were leaders of their communities and would often stay behind with the people making themselves targets.
People still remember that history and it influences how deeply connected the pastors are with their congregation now.
Pastor Mark Klaisner, who works at New Life, explained that in the U.S. and in South Korea the pastors are busy in different respects.
“There is a lot of praying time in Korea and a strong role of the pastors visiting during many different occasions,” Pastor Kim said.
Part of the difference comes from the role of pastors in the U.S. and Korea and how the cultures view them.
They have a prayer service at 6:00 a.m. but others have one even earlier, “The spiritual life is more intense in Korea,” Pastor Klaisner said.
The biggest lesson for Pastor Kim has been just the experience of learning about the American church and culture.
“The American missionaries helped Korean churches, I wanted to see how the Americans did ministry,” Pastor Kim said.
Pastor Klaisner said that the Methodist Church in Wisconsin had a sister partnership with the church in South Korea that helps other Korean pastors serve all over Wisconsin.
“We want to help other pastors have that experience,” Pastor Klaisner said.
It’s not all been churches and ministry, though, as Pastor Kim has taken trips out to some Wisconsin farms as part of learning about rural ministry in the U.S. and he has even milked a cow in his time here.
He also stopped to visit some schools where the more relaxed attitude in the states as kids had the time to play sports and violin, where in South Korea it was a lot of studying and going to tutors.
“It has been a joy to have him around,” Pastor Klaisner said.
Pastor Kim has enjoyed his experience plenty, “Of course I would recommend others to have an experience like this.”
By Stephen Knoll