It’s freezing. The wind is blowing approximately 100 miles per hour by my very scientific estimation. We are standing in a shallow crater, that we will soon learn was once filled with bodies. The man explaining all of this to us is from Jeju, and must have told this story hundreds of times at this point. He is somber, but not visibly sad. This is not the first massacre site we’ve visited today. It won’t be the last.
We walk through a low maze of tiny hills. There are some small toys littered about. He tells us these are the unmarked graves of children. These graves were supposed to be temporary, until the families could return under the cloak of nightfall to secretly move their children to the individual family cemeteries. But upon returning the families couldn’t distinguish which graves were which, so the children remain together until this day. If I hadn’t been told, I would assume it was simply a natural garden. I feel sick to my stomach again.
We walk down the street to a local elementary school. On the way there our guide stops to pick a white flower. He tells us to smell it and that it is good for sleeping. This is a moment of respite in a very heavy day.
We arrive at the elementary school. There is a big soccer field and a playground. The guide tells us we are standing in yet another massacre site. Innocent mothers and children were shot and killed here, at this elementary school. Another chill runs up my spine. I don’t know if it’s from the wind or the story. The guide tells us that he attended this school. So does his son.
We walk back to the cars. Everyone is pretty quiet, the heaviness of the day and the cold weighing us down. The drive back to the house exists in a dream like state in my head. I’m not ready to process everything I learned today.
You know how when you are eating with a toddler, and you just kind of take their plate, cut up their food, and hand it back without comment? Maybe you don’t even break your conversation with the rest of the table. It’s just habit, part of the meal process when a three year old is present. (I have no idea at what age children start cutting their own food, but I assume you get the point.) Anyways, that’s what my life is like here sometimes.
The shiny new gloss has worn off, and I am more of a fixture in day to day activities. We have established some habits and routines, and can go about them pretty smoothly. However, there are still MANY things I cannot do. There is no point in asking me if I need help, because I cannot understand the questions anyways. So, often times, people simply help me. They do the thing that I cannot do, and cannot ask for help in doing.
In church, I cannot read the scripture, because I do not know the names of the books of the Bible in Korean. Someone will take my Korean-English Bible and flip to the correct page then silently hand it back. At the welfare center, a lady will come up behind me, Velcro the back of my apron where I cannot reach it, then walk away without comment. Sometimes I don’t even know who did it. If I need to move out of the way or follow someone, they will simply grab my arm or move my body where it needs to be.
Small generous compassionate acts of service like this happen every day. Yet I find myself feeling frustrated. I want to explain that, under normal circumstances, I am a competent and capable human being. I constantly want to explain my thought process, defend my miscommunications, and overall be independent when I cannot. Maybe that’s the biggest takeaway from this journey so far. I am not in control of the narrative, and I must live with however people think of me.
I must also not assume other people’s thoughts and motives. Part of the YAV program is “Embracing the Ambiguity.” At first, I thought this meant not having a set schedule, not being told where you’re going when you get in a car, not understanding instructions, etc. And it does mean those things. But more importantly, it means embracing the ambiguity in interpersonal relationships. Being open and engaging. TRYING. Allowing your actions to speak for themselves and trusting that other people have good intentions behind their actions as well. So, I might feel like a toddler some days, but I have to trust that the people around me are trying their best, and that they know I am too.
This past weekend I went on a church wide retreat with my placement site, Jumin Church. I was told to bring long sleeves, a water bottle, and a towel. At 9:30AM on Saturday, I got in the car with a driver I didn’t know, to drive to a place I didn’t know, where we would spend the next 36 hours doing who-knows-what.
I have gotten pretty good at following along with the crowd, observing, and generally flying as low under the radar as possible when I stick out like a sore thumb simply by existing. I smile and nod a lot. I try not to ask questions unless I have a translator available. Everyone I have met is so hospitable and wants me to feel so comfortable, that I can feel their frustrations when I have a problem they can’t understand.
At the first meal, the young adults graciously took me under their wing, so I wasn’t the lonely girl in high school eating lunch in the bathroom. We ate together, laughed together, and played rock/paper/scissors to decide who did the dishes. I lost, and had to help with the washing up. Not a big deal! Happy to help! Three of us dutifully lugged everyone’s plates and chopsticks into the kitchen after the rest of the congregation were done, and quickly washed everything. I knew how to do meal time. I was set.
I was set, that is, until breakfast. See, I prefer a breakfast of coffee. But with the wonderful culture of feeding here, just coffee was not an option. The other young adults, more wise in their ways than I, had disappeared off on an adventure, or were still sleeping, or getting ready for the day. Not the point. The point is, I tried to get coffee on my own, and wound up eating breakfast with the Real Adults. And the Real Adults don’t play rock/paper/scissors to decide who does the dishes at the end of the meal. Can you see my dilemma?
My plan, which my fun anxiety brain started concocting the moment I was handed a plate and pushed towards the buffet, was, “Oh, I’ll just watch when someone else takes their dishes and then follow them.” I have used this very smart plan in coffee shops and restaurants here when I’m not sure of the bussing policy. Works like a charm. Except when a very sweet lady at your breakfast table tells you, “You are finished. You can go,” in a way that implies leaving right now is the correct and only option. Remember the part about me going with the flow and not asking questions.
So I got up, took my plate and coffee cup, and kind of helplessly held them up in a shrugging fashion. The people at my table began speaking in Korean and pointing at the kitchen. So, intuitive as ever, I took them to the kitchen. In the kitchen, an older woman spoke and gestured in a way that I can only assume meant, “NOPE!” So here I was, standing in front of the entire dining area, on a raised platform in front of the kitchen, holding my plate and empty coffee cup, frustrated, and about three steps away from a full blown anxiety attack. Several people tried to help by gesturing back to the kitchen and speaking Korean, and I tried to explain (in unhelpful English) that the Kitchen Guard did not accept my offering of dirty dishes.
Finally, I spotted a young adult who speaks a bit of English. She was getting in line for her morning coffee. With frantic eyes I desperately asked her, “Please just tell me where to put this plate?!” She, seeing my pain, looked around and decided the sink of the coffee shop was the correct receptacle for my dirty plate and cup. Looking back, this was almost definitely not correct, but I took the lifeline where it was thrown. Then my fight or flight kicked in, I ran into the woods, sent a frustrated voice message to a friend, listened to a podcast, and looked at some trees. Then it was over. I joined the day’s activities. Nobody else remembers that I didn’t know where to put my plate at breakfast, and if they do, it’s not a big deal to them.
Sometimes you don’t know where to put your dirty dishes. Most of my frustrations here are along the same lines. I still don’t know how to check my mail, pay my electricity bill, or where exactly my trash goes. I am learning every day. But I took the bus on my own, bought the correct trash bags, and cooked myself dinner on a gas stove without setting off the fire alarm. Win! I am constantly reminding myself to celebrate the small victories, and not sweat the small failures. It’s usually just not a big deal.
I have said these words in jest more times than I can count over the past two weeks. Whether it was the hard chairs, hard conversations, or cold hard truths I’ve had to face, orientation was anything but comfortable. I cried more last week than I did in the past year. I came face to face with my privilege in ways I will be processing for the rest of my life. I felt guilt, embarrassment, frustration, anger, and hopelessness all before lunch.
I also felt love and acceptance in ways I didn’t even realize I was lacking. I was surrounded by a community of people dedicated to fighting for equality for all people, starting with dismantling the biases within ourselves. I have a feeling the biggest challenges I will face over the next year will come from within my own head, but I know I have a network of compassionate hearts just a WhatsApp away.
So the moral of the story is, yes, I’m uncomfortable. But if I was comfortable after everything we talked about at orientation, that would be far more concerning.
It’s hard to talk about money. It’s hard to ask people to give you money. It’s awkward. It feels icky. It makes me uncomfortable. So I’m writing about it instead. The faceless void of the internet seems like a good enough place to air out my thoughts!
The vagueness of language around financial support of missionaries is a maze in and of itself. I find transparency to be the most helpful solution to financial questions, so I’m boiling it down to the root.
For the next year, being a YAV in South Korea is my job. Just like your job, there are expenses to the “company.” The difference is, my “company” is a church. Their funds come from donations, tithes, and offerings.
I will be paid a Simple Living Stipend as well as my housing/transportation to training and my placement site will be covered. The total cost of this is between $22,000 and $26,000 to the church. I have been asked to raise $5000.
If you have the means, please consider donating to support the YAV program. You can do so at THIS LINK. Even if you are not financially able to donate right now, please keep us in your prayers. You can follow my quarterly newsletter by sending me your email address, or follow this blog for updates. Thank You to the churches and friends who have already donated. Thanks to your generosity we have reached over 50% of our goal!
If you have any questions about donating, please ask! If I can’t answer, I can get you in touch with someone who can.
(P.S. the Presbyterian Church is a 501(c)(3) non-profit so get those TAX DEDUCTIONSSSS!!!)
Hello! My name is Amanda Kirkscey and I am a Young Adult Volunteer serving in Korea for the 2019-2020 class. I’m from Texas, and I’ve spent the past 2 years serving as a Global Mission Fellow in Frankfurt, Germany.
“Love God. Love People. Serve the World.” has kind of become a mantra of mine over the past few years. God has called me to spread Christ’s love through helping others and immersing myself into cross-cultural missions. Living out this calling has molded me into a person that 17-year-old Amanda wouldn’t recognize, and I love that. My hope is that God will use me as a connection between people all across the world.
This blog is another means of connection for me. It will make me vulnerable in ways I am not emotionally prepared for. I am sure to put my foot in my mouth or alienate someone who supports me. I’m sorry for that. I apologize in advance. I’m here to be compassionately honest with you, and with myself. (More on my distain for the phrase “brutally honest” later.)
I leave for Korea one month from today. Wish me luck!