Last week I was invited to Sarang Church in Gangnam by the English teacher at one of my schools. Even though Gangnam is more than an hour away from my home I felt that a month without going to church might be hard to justify to even the most liberal of Christians (which Korean Christians are not).
During my last visit I went to the largest church in the world. While Sarang Church is not as big as the Yeouido Full Gospel Assembly, it still has a large enough following to host five services. It also has a large "foreigner" population and holds three English(ee) services in a separate church down the street.
The English sermon was delivered by a guest pastor from California. Himself a Korean emigrant, he was apparently Jim Carey's Korean dialect coach for the movie Yes Man, and even had a small, one-line part in the film as a professor, but Jim Carey stole his one line.
While most Korean sermons deal almost exclusively with little more than the basic Christian principles (trust God, don't worry, be happy, etc.), this guest pastor made a concerted effort to deliver a message that was well researched and actually practical to the lives of the Christians in attendance. It was also chalk full of funny jokes, but experience has taught me Christians generally lack a sense of humour, and this congregation definitely supported that theory.
This week I had the privilege of attending the church of my friend Namhee. Namhee is a Korean I met in Canada while he was studying English. He is still in Canada, but wanted me to visit his family in Korea at his church.
I was picked up at the subway station by two of his friends. They drove me to the church and introduced me to the pastor, who already knew my name (apparently I had been expected). During the service, Namhee's two friends tried to translate for me as best as possible. I also knew enough Korean to figure out on my own that the pastor, at least at one point, was trying to suggest that Christians are supposed to be happy, but many Korean people are not happy but instead continuously walk around looking and feeling tired (probably because they don't sleep more than three hours a night).
One of the highlights of the experience was being able to sing along to the songs. During my past visit I went to April's church and was not able to follow along even to the slower hymns - my reading speed was just too slow. Today though, I was able to just barely scrape by, and could usually pick up enough of the words to sound like I knew what I was doing by the third time through the chorus (the words are on a large video screen at the back of the stage).
After service, I finally met Namhee's sister and her husband. Namhee's brother-in-law had studied English in my home town a few years ago, and it was he who had recommended the place to Namhee (I'm not sure why). Both Namhee's sister and brother-in-law were very nice, and after church they took me out to try some jjimdak.
(Namhee's sister is the one on the left.)
Jjimdak literally means "steamed chicken." The dish includes large chunks of steamed chicken mixed together with various steamed vegetables and red gochu pepper. Namhee's brother-in-law warned me that the red gochu peppers were exceptionally spicy, but after having burned off my taste buds with the green gochu peppers at Thursday's climbing competition these red peppers failed to even make my tongue tingle.
Next Sunday I will go back to the Sarang church to experience what a regular sermon is like (with the usual pastor preaching), and also to buy a Korean/English dual language Bible with which to follow along in the sermons and study Korean. However, I really enjoy the friendly atmosphere at Namhee's church and will probably go there most Sundays - it's closer, and saves me from having to ride the dreaded No. 2 Line that is always packed.