National Korean Presbyterian Men conference focuses on equipping lay people, sharing God’s blessings
October 2, 2009
he annual conference of the National Korean Presbyterian Men gathered at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Marietta, Ga., Sept. 17-19 with a focus on equipping lay leaders in Korean Presbyterian churches.
The 800-member Bethany shares space with the Anglo-Brazilian Ray-Thomas Memorial congregation. Together, they form one of the PC(USA)’s five multicultural congregations.
The Rev. Byeong-Ho Choi, pastor at Bethany, said that the conference was about hope in a time of despair for many people.
“We need to awaken leaders,” he said. “The Korean Presbyterian Church is heading to a new time of team ministry instead of the old pastor-centered model. We need to be open-minded and invite leadership from our lay people.”
Workshops included topics such as biblical financial management from birth to death, family strategies for coping during a recession and raising children biblically between Korean and American cultures.
The Rev. Joon Shik Kim, a biblical scholar and pastor at Torrance First Presbyterian Church in California, spoke about running a business and overcoming failure in difficult times, and the Rev. Choi from Bethany preached a sermon titled “From Despair to Hope.”
On the evening of Sept. 18, some 400 men, women, youth and children shared supper and gathered to hear former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young offer the keynote address. The evening began with a praise band that would be the envy of any congregation with contemporary worship leanings. The cadences of music and prayer and scripture, all in Korean, were unabashedly hopeful. A largely a cappella men’s group in evening dress, backed up by piano and flute, brought tears to many eyes.
And then the introductions began. Young is many things: a pastor in the United Church of Christ. A top aide to Martin Luther King Jr. during the early days of the U.S. civil rights movement. A congressional representative from Georgia. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under former President Jimmy Carter. Mayor of Atlanta during the Centennial Olympics. Author of A Way Out of No Way and An Easy Burden: Civil Rights and the Transformation of America.
It was, perhaps, his current role as chairman of the Andrew Young Foundation that led to his invitation to speak at the conference. According to its mission statement, the foundation “works to support, promote and develop global institutions and leaders with the capacity and knowledge to improve and enhance social and economic justice and human rights through faith, nonviolent action, democratic institutions and socially responsible for-profit corporations.”
In the foreword to An Easy Burden, Quincy Jones describes the civil rights movement as “a symphony of protest.” Young spoke as an instrument of protest that knows hope and that has seen change and is calling for more.
Despite the language difficulties, Young spoke easily. He spoke personally. He began with a question: “What in the world is God doing?”
“We think,” he said, “we have it all worked out. And then one day we realize that everything we’ve been through and dreamed, everything we’ve prayed for seems to fail us and we realize that our thoughts and dreams are inadequate to encompass God’s world.”
Again and again, the central point: “Something is wrong, not with God’s plan, but with God’s children. We take his grace and mercy and riches for ourselves until they begin to lose their value. We’ve failed to understand that God loves us all. In order to keep God’s blessings, we must give them away.”
“All these years,” Young said, “I’ve really been a pastor. Whether my church was 25 people in the middle of nowhere or the United States Congress or the United Nations, or the whole city of Atlanta, I’ve been a pastor.”
The stories flowed on and on in the tradition of the greatest of pastors.
Toward the end of the evening, Young joked, “I’m just getting warmed up, but I’m going to wind down!”
And then he told a story from his own life.
“I got tricked into doing God’s will,” he said. “Everything I tried to do failed. I became a pastor because I didn’t want to be a dentist!”
Recalling his days just out of college in which he became convinced that he was wasting his degree and all his parents’ money, Young realized he was “a fool who didn’t know anything.”
And then in a moment of despair, he heard a voice. “You’re not trifling,” the voice said. “You’re not lazy or a failure. You just haven’t found your way yet.”
That voice was the voice of God for Young.
Then, perhaps recalling that he was supposed to be “winding down,” Young spoke some words of advice. “Don’t forget those who are left behind,” he said. “Share God’s blessings.
“Racism is a sickness. You don’t get angry with sick people. You help them.
“Treat your enemies like brothers. Sit down and eat with them. Have communion. It creates new possibilities.
“Wherever we find God’s children in need, we must share God’s blessings.”
These days, Young is sharing God’s blessings in many ways, none of them perhaps more important than his efforts to bring water to Tanzania.
Working with mega church Myung Sung Presbyterian Church in Seoul, South Korea, and the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, Young helped organize the donation of a drilling machine to bring water to parched places in Africa.
The Rev. Leon Sullivan, civil rights pioneer and campaigner against apartheid, started a series of African and African-American summits designed to bring people to Africa and share God’s blessings.
In a 2008 video clip that concluded his address, Young urged viewers to open their hearts and “let God use and lead us to share God’s blessings in every way we can.”
The last scene of the video showed Hope Sullivan speaking of her late father’s work in Tanzania.
“Just before he died,” she said, “I asked my dad how to know where to start when there was so much need in the world.”
“‘Just pick a place,’” he said. “‘When you know what the need is, you do what you can to help.’”
That is, perhaps, God’s plan for each of us.
Sue Boardman is a Presbyterian pastor and free-lance writer in Atlanta. She formerly edited Monday Morning magazine.