The DobiDos DB-1000

Under the category of “intercultural opportunities I haven’t taken advantage of…yet”: hot spicy kimchi, the popular Korean dish of pickled garlicky vegetables, usually cabbage. And the DobiDos DB-1000.

My nobler self wants to connect with a culture that is new to me, while I am here in the Republic of Korea for the World Council of Churches Assembly. I find, however, that sometimes my desire for openness has been overwhelmed by caution.

I haven’t yet tasted spicy kimchi, even though it has been served as a side dish with several meals. I think my fear is a result of hearing people describe it as “an acquired taste.” This is completely irrational, because all of the Korean dishes I have eaten here have been delicious, without exception.

Am I depriving myself of something I would really enjoy?

In the same vein, at lunch the other day with the Brethren group, Samuel Dali from EYN endured ribbing for refusing to taste the octopus. Fortunately I wasn’t on the end of the table that was served the dish with fish in it because I don’t do octopus either. I successfully avoided eating octopus throughout a college semester abroad in Greece, and am not ready to give up my anti-octopus stance. No offense to octopi, of course.

On the other end of things, so to speak, I am afraid of the toilet in my hotel bathroom–the DobiDos DB-1000. I had heard mechanized toilets are popular in Asia but I’ve never seen one before. One gathers it fulfills all hygiene functions up to, and maybe including, scrubbing your back for you.

It has a console full of buttons and dials. They are all identified in Korean. Four of the largest buttons feature icons intended to help out international guests like me, but I can’t figure them out. One looks like waves. Another looks like a fountain–I’m not planning to push that one because I don’t really want a fountain erupting in the middle of my bathroom. The most mysterious looks like a man rising out of the sea. If the toilet ever does erupt I plan to push the one that looks like a stop button.

Fortunately I found the simple flush lever hidden behind the console, which was a relief.

My husband routinely pushes every button and pulls every lever when he encounters a new gadget, and he would have figured out the toilet in five minutes. So I ought to be able to.

After all I’ve been spending my days doing much more difficult things, like getting to know Christians from many different countries, communicating past language barriers with others who share a common commitment to building relationships, witnessing the ecumenical family trying to figure out how the churches can address hard issues that affect the whole world.

I have resolved to push one button–maybe on my last day here so if I flood the bathroom I won’t have to feel embarrassed in front of the hotel staff for long. And I will take a small taste of hot kimchi too. After all, I might really like it.

Octopus will have to wait.

–Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren

It feels like Philippians

Today the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly felt a lot like Philippians. I’ve been joining in the challenge from Annual Conference moderator Nancy Sollenberger Heishman to study Philippians before the Church of the Brethren’s next Conference.

I confess I haven’t gotten to memorizing the letter yet, I always have the excuse that I’m too busy–which of course is no excuse at all! But today during worship, as the benediction was given, I found Philippians running through my head.

A colleague at work has asked me to explain why it is important for a Brethren delegation to be at the WCC meeting, she wanted to pass it along to folks who question the value of ecumenical involvements.

Here’s an answer, straight out of scripture:

“Only live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel…. Make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 1:27 and 2:2).

This morning during opening worship I found myself beside Linda, a young woman from Kenya, who is a delegate from the Anglican church in her country. For both of us, it is our first experience of a WCC Assembly, and we both confessed to nervousness as well as excitement.

Yesterday in the bus to our hotel, I found myself beside a woman from the United Church of Canada, who serves as a staff member of her denomination as I do for mine. We had some time to talk about our work.

In the afternoon business session, I found myself beside a Korean woman who is a guest at the Assembly from a local church congregation in central Busan. She spoke little English but we managed to help each other out nevertheless. I helped her find translation equipment, and she repaid the favor with a fresh tangerine and a cookie out of her bag of snacks.

At lunch today I found myself beside Jan Thompson, a member of our Brethren delegation. We found a quiet table in the exhibit hall (quiet being relative in an assembly of some 5,000 people all speaking different languages) and had a chance to share our experiences of the morning and compare notes.

At the end of the evening business, I found myself beside an eastern European woman, who is also writing about the assembly for one of her church’s publications. Her husband is a delegate, and I had a chance to meet him as well. She shared some friendly frustration at the need to listen to reports that were given verbally as well as handed out on paper, and I nodded in complete understanding. I had been frustrated at that too.

How can we Christians stand firm, and strive side by side, if we don’t make the effort to get out and meet and talk with each other and get to know each other? It is only by getting together–whether in our congregation, or our district, or our Annual Conference, or even a huge ecumenical meeting–that we can work on being in full accord, having the same mind, having the same love.

Being the body of Christ.

–Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Sleepless in Seoul

It is very quiet in Seoul’s Incheon Airport at 2 in the morning. I know because I have been laying awake, listening to the quiet while trying to persuade a body that is still in central time US that I desperately need sleep after the long flight over the Pacific.

The thing my body and mind both are having a hard time with is the math of this time shift. By flying so far west, I have gained a day. I flew out of Chicago Sunday morning at about 7, and arrived here in Seoul, Republic of South Korea, on Monday at about 3 in the afternoon. This means a trip that took some 17 hours, with less than an hour on the ground in San Francisco between one plane and the next, has put me some 14 hours ahead of myself, so to speak.

Incheon has a transit hotel within the airport, especially for travelers who have a long enough layover between flights to book a room for 12 hours and get some sleep. Our next flight to Busan, the city on the south coast where the World Council of Churches Assembly will be held, doesn’t leave until 7:20 a.m.

When they said the hotel was in the airport they really meant it: my small room has a window overlooking a large arrival hall where passengers check in and go through security. Right now the only person out there is an early arrival from the cleaning crew. Or maybe she’s working late–time being relative at the moment.

Yesterday’s 11-plus hour flight from San Francisco to Seoul was long enough for the inflight entertainment to run three full length movies plus a concert movie and a couple of TV shows. However most of the people who packed the 747 jet liner seemed more interested in sleep.

In between attempts at sleep I did have an opportunity to talk with some of the people seated near me. The woman across the aisle was immediately friendly and smiled at me when I found my seat, asking where I was from. She spoke great English with a strong Korean accent, and was reading a book in English titled “Following Christ.” I hoped she might be going to the WCC Assembly too, but she quickly explained that a Mormon friend had lent her the book, and she repeated several times that she was interested in the Mormon faith. After the long flight as we were filing out of the plane, she wished me well in Busan with another of her wide smiles.

The men sitting on the other side of me were part of a group of 23 Korean businesspeople who had spent eight days in the United States. From their description, it sounded like a business trip mixed in with a lot of sightseeing. In those eight days they had managed to go to Niagara Falls, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and even got in two days at the Grand Canyon after the government shut down ended and the national parks reopened.

I had been studying materials for the WCC Assembly, and Timmy (I couldn’t pronounce his name so he fell back on his nickname) asked about the conference. I explained a bit about the World Council of Churches, how many people are expected, what church I come from. He borrowed one of the print outs of a PowerPoint on the WCC Assembly that I had been looking at, and read it intently. His friend sitting next to him immediately looked up the WCC on the web, using his smart phone.

Then Timmy told me that he also is a Christian. He is an elder in a church in a city some ways north of Busan. He and his friend both seemed excited that many Christians from many different countries around the world are coming to their country.

That’s about all I learned about my seat mates. My knowledge of Korean is nonexistent, and though one of them spoke a lot of English, when we hit a word or phrase that we couldn’t push over the language barrier the conversation would lapse. And everyone would go back to the more important business of trying to get some sleep.

The friendliness and welcome I have already received from South Koreans encourages me–even in the middle of a sleepless night.

A personal connection

My 11-year-old son is a Pokemon fan, and by extension a fan of all things Japanese–which sometimes gets confused with all things Asian. When I told him I’d be traveling to the World Council of Churches (WCC) 10th Assembly, taking place in the city of Busan in the Republic of South Korea, he asked me to bring back “some cool Pokemon things” for him–not realizing how different the countries of Asia are from each other and Pokemon may not be a thing in South Korea at all.

I tried to give him, so far as I know it, a brief history of the Korean Peninsula. I mentioned the Korean War and the fact that his grandfather, my dad, had been a conscientious objector during that era of the military draft. The church called my father to Nigeria to do his alternative service as a 1-W. He liked Nigeria so much that he ended going back as a mission worker, and spent years and years there. He took my mom back to Nigeria with him, and so my brother and I were born and raised in Nigeria.

Then it hit me: the Korean peninsula is an important place for me and my family. The unexpected turn in my father’s life that took him to Nigeria actually originated in Korea–although his faithful response to the evils of war and his determination to stick to his convictions for peace had a lot to do with where our family ended up.

I have never been to Korea, or even to Asia before. On this trip I will check it off my bucket list of continents (Australia alone remains). I had been thinking of this assembly as primarily an ecumenical event and the opportunity to be in South Korea as a bonus to the experience.

Now I realize I need to pay more attention. Korea is important to me. It has been instrumental in shaping who I am as a person of Christian faith and pacifist convictions.

Could this translate, I wonder, from the micro or personal level to the macro–worldwide church–level? Perhaps after this 10th assembly of the worldwide Christian movement, the Korean peninsula will have become instrumental in directing the church in new ways as a community of conviction and faith. We need to pay attention!

As I make my way to the World Council of Churches Assembly, I pray the prayer that the WCC has provided participants to use in preparation:

A prayer on the way

On the way to Busan, may we humbly walk with you, God of life.
On the way to Busan, guide us as we gather, pray, and deliberate as disciples of Christ.
On the way to Busan, lead us in the way of justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.