We (my wife and I) have been in South Korea for a few days now visiting our son Joel. He has been teaching English here since April. He lives in Incheon, a newer “suburb” west of Seoul, the capital. It’s been a great trip so far.
Arriving last Saturday, it’s been so interesting comparing what I normally experience when I lead trips to Israel with these recent encounters with the Korean culture. Of course its not at all possible to compare “apples to apples” when considering the uniquenesses of both S. Korea and Israel. But for sure, Korea has a different feel to it. While I love the feel that Israel offers, in these short few days, I also love the feel of S. Korea.
Of course it’s hard to compare the geography of S. Korea with Israel because we’ve only seen a small part of the country. I am sure Korea has different regions like Israel does, with every region looking a bit differently than the others. Culturally, S. Korea is an expressive society. They are very friendly (as are Israelis), but my impression is that Koreans are more wiling to display their friendliness outwardly. Politeness is a cultural norm among Koreans.
While statehood for both countries was established in 1948, the population of S. Korea is about 50 million (with about 10 million alone in Seoul), while Israel’s Jewish population is only about 6 million. S. Korea feels much more crowded of course, with a huge subway system to accommodate the masses of people. While both countries date back to the about the 2nd millennium BC, the modern existence of both countries (more Israel) are threatened by their neighbors. N. Korea remains a constant threat to S. Korea, with a number of the surrounding Arab countries Israel consistently offering promises of annihilation.
And one more comparison should be made: the food! I have to tell you that I have tried some crazy stuff over here. Our son thoroughly enjoys Korean delicacies here, but it’s been a slow process for me. Partial out of several “dares to dad,” on the record I did try kimchi, cow stomach, tofu soup, and octopus, as well as other Korean dishes. Not bad for someone who is not too brave when it comes to trying new foods. But I also have to say that I’ll take an Israeli falafel any day of the week over some of the food choices here. But my favorite so far Korean barbecue (pork), and red bean dumplings (mandu).
But what I noticed about the practice of Christian faith has intrigued me. About 30% of S. Koreans are Christians. Many of these are evangelicals. In fact, we past by the largest church in the world while in Seoul today. The church has something like 800,000 members. While on the train two days ago, I saw a Korean lady read an Advent devotional. Another lady was reading her Bible. The practice of open Christian faith was encouraging to see. Churches everywhere too. Most are small buildings distinguishable by a cross on the top of the roof. Or congregations simply meet in a room on the 11th floor of a tall office building. But Christianity makes up a growing part of Korean culture. Praise God!
On the other hand, the practice of Christianity in Israel seems more tied to the “traditional past.” While the Christian faith in this region of the world can be traced back to the 4th century AD, much of “Christianity” that I see seems tied only to the past. There isn’t much of an evangelical presence in Israel either. Among Israel’s Jewish population, I also hope that more discover and accept Yeshua as well. Praise God this is happening too.
Certainly Israel is what I call the land of the Bible. It is still my preferred country to travel to. On any given Christian tour to Israel I lead, lives are changed because of one’s presence in the land re-living the Bible in “3-D” color! It’s a life-changing trip because it is where people encounter the God of the Bible in a personal way. Yet it was so very nice to see Christian faith be an open part of Korean life. It’s real too, and I know God is transforming many Korean lives here!