President's Pen - November 2023, Dr. Barton Priebe
It was one of those cultural experiences I will never forget.
I was in Seoul, Korea in early October meeting with partners and potential students for Northwest's Korean Language Programs. It was a Sunday, and I was following the lead pastor into the worship service that had already begun. From previous Korean services I knew that the pastors sit on the platform and so I was not surprised as we walked to the front amidst the joyful singing of the people. However, as we approached the steps leading to the platform, the lead pastor abruptly stopped. To my surprise, I saw two pairs of slippers. The lead pastor quickly slipped off his shoes, put on a pair of slippers, and walked up the steps. As I fumbled with the laces on my dress shoes, I did the same, finding myself half-walking and half-shuffling in my slippers across the large platform until I reached my designated chair. Sitting there, I couldn't help but chuckle at the contrast between the expected suit and tie attire and the cozy slippers, not to mention the comical sight of my size 14 feet sticking out both ends of the slippers.
Not understanding the language of the service allowed me to observe and reflect for the next 45 minutes (before preaching in slippers) on all I was experiencing in Korea and among the Korean churches. At least three things stood out to me.
First and foremost, I was in awe of how Christ is fulfilling His promise to build His Church. In just over a century, Korea has moved from having no Christians to roughly a quarter of the population identifying as Christian. It is home to the world’s largest church and sends out more missionaries than any other country, except the United States.
Second, the unity we share in Christ with believers transcends all cultural differences. As I sat on the platform listening to the Korean singing, prayers, and worship, I was once again struck by the multi-ethnic and global nature of Christ's church. Even though I did not understand much of what was going on, there was another sense in which I understood everything that was going on. Together we were worshiping the Lamb who was slain and through whose blood he "ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev 5:9).
Lastly, I reflected on how important it is for pastors and Christian leaders in Canada to be continually learning about other cultures. The nations of the world have come to Canada, and for those of us on the West Coast, the majority of these are from East Asia and South Asia. Around 2013, while I was serving as a pastor in Vancouver, a headline on the front page of The Vancouver Sun declared that the dominant language in the Marpole area was no longer English but Mandarin. The article then called for a re-evaluation of the term "ethnic minority," as it no longer accurately described the community's composition, challenging the longstanding assumption of a Caucasian majority. As our churches continue to welcome people from China, Korea, and other Asian countries, effective ministry necessitates that we maintain a posture of continual learning, valuing, and welcoming of individuals from these diverse cultures.
Since 1995, Northwest has had the privilege of being a part of what God is accomplishing in this nation by offering Korean language programs. Under the excellent leadership of Dr. Daniel Park and Dr. Larry Perkins, Northwest has graduated 211 students. Presently, Northwest oversees recruitment and delivery of the Korean Language Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Christian Studies programs offered by ACTS. We also provide our own accredited Korean Doctor of Ministry and a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Leadership. We currently have 78 students enrolled in our Korean programs. It is a great joy for us to be part of all Christ is doing to build his Church in Korea and among our Korean churches in Canada.
Preaching in a suit and tie while wearing size 9 slippers is a memory that will always bring a smile to my face, but it was the Korean people and their culture that truly captivated my heart. At Northwest we remain committed to developing and equipping Korean pastors and leaders. We invite you to join us in partnering with what God is doing through our Korean programs, whether through financial support for the school or through prayers for the continued raising up of pastors and Christian leaders for Korea and our churches here in Canada.
PS: Just in case you're curious ...