Students Trained in Ecumenism and Social Transformation
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose”(Romans 8:28).”
Since last year, I have served Hanshin University in Korea. In particular, I have worked for the two year master program titled “Studies of Ecumenism and Social Transformation (SEST)” at the Graduate Scholl of Theology at Hanshin University. Ten students hailing from six different Asian countries chose to study the program. Supported by local churches, presbyteries of PROK (Presbytery Church of Republic of Korea) and a few individuals, students studied theology with special emphasis on ecumenism and social transformation in Asia. They also learned about the Korean faith community and the local church environment in greater depth.
The executive committee of the SEST program hosted an appreciation night on May 27th. The sponsors of the program were invited to attend the special event. The president of the university, Dr. Soo-Il Chai, gave an opening speech which explained how the program came to be founded, its purpose, and overall goals. The students then had time to introduce themselves and share the knowledge they acquired through their studies. They also sang a special song of thanksgiving in Korean. Afterward, I reported more details of the program, how the courses were taught and the program supported by my ministry as a missionary sent by Global Ministries. The student representative from India offered appreciative remarks to the guests and shared how he enjoyed the academic and spiritual life as an international student at the university. Reverend Jong-Wha Park of the Kyung Dong church (one of historic PROK churches) provided students with valuable advice. He said that the upcoming graduation signals the start date of when the university will send students back to their homes and to other parts of the world as missionaries of God in order to begin their work of ecumenism as well as social transformation to further the kingdom of God in their own specific contexts. He asked students to keep this thought in mind and to stay connected to each other.
The SEST program came to an end last June. It was fortunate that all of the students were able to successfully complete their coursework and were awarded masters of theology degrees. Some of them struggled to write master theses during the final semester, but were able to pull through with ongoing dedication. I helped the students choose thesis topics and submit proposals throughout the year. More specifically, I worked with students one-on-one, getting to know their writing styles as I corrected their theses sentence by sentence. One student wrote about the history of the Christian mission in Nepal. Another student chose to tackle the ethnic conflict occurring in his home and neighboring countries and attempted to propose a solution by viewing the situation through the perspective of a neighbor drawn from the parable of a Good Samaritan in the Bible (Luke 10:25-37).
The commencement of the SEST program was held on June 3 at the chapel of Hanshin University in Seoul. Sponsors, church pastors, and news reporters were invited to celebrate the occasion. The dean of the Graduate School of Theology, Dr. Kyu-Hong Yeon, gave a special sermon that encouraged degree candidates to participate in the work of God as Christian leaders in their own countries. A student from India offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God. One of the pastors of a sponsoring church shared how he mentored a student from East Timor and their relationship developed into collaboration between his church and the student’s home church and denomination in East Timor. The students were invited to come forward to the stage and were awarded their degrees. They wore Korean traditional gowns and caps, following the tradition of Hanshin University. Despite different backgrounds, the students were dressed the same and placed on equal footing on that day. A unity was realized in God at that moment, which signaled excitement and thanksgiving. Following the ceremony, eight students returned to their countries and two students stayed to pursue Ph.D. programs in Korea. They are now connected to one another and involved in God’s ministry. The graduates are all in the network of ecumenism and social transformation in the Asian context organized by Hanshin University.
We had two visitors from the United States. The first visitor was Reverend Xiaoling Zhu, an area executive of Global Ministries, who visited Hanshin University last May and sent warm greetings to the students at the chapel. His visit was encouraging to the Hanshin community, including me, as it helped remind us of the presence of Global Ministries in Korea. The second visitor was Dr. Timothy Lee, a professor of church history at Brite Divinity School in Texas, who stayed for three weeks at Hanshin for his personal research project. I have arranged for him to temporarily reside in guest facilities at the Seoul campus. He also gave a special lecture regarding the topic of the Christian Church at the chapel on October 14th which was titled, “Beyond Irony and Toward Wholeness: History of Christian Church (DOC).” It was the first time that a professor from Brite Divinity School gave a special lecture at Hanshion University. I hope this historic event is a good indicator of expanding mutual relationship between Hanshin University and Brite Divinity School.
In addition to teaching some courses each semester, I have been counseling students and assisting the school in recruiting prospective students for the SEST program which begins January 2015. I am also working to foster academic relationships between Hanshin and other DOC-UCC related seminaries and colleges in the USA. I would like to give thanks to God and to all those who have made this valuable opportunity into a reality.
Daniel Lee serves with the Presbyterian Church of the Republic of Korea (PROK), South Korea. He serves as chaplain at Hanshin Graduate School. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples’ Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission and your special gifts.