Upon My Return
Thomas Smith IV serves with the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK).
When I returned home from Korea in the middle of May earlier this year, it had been seventeen months since I had last been in the United States. Next to nothing was the same as I had left it.
Over the last nearly year and a half, I had been watching my homeland from the outside in, as if it was a fishbowl. I had moved to South Korea at the end of August 2019, never having left North America, and unsure of what to expect. I had read about Korea over the years, of course. Additionally, I am from Atlanta, Georgia, which has a large Korean population. In fact, Hangul (Korean) is the third-largest spoken language in the state after English and Spanish. In spite of all of that, I was completely unprepared.
I don’t mean that in a negative way, quite the opposite in fact. The culture is largely based around respect with a heavy emphasis on kindness and hospitality. There was an apparent sense of unity as if everyone was part of one very large family and genuinely cared for one another.
Six months after I had arrived, the Covid-19 panic hit. Soon after the onset, social distancing and mask mandates went into full effect in South Korea, and everyone adapted and complied. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific, our leader downplayed the crisis while cases and deaths skyrocketed. Many continued to go without masks while others cried “hoax.”
The issues would only continue to escalate. After the incumbent president, Donald Trump, lost to Joe Biden, things continued to take a turn for the worse. Conspiracy theories spread like wildfire as the sitting POTUS refused to concede, trying everything to overturn the election. When everything failed, a mob of white nationalists and neo-fascists sacked the Capitol. I watched in horror seven thousand miles away.
When I returned early in May relating to a family crisis, I was at a loss. Flags were being flown with profane messages, cursing President Biden. The majority of people were out and about without masks. Those that were wearing masks, like me, were ridiculed for doing so. When I mentioned how well they were working in South Korea, I was immediately dismissed, in spite of having firsthand experience. The newest conspiracy theories were those pertaining to the newly developed coronavirus vaccine.
I ask God for peace and reunification with each other as well as Him during this time. I am preparing to embark on a new journey to the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico this autumn to help with the border ministries of Good Shepherd United Church of Christ so please pray for me as things go forward.
Thomas Smith IV serves with the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK). His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, WOC, and your special gifts.