Joy in the Morning: Prayer and Hospitality Abound
By the New York Conference*
From August 28 to September 5, 2017, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, episcopal leader for the New York Annual Conference (NYAC) and president of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), led a group of NYAC members on a spiritual pilgrimage to South Korea. The group—including clergy, laity, and members of the bishop’s cabinet—was hosted by Bupyeong Methodist Church, senior pastor, the Rev. Eunpa Hong. The General Board of Global Ministries regional office in South Korea assisted the NYAC team in South Korea. Below are reflections written by members of the team.
Korean Methodists gather in the Bupyeong Methodist Church in Seoul, Korea, every morning at 5 a.m. for early morning prayer. PHOTO: COURTESY NEW YORK CONFERENCE
Jessica L. Anschutz
In sharing with my congregations about our pilgrimage, I’ve described attending early morning prayer time at the Bupyeong Methodist Church as the closest I may come to a Pentecost experience. As I heard so many voices simultaneously offering their worries, thanksgivings, and burdens to God, I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but in the midst of their cries, their shouting, their whispers, their tears of joy and sadness, Christ was present, and the Holy Spirit was working.
I was moved by the deep reverence and gratitude for the incredible work of missionaries in sharing the love of Christ in Korea. I found our visit to the Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery, where so many who served Korea are buried, deeply moving and wish we’d had more time there. There is room for improvement in how we in the United States view those called to missionary service as well as how we honor the saints who have gone before us.
I give thanks to God for the opportunity to journey with such a wonderful group of disciples from NYAC and pray that our experience and learnings will continue to impact our ministries and the life and work of the New York Conference for years to come.
The Rev. Dr. Jessica L. Anschutz is the pastor of Cold Spring/South Highland UMC in Cold Spring, New York.
The most moving experiences for me at Bupyeong Methodist Church were the strong emphasis on prayer, the commitment of the choir, and dedication to faithful worship. The ministers seemed to display a deep spirituality and reverence that was evident from the position they hold. Senior Pastor Hong shared how his mother risked her life to save his. His dynamic leadership epitomizes his love for God and his strength, even in his time of loss.
As the sun rises—Korean Methodists gather for prayer before they head off to work in the morning. PHOTO: COURTESY NEW YORK CONFERENCE
The call to prayer by the pastor and the congregation’s response, with everyone praying at the same time and then fading to individual prayers, was impressive. The church seemed unified by its focus on prayer—I’ve tried to imagine witnessing the same early prayer meeting in the New York Conference; the power it would generate would certainly, “blow the roof off the building!”
The hour of the early prayer meeting calls attention to the way we should live our lives. This experience calls me to look at my prayer life and those with whom I serve going forward and ask how we can improve on our prayer ministry.
We heard testimony and witness about the journey of the Korean people and how their faith in God and the help of missionaries from the United States and other countries brought them through difficult challenges; such as wars, destruction, desperate poverty, and oppression. The economic growth and progress, both corporate and religious, are overwhelming. Through faith in God, prayer, revivals, Bible study, Christian education, perseverance, building and planting churches, and caring for each other, growth began.
At Bupyeong Methodist Church, volunteerism has taken on a new meaning. Truly there is a great sense of caring for the needs of the low-income and poverty-stricken families, prisoners, the elderly, churches in need of support, schools and seminaries, and missionaries—all while keeping the church spotless and immaculate. Bupyeong Methodist is synonymous with hospitality; there was no stone left unturned to extend a heartfelt welcome.
Roena Littlejohn serves as Lay Leader for the New York Annual Conference.
Since my return I have continued the practice of 5 a.m. prayer. I have invited my members to join me in the sanctuary, but as yet I have had no takers. I will continue, but I will also add other times that might be more in keeping with Western culture and work schedules.
I have also committed to exploring how one changes culture within an organization. I believe that, until we experience a culture shift within the church that elevates the practice of spiritual disciplines, joy, and gratitude, we will continue with a lukewarm faith.
New York Conference Frontier Foundation executive director Ellen Knudsen (far left) and District Superintendent Sungchan Kim (far right), meet with Mungyim Kim (second from right) in the General Board of Global Ministries’ office in Seoul, Korea. PHOTO: COURTESY NEW YORK CONFERENCE
The Rev. Ronell Howard is the pastor of Cornerstone Community UMC in Norwalk, Connecticut.
“This experience has left an indelible imprint on
my life that will last until eternity. Never in my
lifetime have I ever witnessed a body of people
with such authenticity in their unquenchable
thirst and hunger for God. Being with a sea
of people at 5 a.m. worshiping God was
spellbinding, and this celebration of God is done
365 days of the year, even on a Sunday, with
three services following.”
Rev. Delores M. Barrett—Middle Village/Forest Hills Community,Laurelton, New York
A little more than 60 years ago, Korea was a country decimated by war. More than 1.6 million civilians lost their lives, over and beyond military casualties. Resources were all but nonexistent. Yet today, we visit a land that is thriving and indeed a world leader in many realms. It seems to me that one of those is the spiritual realm and I suspect that is no coincidence.
Just as Jesus stood filled with love and compassion for the people but virtually no earthly resources in the feeding of the 5,000 and looked to God in faith, trusting in God’s provision, so our host congregation, Bupyeong Methodist Church, took what little its members had and went to God in prayer—faithful, passionate daily prayer, trusting in God’s provision.
We heard story after story of the sacrifices made to support the church and its ministries: families selling their homes and giving proceeds to the church; generous donors who, after prayerful consideration, increased their donations tenfold. Yet it seems to me that the greatest gift given to this church, and modeled by Rev. Hong, was not the generous financial support but rather the unswerving commitment to prayer—not just by a few but by a faithful committed community.
This congregation focused not on what their eyes saw before them, but on their Lord and Savior. Today they continue to give thanks to God and invest what they have in his kingdom work, just as those fives loaves and two fishes fed thousands and thousands. This faith community is feeding thousands and tens of thousands both physically and spiritually through their outreach ministry which is being multiplied by God’s provision through the faithful work of God’s people as they seek God in prayer. I give thanks to God for this amazing opportunity to witness firsthand the work in Korea through the ministry of the Bupyeong Methodist Church.
Tracy Moore is a candidate for deacon in the New York Annual Conference.*
Quotes for this story were compiled by the Rev. Julia Yeon Hee Yim, district superintendent for the Long Island East District of the New York Conference. A longer story was originally published in The Vision, October 2017, the New York Conference publication, edited by the Rev. Joanne Utley. Used by permission.