Yes. We were, in fact, guests of Ronald. He is quite the polite host, if a bit stiff.
Ok, actually in the past week we have hosted two groups of people for lunch, right here in the Sack household. As of late, this is a decidedly uncommon occurrence, as we mostly find ourselves hosting Maxine, without much time for anyone else. However, circumstances allowed, and there were guests that I have been trying to invite for some time.
Late last year, our church hired two new full time staff people.
As I wrote that, I realized that perhaps I need to explain a bit about our church, as it would not fit the model of "church" that you probably have in your head, unless you've lived and gone to church in Korea; there are not many English speaking congregations here, and most of them are affiliated with a "regular" Korean church. Though perhaps "affiliated" is too week a word. Back in the States, small churches, including those made up of ethnic minorities, often start by meeting in the building of an established church. My understanding is that they pay rent, clean up after themselves, and otherwise have little interaction with the host church. Of course, the host church may take enough interest to insure that the guest church is not sacrificing goats or drawing pentagrams on the floor, but would otherwise no more manage the guest church than a landlord would decide what the tenants should do on weekends.
If such a host/guest church relationship exists in Korea, I have yet to hear of it. The standard seems to be something like this: a normal Korean church decides that they want to have a service in English, so they start one. If they are a big church in a good location, they draw a few foreigners, who in turn draw more foreigners. However, many of the people who attend are usually Koreans. Most churches that I know of seem to have congregations made up of about 3/4 Koreans. It would be inappropriate for me to assign motives to all of them, but these are a few that I have heard myself: Some of them have attended church abroad, and want to have a similar experience. Some of them are invited to come by foreign friends. And many of them come to work on their English.
Drawing from my experience at Crossroads, our previous church, the host church (Pujon Church) does not perceive the English service to be in any way separate from the mother church. It is simply one more option that Pujon Church offers to its members. At Crossroads, the Pujon Church leadership was more than once heard to refer to Crossroads as "The English Club". On any given Sunday, there were about 30 people in attendance. One member was/is the paid part-time leader, though the church has never hired someone who is an ordained minister.
Our current church, AIM (Antioch international Ministry) is a bit different. Until recently, it had one full time minister, Benjamin Ahn. Benjamin went to seminary in the States, as well as doing some pastoring there. He was then hired to replace the previous pastor of AIM. Our host church, Suyoungro Church, obviously takes their English ministry more seriously than Pujon church does. Perhaps that's why their numbers are better: in the neighborhood of 300 people attend the Sunday morning service.
Yeah, I'm getting around to the lunch. Patience young Skywalker, patience.
Anyway, I had always had a kind of suspicion that AIM was still, at heart, more focused on their English service as an English club than as a congregation. The foreign members are very involved, but don't really make any high-level decisions. There are no foreign deacons or elders. (Granted, that one's pretty tough when most foreigners stay for just a year or two, and the average age of the foreign membership is probably under 30.)
And so I must admit to some surprise when AIM hired Esther Berg and her daughter, Kate, as full time ministry staff. Pastor Benjamin is now overseer for all of the foreign ministries (Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and one or two others that escape me at the moment), and Esther is... co-leading the English service. It seems to me that her role is growing larger as she settles into it.
Esther and Kate are wonderful people, very committed Christians. They sold their home and got rid of most of their stuff before coming here. Truly a leap of faith, especially from the perspective of someone who has boxes and boxes of stuff back in America in his parents' home, as well as a house of his own.
Now back to my second paragraph:
Late last year, our church hired two new full time staff people. Foreigners, Esther and Kate. Quite an auspicious occasion, if you ask me. I have gotten to know them somewhat, and enjoy their company, but hadn't been able to spend much time with them. I'm afraid that Suyoungro Church is working them Korean style: non-stop. And so back in April, I asked if they would be able to come to our home for a (hopefully) leisurely meal.
I can't remember the last time I had so much trouble trying to schedule an appointment. Between the four of us, we were backed up a month and a half. Then Horyon had a good idea. [In case there was any doubt, she's the one who comes up with the good ideas in this little partnership.] Election Day!
In Korea Election Day is a holiday, right there on a Wednesday. Not in America. In America, voting is more like a hobby: you should do it in your spare time. In Korea, there are still very many people alive who clearly remember a time when there was no vote for anyone. The Japanese did not impose a democracy on Korea, and even after they were booted out, Korea has had spells of being ruled by non-democratically elected men. So Election Day is a holiday. However, as near as I can tell, Korea and the States both have voter turnouts of around 50%.
Anyway, meeting on Election Day put us at least two weeks ahead of our previous plan.
In addition to Esther and Kate, I had been trying to get together with my friend Aubrey for some time. Aubrey is a friend from church, and she has a very entertaining blog, which is updated much more frequently than mine. I met her last year when I volunteered to host her Wednesday night church small group meetings in my office. It only lasted a few months, but it was a lot of fun, and since then she and I have stayed in contact. Since we only see each other in passing at church, and otherwise communicate by email, she expressed a desire to meet with the Sack family, so she could hold Maxine a bit, and have a conversation of more than two exchanges. I agreed, and when the Esther and Kate date was finally set, I invited her along.
We had a pretty good time. I cooked chicken curry, which was a hit with almost everyone there. Unfortunately, Kate has some serious allergies, and when she found out that there was coconut milk in the curry (makes for a wonderful flavor and texture), she filled up on rice and braised pumpkin. She was such a good sport about it, though. I knew she had allergy problems, and had tried to avoid any of them. We were fortunate that Horyon mentioned the coconut milk at all, as it could have been a major medical emergency if Kate had eaten any of the curry.
So we sat and talked, ate french bread toasted with feta cheese on top, talked, ate curry, talked, and finished it off by eating ice cream and talking some more. As usual in these gatherings, Horyon felt a bit left out at times. For example, she knows Saturday Night Live, and has even watched a small handful of episodes. (She found even fewer bits to be funny than the rest of us.) But she is not well-versed enough to name any of the actors or bits that they have done. I myself am barely functional in SNL lore, as I haven't watched regularly since Clinton's first term. (Yikes! I'm referring to my past in terms of presidential terms! Loser!) Still, Horyon enjoyed some of the conversation, and participated in enough that our guests probably didn't notice.
Maxine was also admired and passed around. She usually does well with strangers, but she's not used to having strangers here in the Sack Home. She cried at first, but quickly got used to the added attention.
As you can see, she made a special connection with Aubrey. I'm afraid I neglected to mention that she wrote a bit about hitting it off with Maxine in one of her clever posts. Aubrey's post gets into a little more detail about that connection. I will add no more other than to say that I laughed when I read it.
By the time everyone left and we had cleaned up, it was late afternoon. We were a bit tired, but not as bad as if it had been a dinner appointment.
Right. That's lunch number one. Lunch number two came a week later. Horyon's brother, Youngwhan (more letters in his name, but easier to pronounce than Horyon) and his girlfriend came to lunch. Actually, he had suggested that we have lunch on that day, as it was also a mid-week holiday. Either Liberation Day or Celebrate Kimchi Day.
Hmmm, must have been the first, as EVERY day is Celebrate Kimchi Day here in Korea. But I digress.
Youngwhan suggested that we have lunch together. Our plan was to go to a nice restaurant and eat good food. The problem is that bringing Maxine to a restaurant requires getting a room. (Stop whatever you're thinking, assuming you think like I do. Higher class Korean restaurants always have rooms to eat in, with doors and walls and stuff so that you cannot disturb, or be disturbed by other customers, like people with kids, babies or animals. That kind of room.) Actually, finding a place like that isn't the problem. Paying for it is. Since Maxine's arrival, the bills have stacked up a bit. There are many necessities that single people don't think about, like diapers, large, brightly colored noise pieces of plastic a.k.a. rattles, play mats, cribs, clothes, cleaning supplies, a new vacuum cleaner (the old one... wait for it... sucked, but not enough), and other things that will no doubt come to mind after I publish this entry.
The point being, our bank account was dry, and the next credit card bill was already sort of looming, and the idea of a $100 meal (for four) was just not appealing. So I offered to cook.
I made a couple of beer can chickens, some mashed potatoes (warning, that last link will want to leave a cookie on your computer, but it's worth it!) and some steamed veggies. I think it went over well. They ate almost all of the chicken, though the mashed potatoes didn't have much (ahem) appeal. Of course, they would have been better if our guests had shown up at 1:30, as we had planned. By 2:30, when they did show up, the potatoes weren't in as good a form as when they were fresh.
This time I got to be on the narrow end of the conversation. I mostly kept Maxine company this time, as well as carving the chickens (which by the way kept very well in the oven on its lowest temperature that wasn't off). Basically, I had no idea what anyone was talking about until they turned to me and told me in simple Korean that the food was delicious. Because as bad as my Korean is, it is most assuredly sufficient to talk about food.
Horyon told me later about the conversation. I think perhaps it would be best if I just didn't write anything about it at all. By the time everyone was gone and we had cleaned up, we were all exhausted, and still had to prepare food for Maxine.
I think I'll write about that in a different post.
Horyon and I both sort of scavenged our dinners. Maxine went to bed cranky, and so did we.
And those are our lunch-hosting stories. And now I will throw in some Maxine pictures. This is Maxine with her first watermelon. It's also her first time to feed herself with her own hands. Those two teeth are coming in handy here.
"Dude! That's some goooood watermelon!"
Until next time