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Sidebar: The United Church's Role: In Mission and Migration

THE UNITED CHURCH'S ROLE: IN MISSION AND MIGRATION

The Wanderer's Reverend Sang-Chul Lee and his family were one of the first Korean immigrants to settle in Canada. As a young man, Lee had converted to Christianity from Shamanism as a way to cope with the brutality of Japanese-occupied Manchuria and Korea. It was the United Church of Canada, on mission in various regions of Asia, that introduced him to Christianity. Ironically, it was his new religion that brought Reverend Lee to Canada in the mid-1960s to preach to his one time enemy, the Japanese, who were themselves immigrants in a United Church congregation in British Columbia.

Lee heard about the Christian church for the first time when he was 14 years old. But he had very little interest since his parents were faithful shaman people. Eventually, Lee's spiritual quest carried him beyond the traditions of shamanism. In 1939, Korea was occupied by Japanese and their domination inflicted many pains upon Lee's people. One day Lee read the story of Moses and he was totally enraptured. He remembers he stood up and shouted, all by himself, "This is the god for the Koreans."

The mission of the United Church of Canada in Korea was established in 1893 and resulted in the creation of a vital and growing church. In 1948, the United Church's Board of Overseas Missions issued a publication on the church's missionary work in Asia, detailing the evangelical, educational and medical services they performed. The following is an excerpt from World Flight for Christ:

Reports indicate that in spite of the difficulties faced by Christians in this Russian-controlled area, the Korean believers reveal earnestness and fidelity to Christian principles. Over 2,000,000 people have fled to the area south of the 38th parallel, and of these, some 60,000 are Christian. The refugee problem that results is serious. Many thousands are living in temporary shelters around Seoul. Food is available, but clothing is scarce. We saw refugees wearing relief clothing sent from Canada. The Canadian Mission house in Seoul is a centre of distribution. The Koreans are deeply appreciative of our help in this regard.(1)

Our Evangelistic staff in Korea consists of two families at present. Missionaries are not permitted to enter the northern zone, and our workers, a skeleton staff, are rendering splendid service in the several union universities, in co-operative Christian agencies such as Bible Society, Christian Literature Society, and National Christian Council as well as assisting in Church life and work in the Seoul area. In several avenues of service, they are in touch with refugees from our mission in North Korea.(2)

As for a group, the Christian refugees are church minded. Forty new congregations have been organized in Seoul, worshipping in former Shinto shrine buildings, and existing congregations also have absorbed many of the newcomers. And they really attend church. Overflow congregations greeted us on all occasions in Seoul. Missionaries under our Board, though not assigned to any one congregation, are constantly in demand for preaching services.(3)

Among the refugees are many girls and boys separated from their families, and cut off from financial support. These young people, mostly students, need hostel supervision that they may be nurtured in the Christian faith and life. A Korean pastor is needed to care for their spiritual welfare.(4)

Reverend Sang-Chul Lee was ordained a minister in the United Church in 1954. His life revolved around the church and he performed its service in a Korea that was still on its knees, poor and starving.

In 1964, Reverend Sang-Chul Lee -- who had journeyed a life's migration through Stalinist Siberia, occupied Manchuria, and war ravaged South Korea -- was asked to leave his home again. The United Church of Canada invited him to lead a parish in Vancouver. It was a Japanese congregation and Reverend Lee could hardly believe the cruel irony. He had been forced to learn Japanese under the occupation and his past experience with the Japanese had left bitter memories. He wasn't sure he could accept the invitation.

It was a difficult decision for Reverend Lee to make, but he decided to accept the offer. He was reminded of the mainly Canadian missionaries Korean had received in he past decade, and who had served so faithfully to help. He came to see this opportunity as a chance to repay the kindness and generosity of spirit.

In July of 1965, Reverend Lee and his family arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia. They were among the first Korean immigrants to Canada and they settled in the predominantly Japanese village of Steveston. Lee promised his wife and children that they would stay for only three years, and then they would return to Korea. What happened, however, was a different story.

Canadian immigration policies, which had previously restricted Asian immigrants, began to open up and allow Koreans to apply for status as a landed immigrants. Koreans were arriving at the Vancouver airport every Wednesday. The United Church headquarters approached Lee, by then planning his return to Korea, and said, "Forget about going back to Korea. Your people are arriving every week here. We need you here." Lee felt he could not refuse this challenge. "God already had His own plan -- " remembers Lee, "To assign me here to help my own people. So I just made up my mind with the children and the wife, 'Okay, we will stay on.'"

Reverend Lee welcomed the newcomers and helped them settle in. The United Church, regarding its work in Canada as diligently as it did its missions around the world, published a pamphlet describing their role in greeting new immigrants. The following is an excerpt from Coming Our Way, The Church Greets the Immigrant:

The Great Trek A significant fact of this generation is the millions of people on the move. The impact of this fact will thrust itself through generations of nations in the future. Perhaps historians will label this period "The Great Trek". No other single period has seen so many people of so many races trekking over the face of the earth...It continues on a sizeable scale...the rate being determined by the declining absorptive capacity of countries admitting immigrants.(5)

"The Great Trek" soon moved toward Canada. This country was quickly looked upon by homeless thousand of refugees and potential immigrants as the Promised Land. Reports spread abroad of Canada's prosperity and bright future. Few nations possessed such limitless horizons of opportunity. Space along seemed to indicate Canada could maintain a population far above its few millions. Canada opened its doors and the Canadian chapter of "The Great Trek" began.(6)

Over a Million Pass Through the Open Door ...Since the end of World War II to the end of 1954, over one million immigrants had been admitted...It is obvious that so large a number is bound to have an influence upon every phase of Canadian life. It is not too much to say that no single Canadian can escape being influenced to some degree by the immigrant. Canada's destiny is bound up with her immigrants.(7)

The United Church Serves ...The United Church of Canada has served as the Canadian chapter of "The Great Trek" began and gained momentum. These "strangers in our midst" are the particular concern of our church membership. They are our neighbours. The Church cares and serves, believing that in its fellowship these newcomers will reach the goal of their hopes, attain peace from fears, and find a home where eternal ties bind worlds and give security.(8)

No Easy Life The immigrant discovers shortly after arrival that life in Canada is frequently a series of problems. Merely to have landed in Canada is no guarantee that "the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow" has been grasped or is within reach. There are days of disillusionment and depression. For many there is the language barrier. Money is scarce. Housing is hard to find within their means. Customs are different. Travel is strange. Buying groceries the first few days is a major expedition. Household appliances are a new experience. The list of items which make these first days confusing could be prolonged into many pages.(9)

The United Church and the Refugee In the resettlement of refugees the United Church has taken an active part. Special emphasis is placed upon the securing of sponsors for refugees. A sponsor is required to provide work and accommodation for a period of one year. Publicity and personal appeals were launched in an effort to secure sufficient sponsors...Gradually sponsors came forward and accepted refugee families. Congregations under the Church Placement Plan assumed responsibility for these homeless people. In a three-year period, approximately one hundred and fifty congregations sponsored the entry into Canada of some six hundred and fifty refugees.(10)

The United Church of Canada welcomes you to this new land and wishes for you here a life both useful and happy. We hope that we, or some other branch of the Christian Church, may help you to make this vision come true.(11)

Footnotes:
1,2,3,4
World Flight for Christ
(United Church of Canada, 1948)

5,6,7,8,9,10,11
Coming Our Way, The Church Greets the Immigrant
(United Church of Canada, 1965).


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