Tag Archives: Korea

Traveling through no-man’s land


Between South Korea, where our son lives, and North Korea, is a stretch of land called the DMZ. In fact it is the heaviest militarized border in the world. It is what you might call a ‘no man’s’ land, extremely unwelcoming and dangerous.


Suleika Jaouad wrote an insightful blog about such a place in her cancer journey that resonated with me. She describes the transition from where it was difficult to say, “I am a cancer patient,” to where that statement defined who she was. I think most people think that when a person is ‘cured’ of cancer, all is well. Close that chapter and move on. But even after the ‘cure’ is found and the cancer is gone, there is a place that is in some ways the hardest part of the journey: the land in between sickness and wellness, filled with anticipation of the next illness and the myriad of medical, financial, professional and psychosocial issues to deal with. There is the search for and deep longing to find the person you once were. Few know this, but the caregiver goes through the same process. The task of rebuilding your life is as confusing as it is disrupting. Cancer doesn’t affect only the cells that the chemo destroyed. “Cancer affects all of who we are.” (Xeni Jardin, cancer survivor) Susan Sontag wrote, “Everyone holds dual citizenship in the land of the well and the land of the sick.”


But there is also another citizenship we hold in the no-man’s land between those other kingdoms. For those with suppressed immune systems that land’s borders are very wide and extensive. The recent recurrence of my graft-Versus-Host Disease reminds me I am still in that transitional place. It seems a useless struggle to try to “go back” to where we were, however strong the desire to do so. You cannot step in the same stream twice. There really is no ‘going back’, only going forward. Forward to a ‘new normal’, whatever that might be.


Have you ever been in a ‘no-man’s land’? Maybe it wasn’t one marked by military occupation or cancer. There are no-man’s lands in relationships with our spouse, our children, and our friends. There are those transitional deserted dry places in our relationship with God. Whatever your no-man’s land experience, you recognize the painful interlude between one chapter and another in your life. It’s a waiting room where we feel we cannot either move backward to where we were or forward to where we want to go.


Your no-man’s land is both unwelcoming and dangerous because it tempts you to feel abandoned. But do not fear. You are not alone. For those of faith, the great promise is that God will go with you and show you the way. In fact, he has already gone before you and prepared a place for you that you haven’t realized yet. No-man’s land is a place for meeting God, even if you are sure there are no more lessons remaining to be ‘learned’, even if it seems a waste of time and energy and life itself. God doesn’t waste pain. and you are not here forever. God will bring you to a place that you can not travel alone, apart from him. Faith will guide you there. Faith doesn’t make the journey easy, but it does make it possible.


Blessings to my fellow sojourners.



What did you say?



P1020852 I walked upstairs and into the office, asking the receptionist, “Cheem?” (Korean for acupuncture.) She didn’t understand so I pointed to a photo I had thought to take of the business sign downstairs and she nodded her head affirmatively. So in my best practiced Korean I asked, “Uhl mah eem nikkah?” (How much does it cost?) She responded, “I no speak English.” Now I thought I was speaking Korean but evidently didn’t quite say what I intended! After a bit, we come to the understanding that a session costs $10. Again trying to speak the native language, I asked how long until my appointment. She answered one hour. I bowed politely and turned to leave but she waves for me to come to the back room, evidently meaning the session lasts one hour and they are ready for me right now.


Before I went to visit the acupuncturist, my son spoke from experience: “Usually it doesn’t hurt, but sometimes it might hurt a little if they misplace one of the needles. In that case you want to know the Korean word for pain: “apayo.” I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t the acupuncturist get the message if I just yelled, “OWWWWW!?” None the less, I learned the word ‘apayo’ but I didn’t need to say it. It was an entirely relaxing and beneficial experience.


They say that whenever two people speak there are really six people talking. There is WHAT¬†I said, what I THOUGHT I said, and what you HEARD me say. And of course, there is what you said, what you thought you said, and what I heard you say. No wonder communication is sometimes difficult! Like the time I went to exchange money in a Bolivian bank. The Spanish word for dollars is very similar to the word for pain. So while I thought I said ‘dolares’ the teller heard me say ‘dolores’ and hence she snickered when she heard me say I wanted to exchange my pain for Bolivianos. (Actually, I could get pretty rich with that kind of exchange! ūüôā


Communication is a tricky thing even if only one language is involved. So I reckon it best¬†to laugh at our own mistakes and try again to get the proper message across. It’s well understood that the answer, “Fine!” when spoken between two people can have a number of meanings, including “definitely NOT fine,” depending on the tone of voice and facial expression. So understanding is not just a matter of hearing what was said but how it was said and with what expression. Communication is hard work and easy to mess up even in the best of relationships. Let’s slow down, especially when clear communication most matters and make sure an accurate and respectful message gets across.


“Be careful what you say and protect your life. A careless talker destroys himself.” Proverbs 13:3



Tearing down walls



On one of our long walks around Seoul we came across this monolith. We fairly quickly surmised that it was part of the infamous Berlin Wall that was suddenly set up overnight one evening in 1961 and stood as a physical and symbolic barrier dividing East and West Berlin until 1989.


A local Korean university student sitting nearby explained to us that this section also represents the division between the once united Korean countries. The freedom decorated side of the wall represents South Korea and the sterile blank other side of the wall represents North Korea. He spoke both simply and sadly about the symbolic and real division of what used to be a united country. Now the division separates not only political entities but families and loved ones.


It caused me pause to consider the ‘walls’ we allow to separate us from others in our own families and communities: not just the disagreements on how we see life, political views, religious views, but petty things as well. Someone said something and you took offense – a wall sprung up. ¬†You inadvertently slighted someone and another wall went up. We build walls to defend ourselves from others and to keep others at a distance. ¬†Sin in our life builds walls and strongholds that resist change. Life is too short to build dividing walls. I wonder as you look around you what walls you will see that need to be torn down. Better to build understanding than walls.¬†


We demolish arguments and every pretension (barrier) that sets itself up against the knowledge of God,¬†and we take captive every thought to make it obedient¬†to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5¬†



Plant a garden



P1020902One of the things that quickly impressed us while in Korea was how well the people make use of the land available to them. Small fields the size of backyards were filled with rice. Vacant lots in the city grew beans, cabbage, peppers, radishes (the size of watermelons), and even corn. Hills along roadways and bike paths were abundant with pumpkins, beans and peppers. Even the inches between a storefront and the street contained pots of peppers or beans. Clearly the relationship the Koreans have with their food is a tight-knit one and their concept of stewardship well understood.


Whether you garden at home or at the grocery store, we are all called to cultivate and share our other ‘gardens’. Jesus tells us in John 15 that He is the vine and we are the branches. We are to bear fruit, not in our own power, but simply by remaining in Him. If we remain connected to Him throughout the day, and not leave Him sitting by our devotional spot at home, He promises we will bear much fruit. It is after all, our primary job: remain in Him; bear fruit.


Every ‘space’ in our day can be cultivated to bear fruit if it is connected to its life-giving source. That is why it is essential to stay connected to God throughout the day, not just in¬†those brief moments of prayer. The living vine gives life only to branches that remain attached. Everything else is superfluous. Everything not related to bearing fruit gets pruned. We might take great pleasure in the amount of leaves we generate or the expansiveness of our active growing cycles. But all our ambitions and activities, unless they bear fruit, are¬†all cut off and thrown in the fire.


How do you remind yourself to stay attached to the vine? You might set “appointments” in your day planner to acknowledge God. You might put up visual signs or notes to draw your attention to your life-giving source. You might use every transition point in your day, when you move from one task to another, to draw near to God. You might train yourself to see others around you as reminders to see God in a new way.


However you choose to remind yourself, stay connected. Grow your garden and bear fruit wherever you are today. Use every space available.


‚ÄúI am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5



Know the truth



P1020832 This symbol is commonly seen throughout Korea and particularly in places of Buddhist worship or shops that sell religious artifacts. It is meant to convey the message that “all is well” or good fortune. You notice right away the similarity to the Nazi swastika, except that it is reversed.


I wonder if the Nazi swastika was meant to convey the false message that “all is well” when indeed, all was very horribly wrong. It’s said that if you repeat a message often enough it will be believed. We are aghast at the political propaganda of other countries but often ignorant of the effect of such political and advertising propaganda in our own culture. Whether it be sexism or consumerism we still buy into it. We want more because we are told that more is fulfilling. We come to believe that things are true because we have heard them so many times. The lies become accepted as truths.


I think it was Francis Schaeffer who said “The downfall of America will come without the firing of a single bullet. It will happen when we tolerate the things we once abhorred, we accept the things we once merely tolerated, and we embrace the things we once accepted.” Think about it. We see this manifest on both cross-cultural and personal levels. Aren’t we quick to excuse our own “pet sins” that we keep close to ourselves? We tolerate them by rationalizing they are not ‘so bad.’ We accept them as part of who we are and defensively embrace them when someone points them out to us. We could similarly examine our own attitudes toward societal changes. What things have you or your children come to tolerate or accept as normal that once were considered abhorrently abnormal?


Wherever you find an original truth you will always find a counterfeit that is dressed up to look like the original. How do you tell the difference? You go back to the source. When we were mentoring men in prison we always told them if what we say doesn’t match the Word of God, to stick with the Word of God. That is the original and genuine message of God’s love to you and me. If we are not grounded in the understanding of His Word, we will easily find our ears tickled by all sort of false teaching and lies that appeal to our earthly desires. Be cautious of those who preach that ‘all is well’ in the world.


For the time will come when people¬†will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,¬†and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.‚Ķ” 2 Timothy 4:3-4



Guard your mind and heart



P1020616 Korea is a mountainous country with a long history of territorial wars. And so it is no surprise to find many fortresses wherever you go. This is a part of the Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, Korea and demonstrates a cunning strategy to defend one of the fortress entrances. Potential intruders would have to navigate an ever narrowing and winding uphill path to reach the gate while becoming targets of archers from many parts of the wall. The expansive wall itself is several feet wide and circumvents a large portion of the city. Rising up hundreds of feet above the city, the fortress provides a good defense against attack. Just climbing the steps of the wall was an arduous task.


Walking around modern Suwon, it seemed that people in general were very calm and did not act as if their lives were threatened. Even the persistent threats from a¬†noisy neighbor north of the border doesn’t seem to shake the citizenry. Chances are you and I enter each day with a similar attitude of calm. Yet God reminds us that we are at war with evil and calls on His people to guard their hearts and mind as well as their bodies from attack of the enemy, lest we too be toppled and fall victim to their prey.


To be successful in war we must first be aware that we are engaged every day in the battle for our mind. We all know how easily we can be tricked by smooth talking and cunning lines of persuasion if we are not alert. Knowing what you believe Рand why Рis as important as knowing what you are against. Understanding and focusing on basic truths that are always true and unshakable helps us to stand firm. There can be no moral truth if all morals are accepted as equally true. Some truths are absolute.


Studying and meditating on God’s Word will establish these in your heart and mind. Memorizing and applying them to your daily life is like putting on an armor that protects you from enemy attacks. Put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the boots of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit. (Ephesians 6)


Above all else, guard the fortress of your heart and your mind so you can stand firm whatever battle arises against you.


Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23


And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7







Remain quiet a little longer



P1020421 Do you know what these are? They are called onggi, Korean fermenting pots. We saw these in an historical palace and also in the patios and rooftops of houses and restaurants throughout the cities. They have been used for the last 6000-7000 years to create unique sauces made from foods such as red chili peppers, beans and rice paste, cabbage, soy sauce. Not exactly fast food, it takes months to prepare the specialty sauces. I think fermented foods demand an acquired taste and obviously requires much patience to obtain the final product.


There is a similar concept applied to thinking that also has been around for thousands of years: meditation. From the beginning of history, God’s people were instructed to meditate on His Word, day and night. To meditate means to think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time. Some synonymous words include: contemplate, think, consider, ponder, muse, reflect, deliberate, ruminate, brood, mull over. Meditation is not like reading the headlines of the news. It is thinking deeply about something, not unlike letting it ferment in your mind, breaking down the large ideas and letting them stew until you can absorb the richness of flavor offered by truth.


Like fermented foods, meditation requires patience and deliberation. We in the western world are not very accustomed to fermented foods or to meditated thinking. We’d rather go for a quick bite to eat and listen to 30 second “sound bites’. We can all understand this: meditation, like preparing a thickened sauce, takes time. And we are all so famously busy in this fast paced day and age. We might not know where our busy life is taking us but we are getting there so very quickly! Like the husband who says, to his wife while driving, “I know we are lost but we can’t stop now because we are making such good time!” ¬†We encounter problems and¬†want quick and easy solutions, ones that cut to the chase. That approach to solving problems works with some things. But some problems and trials in life are more complex and require more complex solutions.


The problems of pain and suffering, disappointment, grief, injustice and feeling unfulfilled are not resolved by a diet of fast food problem solving. The more one has contemplated and meditated on God’s truths, the more one is prepared to work through these issues with a greater sense of satisfaction and acceptance.


But it takes time. And none of us can add a single second to our days. We have to choose how to invest our time. Choose today to remain quiet a little longer. You can do it. Let your thoughts ponder the wonders of God, the miracle of His presence, His unending love and His amazing grace, even the miracle that He created in you. Do this every day and throughout the day¬†so you can be strong and courageous, ‘prosperous and successful’ in the things that matter most.


“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.‚ÄĚ Joshua 1:8-9



Standing on holy ground



P1020396In the western world, we often defer respect to our guests when they enter our homes. If a guest starts to remove their shoes at the door, more often than not they may be greeted with, “Oh don’t bother; leave them on by all means.” But not so in Korea.


Our traditional Korean guesthouse featured an inner courtyard surrounded by sleeping rooms and a common kitchen. Before entering the rooms we were instructed to remove our shoes and walk in slippers or socks. The same instructions were given when we entered traditional style restaurants. It seems it is a sign of great disrespect to ignore this rule. In fact, we westerners are considered backward when allowing shoes that have trod through who-knows-what to also enter the intimate setting of one’s home.


Sacred ground is not to be violated. It is not to be trampled on carelessly. In years past, American churches used to be regarded as hallowed ground and treated with a measure of reverence and respect. In recent years, respect has been deferred to the guests in a ‘come as you are’ atmosphere to encourage people back into the churches. Korean temples and historic palaces still retain the atmosphere of historic respect and maintain the no shoes rule (though shoes are allowed in the courtyards).


I remember a Promise Keeper’s event where Jack Hayford invited 70,000 men to remove their shoes in the Twin’s stadium while he read the account of Moses’s encounter with God at the burning bush.


“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5


Jack asked us to quietly reflect on where our feet¬†had been earlier that day – in the bathroom, on the street, in places where filth and decay lay hidden from our view. And where have our minds been? What unclean thoughts have we entertained? With what impure and unkind regard have we considered those around us? All these things cling to us and keep us from entering a pure setting without infecting it. We were also asked on what basis do we come before God? On the basis of our good deeds or special accomplishments? On the basis of our gifts or talents? I greatly appreciate the invitation to come to God “just as I am,” but sometimes need to be reminded that this is not a casual “buddy time” encounter. Yes, Jesus is my friend, but he is also my Lord.


And so we were invited to symbolically remove our shoes, and not just our shoes but also to remove the attitude of self-righteousness and pride that so often cling to us, to bow down and approach the holy ground of God solely on the basis of Who He Is and on What He Has Done.


Take time to stand on holy ground today. If God gets your attention, He will change the way you walk before Him… with or without shoes.



Foreigners in a strange land



We arrived in South Korea after twenty hours of travel, including the exhausting 13 hour flight across Canada, Siberia and China. We found the Incheon Airport to be one of the most friendly and peaceful we have ever encountered. Actually most everyone in the Korean service industry were good ambassadors and very helpful and accommodating to us. Our son, Michael and his girlfriend Mia (Jeon Eun Gi) especially helped us adapt to our new surroundings.


If you have visited another country, you recognize you are a foreigner in a strange land, adjusting to a culture that is new to you with different foods, manners, language, and practices.
P1020398One of the places where we stayed was a traditional Korean guest house. The tiny room had no bed or chairs or closet. Instead of a bed, we are given floor mats/quilts to sleep on. It wasn’t the level of comfort we were accustomed to but the fact quickly came to mind that many in the world do not have even this.


Imagine if, while staying in the guesthouse for just three nights, we decided to tear out a wall and build an addition to make room for a bed and sofa and chairs for our lodging. You would consider it absurd to make such extravagant purchases for such a short visit. You’d say, “Bryan, remember where you belong. Invest your valuable resources in your permanent home.” ¬†¬†And you would be right.


In fact, we are all travelers and sojourners in a foreign land. This temporary place we call home is just a stopping place for each of us. We often fail to recognize this because it is all we know. And while we are here, we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors, seeking not our own pleasures, but instead motivated by the call to urge others to be reconciled with God. (2 Corinthians 5:20) Instead of fighting to assert our ‘rights’ as tourists seeking to make our surroundings more comfortable, we are actually called to put others first (Philippians 2:3-4). Each of us is an ambassador to those around us, especially those who think, talk, behave and believe differently from us.


I wonder what ‘strange and foreign lands’ you will encounter today. What different beliefs and actions will rise up against your own? What people will beg your welcoming accommodation? Will they see you as entrenched in this world or as a foreigner, an ambassador of Christ? Hold your ground and keep your behavior excellent among those around you…that they may see that your citizenship is really in heaven and because of your kindness and integrity, come to be reconciled with God.


“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” 1 Peter 2:11-12



Remembering the day



P1020820As different as we all are, one common denominator seems to exist: we all like photos. We take photos to capture a moment in time, a reunion, a celebration, or some other momentous occasion. Stitched together, these photos tell part of the story of our lives. Here, Marcia and I are preparing to enjoy a delicious Korean Snowflake Sherbet while celebrating a reunion with our youngest son Michael and his girlfriend Mia (Jeon Eun Gi) in South Korea. While the moment has passed and we are again thousands of miles apart, we will remember this moment with fondness. Even this one photo will stir up memories of many other enjoyable moments shared together during this trip.


If you want to honor someone you meet, ask to see their family photos. I remember when Nada, my Croatian housekeeper while¬†I was at Mercy Hospital for two months, first commented on¬†my display of family photos. When I¬†asked if she had family photos, she eagerly ran to her locker to retrieve her purse so she could show me her family photos from her¬†country. Though she spoke little English (and I spoke NO Croatian) a friendship bloomed…over a few photos.


Before I was medically retired, I used to post a small sign at eye level on the door of my office. I’d see it every time I left my office and gave it special notice when I left for the night. The sign simply read, “Capture the Kodak Moment.” ¬†A throw back to the years when Kodak was king of photography, it reminded me to reflect on the value of the day that had just passed. It prompted me to take a moment to “take a photo” of the lessons I wanted to learn or something for which to give thanks. The intent of the cue was to make sure that the day would be remembered, not wasted.


Journaling these moments also helps to cement them into our memory. It is well-known that repeating something aloud helps you to remember it. Writing this down doubles your chance of being able to recall it later. Taking a (real or mental) picture of the moment will further embed the moment in your memory.  In this way you can amplify the impact of morning devotions by reading them aloud, writing down a few of the thoughts, and revisiting them later in the day adding your personal reflections on how your devotions impacted your day.


Minutes turn into hours and hours flow into days; days pass by into an endless¬†stream of weeks and months and years. Don’t miss the opportunity to capture the ‘Kodak moments’ of your life and take note of the impact of God’s work in your life.


Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.” Deuteronomy 32:7