I thought I would share my final reflection paper I wrote on my experience of Taiwan and South Korea for a final wrap up to this travel series.
Service and missional based trips are a great source of spiritual passion among Christian youth. These trips provide opportunities to explicitly partake in God’s work and see a difference be made. It is often heard that perspectives are revolutionized, miracles are witnessed, and (if nothing else) friendships are made. While all these statements may indeed be elements to service/mission trips today, I argue that there is more to just happy and magical moments. My time of service on the Emmaus Road trip to Taiwan and South Korea (TSK) had all these elements, yet, its Kingdom impact lay in the personal stories and memories of kind acts both given and received.
This trip redefined the definition of service. Service focuses on finding a solution to an immediate problem. And all the problems our society tries to fix can be traced back to one general problem. Stated in Reverend Dr. Sam Wells’ Rethinking Service article, the problem which we have determined to be the greatest threat and “the key project of our species is the alleviation, overcoming and transcendence of mortality. [From this] fundamental human problem,” we configure the terms of service and mission (Wells, 2). Christian outreach has developed into a people-power movement. While not inherently wrong, it distracts from the Gospel oriented purpose of outreach. When I think about the TSK journey, I discover a greater element of service which does not derive from the outflow of human mortality.
There exists a greater problem, one which reaches the eternal and spiritual. Indeed, it is
the fundamental human problem [of] isolation” (Wells, 3)? Isolation affects the heart, the mind, and the wholeness of a person and thus their community. Isolation is the problem from which my team identified service. We facilitated a pathway for relationship and “communion” (Wells, 3) through teaching English camp. We spent hours discussing, listening, laughing and sharing with each person we encountered. Our time at Taejon Christian International School examples our efforts. We lived with the attending middle school students, serving as both leader and mentor. From breakfast until bedtime we were there, teaching and supporting them. Another more personal example is my Taiwan home stay. Each night, despite very broken English, the hosting parents and I would discuss hobbies, curiosities, cultural norms, and hopes. For both those our team met and ourselves, the weight of loneliness was lifted. The most incredible and God-filled moments of the trip were the those of being in one another’s presence and feeling nothing but joy, sincere and authentic joy (Wells, 3).
God’s presence in the mission was evidenced in the process of living out the act of with. In scripture we see “God’s whole life and action and purpose are shaped to be ‘with’ us (Wells, 5). That is the epicenter of the Christian faith, and our very definition of love” (Wells, 6). I’ve always found the opportunities to make someone feel loved to be a person’s greatest call, act of service, and honor. For how can it not be when our very Lord made it His single act with us? Over the past month, my team and I lived with people. We giggled with children and played with children and ate with families. In fact, it almost felt like we never stopped laughing and eating and marveling in the freedom of authentic connection. Our service in Taiwan and South Korea existed in the with and that on its own was perhaps the greatest witness of our faith.
From this new definition of service came a new approach to service and the mission of the Kingdom. Though the trip’s context was educational, we chose to walk along a path of personal presence in our mission to solve the problem of isolation. Put in terms of Mary Oliver’s “Song of the Builders” poem, quoted in the Faithfully Present lecture by Jeff Bouman, “each of us [went about] our inexplicable [way] building the universe” (1). We chose to live in the cultures we went to serve, humbling accepting their generous offerings and adopting their customs. I must note that the hospitality shown from both countries left us, leaves me, speechless. Educating children in English, while an advantageous service, was merely a door which allowed us the greater chance to spend learning and growing in understanding of people. It was the means by which we were able to share a slice of the hope and compassion of Christ in us.
Overall, the mission to Taiwan and South Korea became a mission of presence. Like James Davison Hunter said, “[Service is where,] we set out to be faithfully present, and leave the changing of the world to God” (Bouman 10). Our team made the intentional decision to live one month being faithfully and wholly present if only so our God may be glorified. For this was our “inexplicable way [of] building [God’s magnificently broken] universe” (Mary Oliver, Wells, 1). I will carry these experiences and the truth of service close to me this next year as I take on the responsibility of Resident Assistant. Service is more than the action for God but the sincere presence by which we share Immanuel, “God with us.”
Bouman, Jeff. “Faithfully Present: Building the Universe, Each in Our Own Inexplicable Ways.”
LFP National Conference on Arts and Humanities. Faithfully Present, 19 Oct. 2012,
Wells, Reverend Dr. Sam. “Rethinking Service.” LFP National Conference on Arts and
Humanities. LFP National Conference on Arts and Humanities, 20 Oct. 2012,