Category: church dinner

Christmas is coming…

…the goose is getting fat!  Actually, I have no idea how fat the rhetorical goose is, nor do I have any plans on buying a literal goose, but I do know that Christmas really is coming!  Just a few days away at this point!  Eek!  School and Christmas-y things have been keeping me busy for sure.  There’s not much about school that I particularly want to talk about, other than the fact that it was really hard, but I managed to get all A’s; but there’s plenty of Christmas updates that I have!

The lights, the music, the decorations…everything about Christmas sends a thrill through me.  I absolutely love this time of year.  I dragged a few of my friends with me to Atlantic Station, to see the official lighting of the enormous Christmas tree that they had erected in the middle of the plaza.  The lighting of the tree was actually somewhat of a letdown – there’s only so much fanfare you can have when all that’s happening is a cord getting plugged into an outlet – but they had fireworks afterward, which more than made up for that :).

My church also had a volunteer Christmas dinner at the end of November.  It’s an event that the staff puts on every year, in which they invite all of the church volunteers to a big fancy dinner to thank them for their service.  That was a blast.  As you can see from the pictures below, the people at my church can definitely be clowns…regardless of how dressed up they might be, lol…

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Matt, Amy, and Elizabeth – some amazing friends right there!!

As sort of a last hurrah, I hosted a Christmas party for a bunch of my friends the last Saturday of the semester.  I had hosted a potluck party last year (you can read about that here), but this year I wanted to put a bit more effort into it.  Rather than have people bring stuff, I made the whole meal – the pièce de résistance was a pork tenderloin that I marinated in a honey and brown sugar glaze.  Super yummy!!  Since I’m in a much bigger place now, I also had the space to be able to plan a few more activities this time around.  So we played a few games, did a white elephant gift exchange, decorated gingerbread cookies that I had made in advance, and overall just had a splendid time.  Most of my best friends from Atlanta, and all of my roommates were able to be there.  I felt very blessed, indeed.  And then I promptly fell asleep after they all left – considering it was the first real party that I planned and hosted all by myself, I may have overreached a bit.  I was exhausted by the end of the night.  Was so totally worth it, though :).

L-R: Chelsea and Kelsey

L-R: Lauren, her fiance Michael, Matt, Jonathan, Jessica, and little Nicholas

This is such a fitting hat for Jonathan…

Decorating the gingerbread cookies…

As a bit of a side note…I went to see some of my relatives in the north Georgia mountains with my dear friend Elizabeth way back in October.  It’s not Christmas-y, but I have nowhere else to put the pictures from that trip, so it’s just getting tacked onto the bottom of this post.  We just went up for the day, to get away from school and visit my family and see the beautiful fall colors.  It was a lovely day :).  Pictures are below – enjoy!

Wrapping things up

Well I’ve been doing a lot of wrapping lately – both literally and figuratively.  This semester has had a lot of things to be wrapped up as I finish up and prepare to go home for Christmas.  My church had an appreciation dinner for all of the volunteers; that was a lot of fun.  It was a formal event, but they also had lots of games and silly dancing and such – the best of both worlds!  I love the fact that my church loves the Lord so much, but also knows how to have fun :).

I hosted a potluck the week before I left Atlanta.  It was sort of a “good-luck-with-finals-have-a-good-Christmas-break-I-love-you-all-immensely-so-let’s-have-some-fun-and-stress-relief” sort of deal.  Most of them didn’t know each other, as I had met them all from different circles, but we got together and had dinner and played lots of games and shared lots of laughter together.  I love it when my friends meet each other – it’s even better when they get along! 😉  Plus I made homemade chocolate truffles for everyone, which always makes things better…. 😀

I also said goodbye to my house church.  I’m going to have to take a class during our meeting time next semester, so I’ll have to change house churches.  It’ll be a while before we get together as a group again.  But we all have each other’s numbers, and I’ll still be in the same city, so I’m confident it’s not really goodbye.  Plus, it gives me the opportunity to get to make a whole ‘nuther set of friends at my new house church! 🙂

In other wrapping news…this year I finished almost all of my Christmas shopping before December!  I wanted to complete the stuff for my Atlanta friends before I left town, and so I decided I’d just go ahead and do them all while I was at it.  I actually ended up making pretty much all of my Christmas presents this year, which has been really fun to do – photo calendars, and homemade chocolate truffles, and glass etched things, yada yada yada.  I’ve been a Christmas-present-making fiend over the past few days, hehe.

But anyway, that’s basically all of my news!   I went home to Albany after classes ended, spent a whirlwind 2 weeks there getting organized and doing Christmas-y things with my family, and then was off again to visit family and friends over the break.  More on that in the next update :). So I can finally say that I’ve officially survived my first semester of graduate school – woohoo!!!!!  I hope the next one is a bit easier…..

Volunteer appreciation dinner at my church
The food was soooooo yummyyyyyy

Matt and Elizabeth, 2 very dear friends 🙂

My house church is silly 🙂

Potlucks!  Even more yummy food!!!

Silence

You know that feeling that you get when something big is about to happen?  You bolt out of bed, you have butterflies in your stomach, you’re all tingly and excited??  That’s what happened to me this morning.  I bolted up out of bed, wide awake, way before 5:00 am.  And, since I have nothing to do before I catch my bus, I’ve decided to write one last blog from Korea.

Today is the day that I leave Korea, after living here for over a year.  And while yes, it is sad, at the same time, it’s exciting.  I remember when I left Costa Rica; it literally took about 3 minutes before I could force myself to step onto the plane, that’s how much I was dreading leaving.  But I don’t think it’ll be that way this time.  I’ve had a wonderful year here, and I’m so so grateful for the time that I’ve been given.  But I also know that God has more things in store for me – really big things.  And I can’t wait to see what they are!

I had more goodbyes this weekend – with Si-yeon, my wonderful language partner and friend; with Lorna, my dear friend from a neighboring city, who came to see me off and stayed the night with me on Saturday; with all of my church friends, who hosted a farewell church-wide lunch after the service on Sunday; and of course, with my host family, who let me cook for them and give them gifts one last time on Sunday night.  I will miss them all dearly…..but I’m also getting pretty stoked about Atlanta!  Studying, more languages, more new friends and plenty of old ones, dancing, and of course…..wedding season!!  I have all of that to look forward to!

I want to close this blog with a piece that I wrote for and read at my church on Sunday morning.  It’s a good representation of how I feel right now.  Also, lots of pictures and videos below!  Enjoy!! 🙂

Silence
Silence.  I try to will my lips to speak what my heart is telling them to, try to force my tongue to form the words that so desperately want to come out.  But all I get is silence.  My heart feels like a freshly scrubbed sky after a torrential storm.  It is clean and content…except that it has not stormed yet.  There is so much that I want to say, so many words that need to come out, that it simply overwhelms me.  And so I say nothing.  Silence.
How do I tell them, I ask myself, what they have meant to me?  How could they ever understand what worshipping and praying and fellowshipping with them has done for me in this past year?  How could they ever know how much serving them and being served by them; how much teaching them and being taught by them, has blessed me?
I want to tell them.  I want them to know how much I love them.  But I don’t know where to start.  Perhaps I should explain the sheer terror that overwhelmed me before my arrival to Korea.  As Sir Henly so aptly pointed out, “you are too young to be teaching in Asia all by yourself.”  And I cannot argue with him.  I had never felt more alone, more isolated, more scared, than when I arrived in this city last year, far from home, family, and all things familiar.  If they knew, if they knew how many times I cried myself to sleep during those first few weeks in Gyeongju, would they be able to better understand why it’s so amazing that I’m crying now at the thought of leaving? 
Perhaps I should explain my initial elation upon finally finding an English service.  Dr. Cho must have thought that I was an idiot when he gave me a ride that first Sunday, I was so excited.  But if I talk about my initial excitement, I must also talk about how that excitement faded into dull monotony after the first few weeks.  I traveled often, came to church when I was in town, and settled into my normal school existence during the week.  I never saw them outside of church.  Sure, I missed Christian fellowship like what I was used to back home…but here in Korea, there didn’t seem to be any other alternative.
And then, somehow….an alternative DID appear.  They became not just people that I saw for an hour every Sunday morning…they became my friends.  They became not just a sea of faces who sang from the audience, listened to the pastor, and then left, not to be seen again until the next week.  They became my teachers, my confidants, my friends, and my family.  I have laughed with them, cried with them, prayed with them, and learned with them. 
They have taught me more about the Lord, more about myself, more about loving and accepting others, than I ever thought possible.  They have taught me to truly love the Lord with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to always give Him everything that I have.  They have taught me not to be afraid of people who are different from myself.  They have taught me not to judge those who come from backgrounds different from my own.  To not shy away from cultural and linguistical barriers, but to embrace them.  They have taught me that a smile, a hug, a kind gesture or a caring word, will touch someone no matter what language they speak, no matter what country they were born in, what job they have, or how much money they make. 
Here in Korea, I introduce myself as an English teacher.  But I think a more apt description would be a life student.  A student of life.  My friends, my family here at Gyeongju Jeil church, they have taught me that.  They have taught me how to embrace every opportunity that comes my way, how to love every individual that God puts in my path.  How to laugh at my mistakes and learn from them; and how to teach others, so that they don’t make the same mistakes.  I wish that I could tell them everything that they mean to me.  I wish I knew the words that I could say to make them understand.  But I cannot.  My heart is content and scrubbed clean, but the thunderstorm of words has yet to arrive.  And so…silence.  I use my pen to convey what my lips cannot.  Maybe one day they will realize how much they meant to me.  How much I love them.  I can only hope and pray that that day comes soon. 

This video was actually from last week, but I was having trouble uploading it then.  Anyway, my church did a world rendition of Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God” – English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Khmer (the language of Cambodia), and Tagalog (the language of the Philippines) are represented.  So beautiful!

A gift from a student on the last day of class.  Possibly the best gift I have ever received.  Absolutely incredible <3

Jeong-min surprised me with a goodbye violin performance on my last day at church.  I had been asking her to play for me all year.  So beautiful!!!

Pictures with some of my favorite students…

My last Sunday in Gyeongju I was the guest speaker at church!    

Pastor Mario praying over me before I left

Church goodbye lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant

Me and Lorna :).  She came to visit me one last time before I left….she’s such a blessing…. <3

Lorna, Lin, and Lauren! 🙂

Please note the size of Pastor Mario’s umbrella…hahaha 😀

Church farewell party

I’ve been super busy these days.  The clock keeps counting down, but I try to ignore it, and just enjoy each day as it comes.  New deadlines at school have kept me hopping at work, and the litany of things that must be done to wrap up a year of living in a foreign country have assured that I’m never bored outside of work.

But in between the monotonous and the mundane, there have been some beautiful moments.  My favorite this week was undoubtedly Sunday.  My church threw me a going away party in the evening after church.  A large percentage of my congregation is from the Philippines, so they all got together and made a Filippino feast for us.  There was shrimp, and marinated beef, and flan (yummy!!), and lots of other stuff which I have no idea what it was called, but it was delicious, anyway.

About 20 people came (which, when you only have a church of maybe 35 or 40, is a really high percentage!  Lol…), and we ate together and talked and laughed, and just overall enjoyed each other’s company.  They surprised me with a cake (made me blow the candles out and everything!), and a slide show with pictures and messages saying things like “we’ll miss you, Lauren!” and “We love you!”.  I may have shed a tear or two.  It was beautiful.  I will miss them so much.

Oh, I almost forgot!  After dinner, we all gathered around and watched Courageous, the most recent production of my home church, Sherwood Baptist.  My friend James had sent it to me as part of a care package earlier in the year, and when I suggested that we watch it as a church, everyone agreed.  It was a nice end to the evening.  One of the Korea pastors liked it so much that he asked me how to get a copy.  I gave him mine.  I figured it was the best use of the gift that James had given me :).

My second favorite moment this week happened the next day, on Monday night.  A friend of mine from college, Emily, got a scholarship to come to Korea.  She arrived about a week ago, but has been spending most of her time in Seoul.  Well, this weekend her program came down to Gyeongju, and I actually got to meet up with her.  We went for a walk, and spent about 2 hours catching up.  It was great to see her, and also a good way to mentally start preparing myself for my impending new reality – the one in which I’ll be able to have fluent conversations like that with almost every single person that I meet.  It was a very nice ending to my day.  Thirteen days until touchdown!

Me and Emily <3

Where we ended up on our walk

See the projector screen?  **sniff, sniff**

My church family…. <3

Filippino food = sooooo good

The cake they got me – they made me blow the candles out and everything 🙂

Bachata, babies, and badminton

I had quite an eventful weekend.  So eventful, in fact, that it’s taken me until Thursday to recover enough so that I could write about it.  Anyway, here goes nothing!

My weekend started on Friday night, with a trip to Pohang.  Alejandro, who I had met at church the previous Sunday, invited me to go dancing with him at a latin club in Pohang….and of course, I said yes!  When the rubber hit the road, I actually almost didn’t go, because it was raining really hard, and I didn’t want to make the 40 minute trip to Pohang in the rain.  But I decided to go anyway, and I’m sooooo glad that I did.  After some miscommunications about where to meet, Alejandro finally found me at the bus terminal, and we headed over there together, followed shortly by friends of ours, as well.

My oh my oh my.  What an evening that was.  The grand total of amigos was 3 guys, and me.  So between them, and the other random Koreans who kept asking me to dance, I hardly sat down all night.  The dance was still going strong, but I finally had to tear myself away so that I could catch the last bus back to Gyeongju.  Latin dancing is not my favorite style….but in a pinch, it will certainly do, and it’s definitely a blast when you’re dancing with guys who know what they’re doing :).

The picture’s blurry, but you get the idea….we were having a blast

My 3 men <3  - from left to right, Prophet, Alejandro, and Erik 

Soooo, I got back to Gyeongju around 1:00 am, passed out into my bed….and then was up again by 7:00 the next morning.  I had promised to go observe my friend Henly’s Saturday “Happy English camp” for elementary kids.  They were so little!  After a year of high schoolers, they looked like babies to me, lol.  But anyway, I had to leave by 8:15, so I dragged myself out of bed and got there just in time to help setting up.

Our table to display the kids’ cupcakes

This was where the plan went to pieces.  The plan, according to Henly, was that I would just come and obverse his class, and then afterwards we would meet the rest of the worship team and practice for worship on Sunday.  The plan, in his own words, was that I would be able to “take a rest” and not worry about anything until practice started.  What actually happened was this: I sat in the back of the class as he prepared to start class.  Then he asked me what a good song / intro would be to use with a bunch of elementary kids.  Uh, oh.  I hadn’t thought about that.  Strike one.  Then he started playing “If you’re happy and you know it”….and made me get up in front of the class and sing and dance for the kids.  Strike two.  After I scurried back to my seat once the song ended, I lasted about 10 minutes before the entire class was in total mayhem.  The kids were yelling, confused, and wild, not listening to Henly at all.  Strike three.

This was right before the mass chaos started

Finally, I couldn’t take the chaos, and got up and helped Henly out with crowd control and explaining directions and such.  I guess it was fun…..some of the kids were really adorable :).  But overall it was just total insanity….definitely not what I signed up for, lol.  I told Henly that he owed me some ice cream….and maybe a steak dinner, too.  Hehehe….

So happy English camp finally ended, we practiced for church the next day, and I was able to go home and get some sleep to catch up from the night before.  Which was good, because I needed all of the energy I could get for Sunday.  The church leaders had been announcing for a few weeks that we would have a “church picnic” – and today was the big day.  So, silly me, I had a very light breakfast, because I assumed that we would be eating lunch right after church.

Worshipping the Lord under a canopy of lush green vines….beautiful 

Ha.  You’d think I would have learned by now that things are never prompt in Korea.  What actually happened was that we played sports all afternoon, and then had an early dinner together.  Kickball….soccer…..basketball….volleyball….badminton….it was like 5 hours of non-stop sports.  And I played them allll.  I was literally shaking from hunger by the time we finally ate….but it was so worth it.  I had a blast.  It was so lovely to be able to spend some fellowship time with my church family outside of the 4 walls of church.  Plus, I’ve been dying to get active again.  Was definitely the highlight of my week, although over the next few days my body payed me back for punishing it so severely on Sunday, lol.

And there you have it!  Alejandro stayed late after the “picnic” ended, and I showed him around Gyeongju some.  He left, I passed out in bed, and then faced another week of classes!  I was tired, especially on Monday and Tuesday, but it was great….some of my students I haven’t taught for a month, for one reason or another, and I so enjoyed teaching them again.  I’ve missed them soooo much.  Heading to Seoul tomorrow, for my last weekend trip while in Korea!  I’ll update you as soon as I can! 🙂

Love, love, love my church family here <3 <3 <3

There’s nothing normal about normal life these days…

Well, another week has flown by.  Have you ever noticed that the days so often seem to crawl, but then the months and years fly by?  How does that work??  I’ve been sick this whole week (I think I got sick at the EXPO last weekend) and the hours have passed sooo slowly…but all of a sudden, it’s Friday!

Dr. Cho rescheduled our dinner from last week.  He called me and said “we will eat dinner together on Tuesday night.”  I wasn’t really given an option, lol, and so dinner was duly eaten with him on Tuesday night.  I was glad that no more last-minute teacher’s dinners were scheduled; canceling twice in less than a week would have been really awkward :(.

But ya, he took myself, and Anthony (another English teacher; he leads worship at church), and the pastor and his whole family (4 kids under the age of 5!!) out to dinner at a really ritzy upscale restaurant.  The Mundys came a little later than we did, so Dr. Cho and Anthony and I went for a walk around the lagoon that borders the restaurant.  The water was sparkling, there were swan boats floating gently on the lake, and the sunset was breathtaking.  I was kicking myself that I had forgotten my camera :(.  At dinner the kids were a little loud and distracting at times, but the food was wonderful, and the company excellent, and overall I had a lovely time. 

Wednesday night I went on an excursion with Elizabeth to Pohang, about 30 minutes away by bus.  After going to Pohang a few weeks ago, I felt like an old hand at the buses here, lol :).  So I was able to show her the ropes, and we spent the afternoon in Pohang.  Chuseok, the Korean version of Thanksgiving, is coming up this weekend, and it’s a common gift-giving holiday.  So we went to find gifts for our host families and co-teachers.  It was so hard!!  I love giving gifts, but it’s really hard to give a thoughtful gift when you don’t know the person to whom you’re giving the gift!!  But anyway, we found some small gifts – I settled on nuts all-around – and headed back to Gyeongju.  But it was worth it – I gave my presents on Thursday, and then on Friday I was showered by a flood of little gifts from my co-teachers.  I felt so loved :).

My little treasure trove of Chuseok gifts and notes 🙂

I came back from Pohang and found my host sister, Areum, in the middle of a mess in the kitchen.  She was trying to make fortune cookies, but had no clue what to do – had never even used their oven before!  She looked at me and was like, “Lauren…help me!”  So of course, I did, and we made homemade fortune cookies for the rest of the night.  It was fun :).

Thursday was an adventure, for sure.  The owner of my school, Dr. Choi, decided that he wanted to take Elizabeth and myself out for lunch.  It was really nice – he took us to a traditional Korean restaurant, and we had a huge spread of dishes, and it really was a lovely meal.  But it also made me 15 minutes late for my class when I got back.  Instead of letting the sub just teach the entire class, I rushed up as soon as I got back and finished the last 30 minutes.  It made the class a little stressful, because I hadn’t really had time to prepare, but I’m glad I did it.  I love my girls, I want to spend as much time teaching them as I can :).  It sure boosted my ego, too, when I showed up to class….they gave me a standing ovation.  This is why I love teaching… <3 🙂 Then Thursday night was salsa night!  I dragged Anthony along with me to go dancing – he told me that “he loves to dance and knows how to move his hips, but not much more than that ^_^.”  Well, that was enough for me, and so Thursday night found us rendezvousing on our bikes to head to the dance together.  We left early and went to a little Russian restaurant – the same one, in fact, that I went to on my very first excursion on my own into Gyeongju.  We were early to the dance, so we just walked around for a bit.  He showed me some popular places, helped me connect some of the dots between the places that I know and their relation to each other, told me stories about the city.  It was fun.

Me in front of one of the ancient Royal burial sites scattered around Gyeongju
Us and our bikes!! 🙂

At the dance, I was impressed with how quickly he picked things up.  I wish I had known more moves to teach him, because he is a fast learner.  But one of the Koreans there kind of made us his special project throughout the night, so I think Anthony was still able to learn quite a bit.  The club we went to seems to have several line dances that they do every night.  He picked them up almost instantly, while I was left fumbling along in the dust, lol.  But it was still fun.  Dances are always better when you have a friend to share the joy with :).

Oh, 2 more big events happened Thursday night!  First, I got my first proposition from a Korean man.  One of the guys at the dance knew a little English, so he was asking me about myself.  “How old are you?” he asked.  “I’m 21,” I said.  “Oh, wow, I’m 37.  Do you want a Korean boyfriend?  Koreans are alot of fun.  What’s your phone number?”  Don’t worry, I didn’t give him my number, but I found it rather amusing, nonetheless.  The other event was a little disconcerting.  As Anthony and I were heading home, a man crashed on his bike right near us, in the middle of the road.  We ran over and picked up his bike for him, but he wasn’t moving.  He just lay there in the middle of the road.  I couldn’t tell if he was drunk or perhaps mentally disabled.  But he didn’t really seem to want us to help him.  So after hanging around for a few minutes, we pulled his bike out of the road, said a prayer for him, and continued on our way.  I’m still not sure if we did the right thing.  I just didn’t know what to do…it was very disconcerting :(.

So that’s my life right now!  It’s starting to become the normal routine…but when I really look at it, there’s nothing normal about this life!  You know that you’re living a rather unique life when ritzy meals, homemade fortunes, random propositions and old men sitting in the street has become the norm :).