To The Other Side of the World
Rev. Bilkes and I met at the SeaTac airport in Seattle, WA. Then we boarded our Asiana Air flight Monday afternoon and flew along the Alaska coast to Asia.
Crossing the date line was a strange experience. It was odd flying with the sun all the way and finally seeing it set in the west as we touched down in Seoul. We left Seattle at 3:00 PM October 13 and after flying for eleven and a half hours arrived at 6:30 PM on October 14, 1997. We flew into tomorrow .... and missed most of it! We were met by a member of the Korean Presbyterian Church--Kosin (our host denomination) and were directed to a shuttle bus which took us almost an hour across the vast city of Seoul (with some 13 million people) to the Lotte Hotel complex (a very modern multistory department plaza) in the Chamsil district. There we boarded yet another smaller shuttle van for another twenty minutes to our motel. For the first night we were at a place called: Hotel Dong Seoul. After a long flight and with little sleep, we were very thankful to be able to settle into our motel room.
Following a much needed night's sleep, we went to the motel restaurant for an American breakfast (2 eggs, bacon and toast with o.j. and coffee) at a Korean price: W 9.000 (equal to about $10.00 US. The W, pronounced "Wung", is the Korean currency). It was an effective eye-opener to the inflated cost of living in South Korea.
On the second day we were transferred to where the other delegates stayed: the Olympic Parktel, a modern motel on the edge of the park which was used for the 1988 Olympic Games. From our room we had a beautiful view of the Olympic Park, beyond which are the apartment skyscrapers of Seoul, then beyond them the beautiful mountains which surround the city.
We met the delegates of our sister churches in the Netherlands (CGKN), Rev. P. Den Butter, Rev. J. Westerink, Prof. W.H. Velema (who came with his wife) and Mr. A. Overwater. They had flown from Holland via Siberia to Seoul. But we did not only meet Dutch brothers. At this conference we were going to sit down and express fellowship with brothers from reformed churches of nations throughout the world.
Korean people must be among the most hospitable people in the world. Our hosts were so generous that we felt embarrassed that we were not able to sufficiently express our appreciation. (To repeat "Kamsa hamnida"-- "thank you"--just did not seem to say enough.) They very literally went the "extra mile" to make our stay pleasant. That afternoon at 5:20 PM we were shuttled to the church building where the conference would take place: the Seo-Moon Church, in the same district of the city (Song p'agu) as the motel. After coming through bustling traffic we turned through iron gates into a large, impressive, granite church building, with a seven story office tower After registration we were treated by the ladies of the church to a Korean dinner before the prayer service. During the conference days all meals (including our breakfast!) were served at the church and funded through the conference with the assistance of the local Kosin congregations. Having paid for one meal in a restaurant made us appreciate what a generous gift this was. (Our lunch for four with Rev's DenButter and Westerink had come to W 72,000--$80.00 US!!)
The selection of food was a very interesting cultural experience. We were served a real smorgasbord of some of the finest Korean dainties. There was a variety of stir-fried vegetables (some of which I have never seen before). Later we discovered that there was an assortment of various sea plants included. One noon I had a small (rubbery) octopus and two fried grasshoppers on my plate along with some rice wrapped in raw fish and "kimshi"--that is, spiced fermented cabbage. It was probably good that I could not identify many of the items before I tried them, although the whole fried grasshoppers were unmistakable!
The prayer service was hosted by Dr. Soon-Gil Hur (who had studied in Kampen and handled English very well). The sermon was delivered by Rev. John P. Galbraith, of the OPC-USA. It is note-worthy that Rev. Galbraith, who had been the convener of many meetings of the Reformed Ecumenical Council in the past, and had left the REC because of its liberalizing tendency, was now leading the opening of the ICRC.
Pastor Gaibraith gave a very timely message which set the tone for our conference. He spoke about "Perfecting Fellowship": 1) Our Foundation--which is in the Lord and in His Word as applied by the Holy Spirit; 2) Our Purpose--which is to SHOW our unity and to PRACTICE that unity. We have a ministry a) toward the world: proclaiming a gospel of hope to a hopeless world; b) a ministry toward evangelicals around us; to be an influence in the light of neo-evangelical and neo-reformed errors; 3) Our Responsibilities--to study the problems we share; to show concern for other denominations and churches.
With prophetic seriousness and fatherly love Rev. Gaibraith called the conference to be faithful to God's Word. "It would be so sad if this organization in 25 years would no longer be what it is." He stressed the need to express love to one another "Brothers, we are all dying. We do not know when we will no longer be able to speak. Others are dying and soon will no longer be able to HEAR! .... May we as churches go forward on our knees in the Spirit of God. May God help us."
During the service we sang songs together with the Korean brothers and sisters. We sang the old familiar hymns and Psalms, some of them in both Korean and English at the same time. This was a very moving experience. Imagine, singing those good old songs of praise to God with people of a totally different language and culture in their own church building on the other side of the world! It gave us a new appreciation for the meaning of "the communion of saints."
A Growing Ecumenical Conference
The next morning, as we sat together in the Seo-Moon church sanctuary, we witnessed a truly global gathering. There were about 65 delegates representing some 33 denominations from at least 17 countries around the world. Delegates were present from Australia, Canada, China, England, India, Ireland, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Taiwan, North East India, United States, and other countries.
The ICRC is a very recent ecumenical body of churches. It began in 1985 and this October was just the fourth meeting. It began as the joint work of the "Liberated" Churches and the Free Church of Scotland. It was exciting to experience its growth at this meeting also. There were fourteen member denominations when the meeting started, but seven denominations applied and were accepted. The six following churches were accepted unanimously: 1) the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland ("Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands"), 2) the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales, 3) the Gereja Gereja Masehi Musyafir N.T.T., 4) the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, 5) the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, and 6) the United Reformed Churches in North America. 7) The application of a seventh denomination, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, met with some resistance. Though the ARPC was accepted, it did not receive a unanimous approval because of some questions that delegates did not feel were satisfactorily answered. The ICRC now numbers 21 member denominations. There were also 12 "visitor churches" represented, each of which were offered the opportunity to introduce their denomination to the conference. Some of these even expressed their intention to join the ICRC in the future.
I suppose we need to be realistic about being a member of an international ecumenical conference. It will not be an assembly of perfect unity. There will be things with which we are not in full agreement. On the other hand, there will also be things about us as Free Reformed Churches that cause others to feel uncomfortable. We each contribute our own limitations and imperfections to the total picture. But we must also look with hope and faith to the Lord's Word and Spirit to guide us as we strive to help each other understand the Gospel better and make efforts by means of the Conference to urge each other to obey God's Word more faithfully.
Without the reforming and reviving effect of God's Word and Spirit such a conference may grow, but will become just another liberal body. Each member church must examine itself and strive to grow in the knowledge of Christ and His Word; while also being its "brother's keeper" in a holy concern for fellow believers and other churches of Christ.
As we continue in this conference, may the Lord give us grace to know the truth, and to speak it in love as well as humbly seek to understand others as we together search the Scriptures. When our Lord prayed "that they may all be one," He also stated clearly, "thy Word is Truth" (John 17). Unity may never be separated from truth.