Over the past few years, Seaside Chapel has been developing an ever-strengthening relationship with Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) in Korea. Each year, we've been hosting different teams of ten university students (plus their leader) as they come on a two-week missions trip during their school break. Peter and I help the team out wherever possible, as they often don't speak much Japanese, but do speak English. This past January, we hosted the latest team.
There was one fantastically-different thing that also happened this year, but first I'll need to share a little bit of history from the team that came two years ago. That CCC team made some really great connections with a number of children at a local school. When it came time for them to leave, they went to say goodbye to the. However, they arrived late and the school day had already started. Seeing the team at the gate, the kids crowded around the windows of their classrooms, waving goodbye. The school's principal saw what was happening, and came out to greet everyone. After inviting the team into the school so that they could say a proper goodbye, the principal said that if they came back again another year he would like them to make a presentation to the students.
Fast-forward to this year. Church members met with the principal just before the CCC team arrived, and the principal reiterated his invitation. So, a week later we all trooped over to the school for our appointed meeting time: 9am.
When we entered, we had to remove our shoes, put them in wooden cubby holes, and don these plastic slippers.
The school staff had us wait in the library until the principal was available. They served us green tea.
When the principal arrived, he showed us his schedule. Now, I must start by saying that Peter and I expected to be at the school for an hour or two, and make one or two presentations to the students. But the principal had something different in mind: he'd scheduled presentations throughout the entire day! We were floored at how open he was.
As we made the introductions, the principal smiled widely. "I recognize you," he nodded to me. "I've seen you walking around the community."
He turned to Peter. "I don't recognize you, but I definitely know her!"
We all laughed. (Higa sensei calls our walks around town our "ministry of walking", and we've been seeing that he's very right.)
After a little more chit-chat, we all trooped over to the gymnasium, where the team would set up for its first presentation. As we walked, we saw that the school uses open classrooms: walled on three sides, with a common corridor down the fourth. As we passed by the classrooms, the kids were so excited. I was the only one who was clearly a foreigner. They came running up to me, cheering, and high-fiving. I felt like a movie star.
After setting up in the gym, the first set of students entered: grades 1 and 2. They all sat down on the ground in rows. The CCC team's presentation showcased some of the cultural aspects of Korea, with no religious content mentioned. However, we did make sure that everyone knew about Korea Night, which would take place at the church the next day, and where they would have a chance to hear the good news about Jesus.
The presentation elements were:
- Introductions: each team member (plus us) said our name and a little bit about ourselves.
- Two K-pop dances.
- Peter and one of the CCC members played two duets on violin and cello. The first was a Japanese folk song, and the second was the theme music to "My Neighbour Totoro", a kids' cartoon. As soon as the kids recognized the music, they all started clapping and singing along.
- A Tae Kwon Do demonstration.
- A traditional Korean women's dance, complete with costumes and fans.
- After this, the kids had a chance to say which part of the presentation they enjoyed most.
- The kids had a chance to ask questions about the cultural differences between Korea and Japan.
After we were finished with the kids from grades 1 and 2, we ran over to the kindergarten area (which is isolated from the rest of the school), and did the same presentation there. At the end, the kindergarten kids gave the team members a couple of hand-made gifts as a thank you. As we left the kindergarten area, the kids cheered and waved goodbye until we were out of sight.
Next on the docket: a presentation to those in grades 4 and 5. We hurried back to the gymnasium. By this time, many of the kids had already seen us a few times. Peter and the Korean CCC team members were getting cheers and high fives too. We felt bad for being so disruptive to the teachers' classes as we passed by, but there was no other route, and the teachers didn't seem to mind too much.
Following our third presentation, the lunch bell sounded. The principal invited us into his office. There, the school staff served everybody lunch. At schools in Japan, nobody brings their own lunch. School lunches are served, and everybody eats the same thing: from the 5 year-olds in kindergarten all the way up to the teachers and principal. So, we too had a school lunch. It was delicious.
During lunch period, each student gets a smock and a chef's hat in which they serve each other lunch. Yet another example of the incomparable cuteness of Japan.
After lunch ended, there was another period. During this time, all the students clean the school. Everyone is assigned a different task. Some clean the bathrooms, some sweep the floors, some... well, you get the idea. If they finish quickly, then they get a little extra free time. During this period, we wandered around the school grounds, chatting with the students and connecting with them a little more.
Each class has its own little plot of land where they nurture a garden.
During their free time, the autographs started. Large groups of kids rushed around with their little notebooks, papers, cardboard - whatever they could find - and collected the autographs of all the foreigners. It was a lot of fun for all of us.
We also enjoyed watching some of the girls pedal around on unicycles. The school owns about 20 which can be used during free time.
After free time was over, we went back to the gym for our last presentation: to classes from grades 5 and 6.
At the end of that presentation, a few of the older school girls had a surprise for us: two teams of four had learnt K-pop dances themselves! I have to say, they were very talented, and their abilities rivalled those of the CCC team!
As we left for the day, we couldn't stop shaking our heads over all that God had done. He had completely blown our own expectations out of the water (again!). We'd had the opportunity to make presentations to more than 340 kids, plus school staff; and the principal invited us to return again next year.
The connections we made that day are so valuable and precious. Several of the kids now regularly attend Kids' Sunday School, and are showing keen spiritual interest. We're excited to see what God will do next!