More than 2900 North Korean refugees came to South Korea in 2009.
When we began attending our church in Korea last year, I was so impressed to learn that they had mission work teaching English at a refugee center for North Korean women. All year long I toyed with joining the group that teaches, but I never did go.
This year, as soon as I returned to Korea, I decided to give it a go. I figured if I really loved it, I could make a regular commitment to it for the year, but I didn't know if I would.
The Center is an hour and a half drive to a community south of us. As the six of us headed out from the church, I wondered what the night would be like. I only knew that the number of people to attend is always a mystery, that we would teach a few simple action verbs, sing a few songs, and speak a simple Greetings dialog for about an hour.
It's hard to bring to life the experience. At the appointed hour about 25 women and 3 young boys entered the lecture hall. Most of the women were smaller in stature, smiling, bowing, and excited to be there. The energy in the room was palpable. The ladies sat in the closest rows. For some women this was their first lesson as they had arrived within the 2 weeks since the last session. For others their three months in the refugee center were almost over, and this would be their last lesson before venturing out on their own to a society so different from their homeland.
The ladies were EAGER to learn - so eager to repeat everything we said. We practiced introductions, first going through a brief dialog. Then the 5 of us fanned out and spoke personally to as many women as we could in a few minutes' time. A few were outgoing and others were shy and uncertain of their pronunciation. We spent extra time trying to help them hear and say the difference between "work" and "walk". At one point I became the demonstrator of verbs, pantomiming eat, run, walk, jump, and dance, among others. This brought me right back to my early days of teaching beginning French. I have no qualms looking silly in order to make learning a language fun. It was amazing hearing the ladies and the children laugh at my antics as they repeated the words and tried the actions themselves.
As the time neared the end, Patricia taught the ladies a song refrain about finding empowerment. The ladies were happy to stand and sing. They listened quietly as Jacob prayed for their safely, transition, and friends and family left behind. Our teenage translator did a great job translating the prayer.
At the end of the hour, people filed out slowly, being sure to say thank you while shaking our hands or bowing. I amazes me to think what their lives must have been like and what drove them to leave their homeland. It seemed paradoxical: how could women who have experienced such pain show such obvious joy?
Needless to say - I'm hooked. I've been inspired to work out some upcoming lessons to use. Perhaps I'll let you all know how it works out. Now I'm counting down the days until I can return. As Patricia says, "It's more about showing them love and compassion than it is about teaching English," though I hope we managed to do both.
May God Bless each woman and her loved ones.