Dandelion School photo/Jinha Kim

Robert Thiesen (front row, third from left) serves with Dandelion Community in Gyeongsangnam Province, South Korea. Here, the community gathers in front of the green roof of Dandelion School.

Name: Robert Thiesen

Hometown: Yarrow, B.C. (Yarrow Mennonite Brethren Church)

Assignment: Through MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, I’m part of Dandelion Community, a small, rural Christian community in the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

Typical days: Include feeding chickens, collecting eggs, weeding, planting or picking vegetables for the community and studying Korean. We share meals as a community and take turns cooking. I teach an English class for high school students every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

SALTer Robert Thiesen from Canada is sorting and packing eggs for shipping to customers, along with recent graduates of Dandelion School,  from left, JongHyun Yoon, Jinha Kim, and Solpa Lee.Photo/Wilhelmina Witt

We can use a motorized weed-eater to clear weeds. This is certainly helpful, as it seems like there is no patch of dirt here that does not continuously sprout greenery. But if Dr. In Soo Kim, who is the founder of the community, asks us to clear weeds for him, we will do it with a small hand sickle. The first time I knelt down to cut weeds in this way, I felt like it was an intimate participation in Korean culture. I felt I was not merely appreciating it, but was being allowed to be a part of it.

Why I chose SALT: To put peace theology into practice. I studied philosophy in graduate school and have preached and taught some in my home church on peace theology. Basically, my church made me realize that what I was talking about cannot merely be a theological position, but must be part of a life of discipleship.

If you’re considering SALT: If what you want is to learn better how to be a disciple of Jesus, do it. Then, begin doing the things you think a disciple should do, even during the application process. When I applied for SALT, I took the opportunities before me to prepare in various ways, and not only by studying the Korean language and raising money. I became friends with a participant in MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) from Cambodia who was serving where I lived, and I found opportunities to serve people in my home community. 

I was not serious enough about my walk with Jesus before considering SALT, and considering SALT gave me a bit of a jump-start. Perhaps I am not the only one who needs that kind of jump-start. Not waiting for my SALT year to get more serious, but starting right away, was, I think, the most important part of my preparation for this year.

Joys: Friendship with fellow workers at MCC and Dandelion Community, lots of good humour and downright laughter.

Challenge: In B.C., I often spend free time alone to relax or work on my own projects. As part of a community, though, I might be called on to use my time off to share my opinion in a meeting, help prepare a meal or just spend quality time with those around me.

Favorite food: I love Camja-jeon, which is a sort of fried potato pancake. It is a traditional Korean food that is often served in street markets here.

Biggest surprise: I prepared a lot for this year in South Korea, and I expected a lot of challenges. However, it never entered my head how immediately and unequivocally God would show me his grace. This grace has come to me through the people I met when I arrived in Korea.  

On finding spiritual sustenance: While I was staying with Donna and Chris Rice, the MCC representatives for Northeast Asia who live in Chuncheon, I picked up the habit of having devotions every morning. I don't know whether or not the challenges I faced with all the newness that was a part of my first week here helped me to thoughtlessly absorb this habit from Donna, who practiced it every morning. In any case, although I have never done it before, I now find myself continuing with this habit.

It is a new thing for me to give myself time every day to renew my mind, and then to be able to actively test my reflection through the day, as Paul writes about to the Romans, in order to discern and pursue what is “good and acceptable and perfect.” I think it is a great virtue of this Christian community that the way they live gives me the opportunity both to work hard and to have times of prayerful reflection of this kind.

My time in South Korea has, so far, been spiritually rich. I am reading through Søren Kierkegaard’s Works of Love, and trying to apply his insights about Christian love to my life. I have tried to think this through by writing. I keep a regular prayer journal, blog about my time here and also write to others here in Korea.

The church services here are quite informal and mostly held in Korean. So, I have found it extremely meaningful to pray some traditional liturgies. I pray the Latin Mass and a Psalm almost every night, as well as the Anglican confession of sin that begins, “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed...”

I believe these practices have been a great help in meeting the newness and challenge of each new day.

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