Two years ago I enjoyed a brief but friendly exchange with Shane Claiborne about a Christmas project in his church which he referred to as Holiday Mischief. Essentially, suburban churches in his area had called his team about wanting to do some kind of inner city Christmas ministry, and Shane and his team developed a project in response:
On the special night, the carolers [from the suburban churches] roll through the neighborhood. They visit each home with some lovely singing, deliver a plate of baked goodies, and then they head out. They are long gone by the time the family has opened the envelope underneath the cookies — which contains several hundred dollars and a note that says, “Know that you are loved. Merry Christmas.”
I shared my thoughts about the event in this blog, proposing an alternative event, and Shane graciously wrote an encouraging note in reply.
As we entered our .W month of reflection this December, I realized that I had not yet made good on my own pledge to do the alternative event I had proposed, which I had called “Gifts of the Magi.” Praying about it, I had my eyes opened to a golden opportunity–you might call it a gaping need, even–for just such a party, one that would bring together North Korean defectors and the South Korean counterparts here in Seoul.
If ever there was a need to move from mischief to maturity, it would be here:
- As a population group, North Korean defectors living in South Korea have the highest rate of death due to suicide of nearly any population group in the world—16.3% compared to 5.2% among South Koreans.
- 8.8% of North Korean defector middle school and high school students are dropping out, compared to 1.4% of South Koreans.
- The crime rate for North Korean defectors is twice the national average.
- Nearly 20% of defectors fail to stay in a job for more than a month.
- 70% of defectors want to leave South Korea for the United States, Canada and Australia instead of staying here.
- 33% wish they could go back to North Korea rather than continuing life in the south.
Earlier this month we did the Gifts of the Magi event in the apartment of a North Korean defector. Small apartment, big crowd–of North Korean defectors, South Koreans, Americans, and even a Canadian.
As the old saying goes, I really wish you could have been there with us.
Prior to the party, one of the NK defector attendees had said to me:
I think there’s not much sharing here in South Korea… When I go somewhere, there is a lot of giving but not a lot of sharing. I think people here just have so much that they don’t need to give to each other… I don’t even know who lives next door. Sometimes we need handiwork done but it’s difficult to knock on their doors when we haven’t been formally introduced. When there is discord in a family—domestic violence—we feel like we ought to go there, but they don’t want our intervention. They don’t want to open up their family issues. I think it is common for South Koreans to be very private.
A lot of giving but not much sharing. That is an endlessly fascinating insight to me, and one that certainly applies not only to North and South Korea but to Christians around the world.
The Bible never tells us to distribute food and clothing to the poor. Instead, it tells us to share our bread and our tunics and our homes with them, which means we eat out of the same bowl around the same dinner table, sometimes with them in their apartments and sometimes with them in our own.
So in this month of reflection, Advent, and Christmas, I offer you the following learning from my own life, from this month’s Gifts of the Magi party:
Jesus was known not for distributing food but rather for eating meals with tax collectors and sinners. Even after his resurrection from the dead when he prepared fish for his disciples on the beach, he ate together with them. Throughout his ministry other people provided the food for most of the feasts at which he ate. What the Lord provided, then, was not the food, but the fellowship with outcasts.
At present, the state of our fellowship with North Korean defectors falls far below the level of our provision of food to them. In fact, the reason why 17% of North Korean defectors want to leave South Korea and go to another country is due to loneliness.
Solving that problem takes no more money, no new NGO programs, and no additional prayer rallies. It takes simply a change of heart, a willingness to go from being givers to sharers—and that is a transformation which God is willing to grant us if we are humble enough to ask for it.