I am very priviledged to have some dear Korean friends who from time to time allow me into their world. Recently over lunch, we had a surprising discussion that gave me a small glimpse into the concerns that face them as they navigate life here in the U.S.
The first topic was the college ministry at the church, and their concern about the college students (mostly 2nd gen or 1.5 gen) lack of commitment to the church. There was anger that the students seemed to lack any appreciation for all the effort put into serving them, and confusion over why. At first they wanted to include me in the conversation, expressing themselves in English, but the level of frustration was such that only speaking in their mother tongue would suffice. And so I told them, “Don’t worry… say it in Korean.” And that is when I knew for sure how angry, how hurt they were. Emotions translate, even when language doesn’t.
My friend looked at me, his eyes asking a question I couldn’t answer. I work with 2nd gen’s; I am a minister; I’m an American – could I help them understand. I couldn’t although I tried. I could only say what I knew – that the students weren’t Korean only, they were also American and that they thought differently and acted differently. And when I said those words, “they are not just Korean – they are American,” I saw the pain of hurt and the conversation went to an entirely new level.
We talked about the 2nd gen students in one of their classes and my friend said, with angst in her eyes, ” When I see them and hear them talk, I think about my daughter.” I looked down at the table. “My daughter doesn’t understand why I want her to speak Korean at home.” My friend said so little but her words said so much.
My friends are Korean, and Christian and they make time, lots of time, for church – seeing it as a genuine expression of their devotion to God and not merely a ritual. They pray for their friends to know God and they study scripture with a desire to obey. They do not understand students who would fail to devote themselves in the same way. It seems to them a betrayal and rejection; of the church, of God, and of their Korean-ness.
My friends came to the U.S. to make a better life; to study hard so that their children would succeed. They knew that moving here would mean different things for their children, but it does not change the pain they feel when their children look at them with shame or view speaking their parents language as a burden and not a gift. They sacrifice so much to give their children the kind of life that allows them to reject their parents – it is not what they signed up for.
I think we who live and serve among the second generation must be careful. I feel privileged to hear the hurt and pain of the 1st generation that to their children must often comes out as unreasonable demands & anger. But simply because it goes unexpressed doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter and doesn’t mean that it is unimportant. It is easy for us (I include myself as a child and beneficiary of the civil rights struggle) to critique our parents and the choices they make about church and life while failing to realize that we have the privilege of critique because of their sacrifices. It is easy to overlook their pain and disregard their hurt and even to cast them aside as having nothing to teach us. In so doing we run afoul of the scriptural command to honor our parents.
To honor our parents goes beyond simple obedience. To honor means to esteem and appreciate. We cannot appreciate when we will not take the time to hear.