I hate goodbyes.
I'd rather not get to know someone new than say goodbye. That's not the best quality in someone who decides to live abroad. When you leave your home country, you meet new people and they become as close as family members here on this life raft of expatriates. Then you or they go home and you never see them again except for facebook updates. When I meet someone new I usually ask how long they expect to live in Korea as if I'm anticipating their departure. I should stop doing that. I should meet a new person thinking he or she could potentially become a lifelong friend and not someone to say hi to and forget. It's certainly not the best quality in a Christian.
My wife and I moved to Korea in 1997. That's before the Clinton impeachment, before 9/11, right before the Columbine shootings. The internet was embryonic. We've been attending this church since 1999 when we moved to Ssangyong-dong. My mom worked in the same Cleveland school as Pam, Bill and Gail Patch's daughter, and they recommended we visit if we wanted to see an English worship service. Back then, it was mainly the Mitchell family and a couple teachers.
We've seen hundreds of new faces come and go since then. It's impossible to remember them all. We've seen weddings, babies being born and people eulogized. It's so much more fun counting the babies. We tried to remember all the births of members since we started attending and we stopped at 21. We're in the middle of another baby boom. Soon that'll be closer to 30.
When the Browards arrived in 2004, I liked them immediately. There was something infectious about their smiles, especially Emma's. In one of his earliest sermons in the old sanctuary, Josh mentioned his admiration for Daunte Culpepper, a pro football player known for explosive bursts of speed. Watching Josh re-enact his excitement complete with arms waving and jumping behind the podium, I remember thinking, 'I like this guy.' His energy was impressive, but then I realized that was just one facet of his devotion and commitment to the church and community.
Previous pastors for KNU International English Church haven't always agreed on the inclusion of non-English speakers in the service. Josh seemed to embrace the diversity here, and that's something I came to admire and greatly appreciate. Older members remember when the entire congregation would clear out during summer and winter vacations leaving the service feeling skeletal.
Now membership is consistent year round and the body of the church has filled out like a growing baby. That's healthy for a church spiritually, emotionally and financially to stand on its own. Josh and the leadership teams deserve credit for making sure this church became a home and didn't remain a supplementary service.
I once read an article about how expatriates collect friends in a similar way to prehistoric people gathering new members into a tribe. I'll miss the Browards immensely. It was nice knowing they were here these past 8 years, going out for dinner together, playing cards, just being in each other's company even knowing this day would come when we would have to say goodbye. It was nice watching the kids grow up. It was nice going through childbirth with them. Josh set a good example for me as a father, friend and spiritual leader. I know he will do a great job in his new church assignment. I'm not sure how close I'll allow myself to get to know the new pastor's family. But if they're anything like the Browards it'll be hard not to love them.