Trips to S. Korea Hearten Calvin Seminary President

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Cutline No. 1-3 calvinCalvin Theological Seminary president Jul Medenblik holds a wooden cross he received while visiting South Korea. Rev. Jul Medenblik is a bridge builder.

Since becoming Calvin Theological Seminary's 7th president in 2011, Medenblik has jaunted to Egypt, Nigeria, China and Indonesia. Earlier this year, he traveled for the 7th time to South Korea.

It's at this country in East Asia where Medenblik met with alumni from Calvin Seminary which is affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church in North America, as well as connect with prospective students. The seminary offers five masters degrees, six certificate programs and two doctoral degrees. Distance learning is available.

Embracing the global church

"In particular, we're trying to bridge the world between Asian Christianity and what we have here in the United States and Canada," said Medenblik.

"One of the moves that we made 25 years ago, actually a little more than 25 years, is we started a Ph.D. program at the seminary (designed to equip people for teaching and research in colleges, theological seminaries and universities; and for advanced church leadership). and the focus of that Ph.D. program was to really bless global Christianity. And there's a focus to extend scholarships to students who are coming from outside the U.S. and Canada. Around 40 percent of our Ph.D. candidates have been from the global church, and many of them from (South) Korea."

Although South Korea has its own seminaries, none of them are affiliated to the Christian Reformed Church, according to Medenblik. So why do students travel thousands of miles to Calvin Theological Seminary? Many do so to gain a broader perspective of the Christian community, according Medenblik, where around 40 percent of the seminary's 300 students are from outside the United States and Canada.

"The Christian Reformed Church does not have churches in South Korea," said Medenblik. "Korea is primarily Presbyterian in terms of the Reformed Presbyterian world. 'They also have a desire to have that person there have more of a global awareness and so once again they have their M.Div. (master of divinity) students come here to finish with another degree that allows them to teach or preach or maybe even teach in the seminaries themselves. I think they look at it once again what it means to have their graduates have this exposure to a wider world and we're a part of that."

Bearing gifts

Whenever Medenblik travels to South Korea, he carries with him gifts, but he qualifies what he means by that.

"The thing that's consistent with my visits there is the people are very generous in terms of their time, in terms of their gifts whether it's a fruit basket," he said. 'I've gotten even weight scales, things that they believe would be helpful for me to live life. It's a wide variety that's there.

"When I bring a gift it, usually has a purpose of saying Calvin Seminary is here to appreciate you."

East meets West

Acknowledging he's not an expert on South Korean milieu, Medenblik nonetheless has made his own observations. Among them: A blending of West and East is apparent: Shake Shacks, Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's adorn its landscape.

Pockets of South Korea remain rural. Koreans are more family oriented than their Western counterparts although there's a concern that city life is eroding familial ties.
     
 

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In the aftermath of a "bright season" of evangelical influence, where between 20 to 25 percent of its population is Christian, materialism, individualism and globalization threatened to erode South Korean's Christian way of life.

"I talked to leaders during my past trip that there's this concern about middle schoolers that only two to five percent of middle schoolers are Christian," said Medenblik. "Now you take that and project that forward, it does tend to have you understand there's a challenge to the churches and Christian schools about impacting the next generation."

Visit to the Demilitarized Zone

Medenblik recounts the time he went to the Korean Demilitarized Zone that runs across the Korean Peninsula which serves as a buffer between South and North Korea.

"There is this one museum especially that was dedicated to the North Korean conflict and another floor right next to it is the perspective from South Korea," he said. "If you go to both floors, you see how people can look at the same events through totally different eyes. They have a perspective on their culture: We've been here together for 5,000 years. A few years of separation is a chapter; it's not the whole story. It's not a separate country, it's a country divided."

In a world where instant gratification is increasingly in demand, Medenblik said the church is not immune to its consequences.

"We (often) don't understand what it means to commit ourselves to a group of people and a sense of community that helps us in our Christian walk and faith," he said. "I think church leaders need to call people into account for that.

"In the seminary we're training people as disciples who need to train other disciples. Instant gratification is actually harmful to your discipleship. When you walk with God, part of it is you're going to walk through some valleys. What does it mean to walk through the valley of the shadow of death? What does it mean to be by still waters? There will be times where you're wondering, 'God what are You doing?'"

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Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
About:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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