Thursday, December 19, 2013

Decking the Halls ~ Korean Style

 "You will never believe my afternoon," I told Corbin one evening a couple of weeks ago. He raised an eyebrow and continued making lunches as I cleaned the dinner dishes and ushered kids upstairs for bed. It had been a looonnnng day, and even with the bizarre proposal I needed to put before my husband, the conversation needed to wait. It was too much to discuss with both of us running on fumes at the end of a full, exhausting day.

The next morning after a good night's sleep and with fresh perspective, I relayed to Corbin the previous day's events: I'd answered our front door to a young, grinning Korean pastor. He introduced himself, made the connection of a mutual friend, and asked to speak with me for a minute. I led him with curious hesitation to the kitchen counter, where he poured out his vision of bringing a dozen Korean teenagers - orphans - to the states for a month-long visit. So as we sat at our kitchen counter with Basden doing homework and Esther scaling up and down the hallway door frame like a monkey, Pastor Daniel shared his vision of partnering with a Korean church in selecting a dozen orphans for this month long "Vision Camp" in America, specifically in Fort Worth.

Not masking his anticipation and excitement, Daniel said that as he prayed and pondered lodging for the students, our pool house came to mind.  About a year ago our mutual friends, a Korean seminary family who we know from school - their son is in school with Hudson - stayed with us for two weeks as they were between apartments. Evidently Daniel came and visited them in the pool house during their stay, though we never met at the time.

Now keep in mind, this unexpected kitchen conversation fell on a Wednesday afternoon. And the students would be arriving in Texas the following Friday, one week later. Daniel's request was for six girls to stay here for a month. Over Christmas.

Believe it or not, we seriously considered his request, and even got a little excited about the opportunity. But after talking, praying and making phone calls to others who might have more information on the whole thing, we called Pastor Daniel back and declined his request for the month-long lodging, but offered to host a dinner instead.

Pastor Daniel took us up on the dinner offer, so last night we readied our home and a meal - and our hearts - for this surprise, bizarre gift of hosting a dozen orphans and their Korean chaperones in our home. The adults spoke English, the students did not.

At 6:30 the entire group - about 25 in all - tumbled through our front door bringing with them loud giggles and "HI's!" and huge grins and hugs. Our home is not typically quiet, but this was a whole new level of vitality. The group meandered through the foyer, into our den, and then immediately into the backyard, where the kids put their hands over their mouths in awe of the swimming pool. One girl with very limited inhibitions bounced with full force on the diving board, and I was just sure that by the end of the evening we'd be scrambling to get her dry clothes. Miraculously, the cold pool remained void of teenagers.

We gathered around the buffet table to pray and introduce each other, and the kids shared their names and ages. Most could say their age in English. After polishing off Trader's "chicken parmesan on a stick" appetizers, the kids devoured a true Texas meal of BBQ pulled pork and sausage, baked potatoes, and all the fixins. 

Corbin making sure everyone has everything they need. This crew could eat - made all the prep worthwhile!

 For the next couple of hours we ate, visited, played piano and sang, played ping pong and basketball, and just spent time together. And somehow all of this without speaking the same language - and I could hardly tell (helpful that the adult mentors could translate here and there!)

Check out sweet, shy Basden in the background
A few memories I hope to hold on to:
- The students' fascination with Basden and Esther. They caressed Basden's hair all evening, and followed them like paparazzi. Honestly, every time Esther turned her head, kids were taking pictures of her with their phones, cameras, or even tablets. She came to me a couple of times, uncomfortable with the attention, but when we explained that it was from a genuine curiosity, she settled into trying to tolerate it. One of the adult women told us that the students had never seen little American girls in their life, that they equated them with movie stars.
- I couldn't believe that they ate so much. Oh my gosh - just like American teens - I wanted to snap a picture of some of the kids' plates, but couldn't bring myself to be that rude - though I don't think they would've cared. And they cleaned their plates, too.
- Two of the teens picking up Hud's rubik's cube and trying to solve it. They tried a few unsuccesful turns, and I motioned for Hudson to go over and show them. Within seconds he had the cube solved, and they gasped in amazement (thanks, Alex, for getting Hud hooked on this new pastime!)

- One of the boys leaving a thank you note scrawled on a napkin, describing our home as "cozy."
- Our kids fully engaging with the students and young mentors ~ all four jumped right into the middle of things. About ten minutes after the kids arrived, I glanced over to the pool house sofa, where a boy had his arms casually draped across Esther's shoulders as if he'd known her for years.
- The Hwuan family joining us - made all the difference to have our mutual friends there.
- Sung Mi's gifts and letter. 
- Candy bars at all the place settings. We brainstormed all week on gifts for all of the students, but we were out of ideas and time. On his way home from work last night, Corbin stopped at the Dollar Store and bought a ton of candy bars and those shiny, ready-made bows to decorate them with - thank goodness! He got home just minutes before the group arrived, Bran and Basden quickly assembled the "gifts" and placed them at each plate, and it was the highlight of the dinner. Never mind that we had two cakes and cupcakes for dessert, it was all about Jr Mints, Reese's PB cups, Kit Kat, Hot Tamales, and Sour Gummy Worms. The students tore into the boxes and ate the candy right along with their dinner, sharing and passing the boxes among each other, laughing at the spicy and sour flavors. A win!

With Peter, who we all fell in love with. From  Korea, came here to Fort Worth for seminary, and living back in Korea now. He partnered with the pastor in Korea to bring fly with the students here and mentor them for the month.
The moment the Korean crew descended, blowing kisses and waving until out of sight, we closed the front door and bypassed the messy tables and kitchen for a family pow-wow in the living room. We read James 1:27 and talked about God's deep heart for orphans and the reality of not having parents. It was hard to believe that about these kids, they were so full of joy - we really couldn't wrap our minds around it. All six of us felt dejected thinking about them going right back in a few weeks to orphanages, and being at the end of their teen years (most were 15-17) with no families to support them into adulthood.

We asked our children about their thoughts and observations - Branson hit the nail on the head when he said, "It surprised me that they felt right at home here from the second they walked in." Other comments revolved around how funny and engaging the teens were, how they made Peace signs in every photo (??!!), and each of our children seemed to have a favorite new friend.

As with most anytime we serve, our family was the winner in all of this. We were the ones who came away "filled." These faces and smiles won't fade from our memories anytime soon. I don't know what all will come of it, but at present, it has sparked some new interest for our kiddos. 

With the house all put back together our kiddos tucked into bed, Corbin and I trekked upstairs about midnight. I checked on the girls, both sound asleep and snuggled tight, then on the boys. Entering the darkened room, I could tell Bran was sound asleep all sprawled across his too-small twin bed, but Hud's comforter looked like a 3-foot pylon. With a glowing light from underneath.

"Hudson! What in the world?! You need to be asleep!" He threw his comforter off from over his head, pulled out his earbuds, and asked,
"Mom, you want to hear all the Korean phrases I can say?"
And then he started whispering jibber jabber that I'd never heard in my life.
"Hud - yes, I do want to hear, but not at midnight. Go to bed!"

Hud back at it this morning during breakfast - learning the Korean alphabet
As he hopped out of the car this morning, Hudson told me he was looking forward to greeting his friend Sung Yu today with, "Good morning! I can speak a little Korean." That boy!

Merry Christmas, new friends ~ until next time!