Joy Han, 29, and Jiny Lee, 23, are members of the UCA English-speaking faith community Cornerstone Ministry. In January, they attended the National Young Adult Leaders Conference in Adelaide.
Interviews by David Southwell
I grew up in country NSW and Victoria, attending country UC congregations. My family were typically the only ethnic Koreans around for miles. I think that is not common among the other ethnic Koreans I have met, especially from the city.
I came to Melbourne to study at university and joined the Korean Church of Melbourne. At the end of my undergraduate degree I spent a year in Korea and had some exposure to a Korean church there.
After that there was a long hiatus away from worshipping communities. In many ways I felt I didn’t fit in and I really wanted to but didn’t in the way I expected.
Two events were really transformative. The first was the National Christian Youth Convention (NCYC) 2014. I realised it was the last year I could go as a delegate rather than a volunteer, so I just went despite not being in a faith community.
I’ve always described it as a spiritual homecoming. After my studies in sociology and history I had a lot of despair about Indigenous injustice and how we could address that. Learning about covenanting at NCYC for the first time was a counterpoint to that despair.
Many Koreans have experienced intergenerational trauma from the colonial occupation by Japan. My grandmother’s house was stormed by soldiers. I get very sad and frustrated when people aren’t able to make the imaginative leap from that to the experience of First Nations people in Australia. That’s one of my big passions.
The other big transformative event was the National Young Adult Leaders Conference (NYALC) in 2016.
After the 2016 NYALC, I was really gung ho about wanting to tell everyone about that sort of event, but it was also really challenging. I am learning that it’s not so much about intentional bridge-building or educating people, but authentically connecting with whoever is around me.
It took at least 12 months in Cornerstone for me to feel ready and invited to speak about Assembly or NYALC. Age is a factor.
I also think culturally there is a need for deference and there isn’t always the same sense of freedom to say ‘I want to speak for three minutes on this event I am really passionate about’. Young people especially might not feel comfortable doing that.
If I am really passionate about NYALC, then that will encourage others, not because I want them to go, but because I am going and if they can capture the passion I have maybe they’ll be interested, too.
I feel really ambivalent about the term “CALD” (Culturally And Linguistically Diverse), for me it’s not transparent how that term is applied to me.
When I am in any non-Korean space people who don’t know me, have never heard me speak, will approach me and say ‘you’re CALD’.
My thinking is if we run with the definition of CALD you need to speak to someone or know something of their stories to say that they’re CALD, which is really to say it’s a kind of racial profiling.
However, I run with it. It’s what we make of it and it can be useful but there is this sense of disempowerment in not being able to fully own how that term is used. One of my favourite post-colonial scholars talks about the “native informant”. I don’t like that idea, where I am reporting on my culture as ‘other’ to the dominant culture or vice versa.
I feel uncomfortable being in that space, but I’ve learned to accept that is who I am or what I’ve grown up into.
All of us need to step out of our comfort zones and visit other churches to explore those relationships. It comes back to the organic sharing that comes out of that.
I was born in Korea and came to Melbourne with my family in 2002. I grew up in a UCA Korean-speaking church, but after I graduated Year 12 and needed to move to a young adult service, I preferred English. And so it was recommended I go to Cornerstone Ministry, which is predominantly second-generation Koreans.
It was Joy, who I have known for about two years at Cornerstone, who told me about NYALC. When I went to NYALC I was like ‘Joy, you’re a celebrity’ because she knew so many people.
I wouldn’t say we’d really hung out before NYALC, but through that event I got closer to Joy.
I really enjoy the wisdom she has to share and we are hanging out now.
Despite growing up in the Uniting Church, NYALC 2019 was the first Assembly activity I was invited to.
I imagined the event to be packed with hours of sermons and small group-Bible study like previous Korean church events I had been to. However, on day one, I realised it was nothing like what I expected. I was asked to lead, to discuss, to share, to question, and to understand. It was challenging and I found myself frustrated at my lack of ability or knowledge to answer the questions thrown at me. However, most times I was inspired.
I saw that other young church leaders were so involved with so much of the bigger church, with Assembly and things like that. When I saw how active they are and all the leadership roles they have I did kind of feel a little bit small.
I also really experienced what it means to be CALD Christian and leader. I always find it hard to identify myself as a CALD leader. At the conference I met a bunch of other Korean Christians. One of them was asked to lead worship in Korean and asked me if I could do it with her. But I told her I don’t really speak Korean that well. And so people identify me as a CALD leader, but I feel like I’m not fully one because they want us to speak this language and I prefer English.
Growing up I felt that sense of ‘where do I belong?’ Because I spent most of my time in Australia and I see more of myself as Australian than Korean. I almost disassociate myself from people who only speak Korean.
I think ‘I’m not like them’, but at the same time when I try to hang out with someone from an Anglo background I feel like I don’t fully fit into that category. So I am left in this awkward in-between grey area.
I remember on the final night of NYLAC, a couple of us were reflecting and sharing our thoughts. The Uniting Church was no longer a distant logo, but I felt part of the wider Body of Christ that God calls us to be.