Leading the PC(USA) from a world away
Just when most young people were beginning to imagine what nontraditional instruction might look like during COVID-19, Sami Han set about picturing an even more nontraditional path.
She moved to South Korea with her parents.
When the 16-year-old’s parents, the Revs. Myung Sung “Martin” Han and Jieun Kim Han, accepted the call to serve as regional liaisons for East Asia in World Mission for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, Han left everything she knew in the U.S. behind — church, school, her two older brothers, her friends.
“I was always interested in living in South Korea and having Korean friends,” Han wrote in an email from Seoul, “but it’s true that I’m missing my friends in America and the diversity of race.”
Little wonder, since the 10th grader — who is currently attending the Seoul Foreign School, where her favorite subjects are visual arts and Korean — was a regular fixture on the PC(USA) youth scene.
And Han wasn’t just active at the local and presbytery levels. She also volunteered at national events.
“I’ve engaged in ministry mostly through Strathmoor Presbyterian Church [in Louisville], like making hygiene kits with Mid-Kentucky Presbytery for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, leading worship on Souper Bowl Sunday, collecting food for the food pantry and performing with my violin with other church members,” wrote Han. “I’ve also led the call to worship and benediction in Korean during the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017 [at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary].”
Han is perhaps most proud of her experience developing, planning and leading a worship service as a member of the youth group at New Goshen (Ky.) Presbyterian Church, where her father most recently served as transitional pastor before the family relocated to Seoul.
“During the worship service, instead of just reading a Scripture lesson, we would act it out as if the Scripture was a play,” Han recalled. “This showed me how youth groups can generate ideas for more effective worship services for newer generations.”
Beyond that already impressive list of activities, Han remembered how excited she was to take part in two of the PC(USA)’s national Big Tent events, first in Indianapolis in 2011 and then in Louisville in 2013.
And Gina Yeager-Buckley remembered her.
“When Sami was a little girl, she stayed at our Big Tent booth the entire time for three days solid of exhibit hall work,” said Yeager-Buckley, who serves as mission associate for Formation, Presbyterian Youth Triennium and Youth Ministries for the PMA. “That was my first encounter with her. She was full-on enthusiastic and wanted to be active. She was telling stories about youth ministry and telling everyone who came by the booth why they should pick up our resources. While it’s true that there are always a lot of kids who love to work the booth, hang out and hand out things, Sami went above and beyond. It was pretty cool.”
Teenagers like Han and other Presbyterian youth who are in what many Christian educators call “the first third of life” are supported, in part, through the Pentecost Offering, one of the PC(USA)’s four Special Offerings. Not only do gifts to the Pentecost Offering benefit Age and Stage Formation (Youth Ministry), but the offering also supports the PMA’s Young Adult Volunteer Program and the “Educate a Child, Transform the World” national initiative.
Although the Pentecost Offering may be taken anytime, most congregations receive it on Pentecost Sunday, which this year falls on May 23.
Because Han arrived in Seoul during the pandemic when most churches have been meeting virtually, she hasn’t yet had many opportunities to be involved in hands-on mission projects and church youth activities in South Korea, which she said are even more numerous than in the U.S.
“I am very curious and excited to experience youth activities in South Korea, but I am also very thrilled to attend Youth Triennium in 2022, since my brothers, Sol and Gale, always told me how much fun they had,” she said. “I was actually planning to go to Youth Triennium in 2019, but I wasn’t able to because of scheduling problems.”
The Pentecost Offering may very well make Han’s dream possible, since 60% of the offering is used to support children-at-risk, youth, and young adults through ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency — including the Youth Triennium — while 40% of the offering is retained by individual congregations for local ministries.
“We’d love to have Sami and we’ll do whatever we can to get her to Triennium in 2022,” Yeager-Buckley said, “where our plan is to really go a lot farther with the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation.”
Yeager-Buckley said that while the Youth Triennium has always been focused on eradicating poverty and dismantling racism, the next national gathering for youth will “hit the three Matthew 25 mission priorities even harder.”
“Our key strength at Triennium is sending young people into congregations to really enhance congregational vitality,” said Yeager-Buckley, referencing the first of the three foci of Matthew 25. “Because of the young people and who they are right now, they’re really passionate about the care of people around them and the inclusivity of the church. They also care deeply about poverty and dismantling racism.”
That unquestionably includes Han, who shares her peers’ commitment to inclusivity.
“I believe the youth have fabulous potential to lead the PC(USA) to a more active and diverse place,” she said. “I believe that the youth of the PC(USA) will be an amazing resource to make a change.”
Investing in young Presbyterians who, said Yeager-Buckley, “are already really active in the world and the church,” is what the Pentecost Offering is all about.
“It’s such a joyful, positive and formative thing to invest in as we continue to watch young people like Sami take their next steps into leadership in the church and in their communities,” Yeager-Buckley said. “To me, the Pentecost Offering witnesses to a church — from every level, local to national — that is excited in lifting up its young people and connecting them. You’ve got a healthier church. You’ve got a vital church. That’s what I believe in.”
This was published for Presbyterian News Service on April 6, 2021.
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By giving to the Pentecost Offering, your congregation participates in helping our children, youth, and young adults grow up to proclaim with the Psalmist, "O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds."