So the Thursday night before I head home for my vacation, I'm walking back from the coffee shop where I was studying Korean, through the subway station. A commotion starts across the way, as I begin to head up the stairs, and I pause, because I've learned that attempting to keep walking whenever something like this happens usually ends up being more embarrassing in the long run. There aren't many foreigners around here, and whenever someone gets a mind to talk to one, having to chase someone down the street shouting in order to do so rarely seems to be considered an insurmountable obstacle. Especially with the young folk. And these guys were young.
After a bit of pushing and shoving, the young men who were with the group basically just turned and walked away, so it was two muttering young women who eventually made their way over. They were cradling a pen and paper and a cell phone.
"Excuse me..... excuse me.... uh..... excuse me...." False start. You didn't really think this through, did you? The other girl glanced down and saw the intermediate level Korean book in my hand. Saved! After a bit of chit chat in Korean about whether or not I speak Korean, the first girl eventually felt comfortable enough to switch back to English: "We are doing an assignment for school. We want to ask you some questions."
It's not uncommon these days to be wandering around Seoul and to randomly be grabbed out of a crowd by university students who have been forced out into the world to inflict their English homework of having to interview a foreigner on the general foreign population. And I feel bad that they have been put in such a ridiculously awkward situation, so I always stop and try to be as polite as possible while helping them to finish their assignment. Now. If I'd not been so tired from work and studying and whatever else I'd already done that day, I would've had the mental capacity to work out the fact that the chances of university students even from an Incheon university choosing my subway station as a place to stake out for foreigners were not in their favor. And I would have realized. But I didn't.
When I asked what denomination they were, they simply informed me that they are not a denomination. That there are no denominations. That there is only the one true God and the one true church, and that's the one they were from. They informed me that the only way to get to Heaven is to take something called Passover (which bears absolutely zero resemblance to the Jewish Passover -- it's actually what we Baptists refer to as the Lord's Supper, what Catholics call the Eucharist) on January 14th of every year. They also believe in the Heavenly Mother and quoted some verse to me which I'm nearly 100% certain does not exist in the KJV. Or, if it does, it is one my church, holding the "values" that it does in regards to women, would have certainly gone out of its way to avoid, anyway.
It was at this point that I realized what I had on my hands: World Mission Society Church of God. Now. I'm not usually one to get into the murky waters of trying to define churches versus cults, since, for the most part, I think those who are frank with themselves will recognize that the only real difference is the level of mass acceptance involved. But I am generally more creeped out by churches who have living leaders who they consider to be actual gods. Why? I don't know. I just am.
At any rate, I really do try not to be an asshole to missionary types. Even though I really could, if I wanted to. I come from a fiercely religious background, and only worked my way out of it by doing a lot (a lot) of hardcore historical and philosophical research. I know my own home religion inside and out, from both an indoctrinated and a historically factual perspective. I can still quote reams and reams of scripture from memory. I can also rattle off a timeline of how the church and the scripture were invented, manipulated and transformed via various political agendas over time. I'm also not an atheist, and I don't believe or accept the idea that believing in a god is ridiculous. I find science to be rather arrogant, given its own history, and I find most hardcore atheists to be as obnoxious and delusional, if not more so, then the heavily indoctrinated religious types.
I am bothered by the idea that most of the people who approach me to explain life and God and religion to me often don't know a fraction of what I know about their own scripture, or the history of their religion. And it's tempting to get into a tit-for-tat with them over that, and at times, if they are being overly arrogant and obnoxious, I will. But as for the run-of-the-mill pamphleteer, I actually have a lot of patience. They honestly believe that what they are doing is the kindest thing that they can do, and most of the time their intentions are nothing but gentle and sincere. I'm not about to set out to be rude about it, or to try to cause some kind of ripple in their faith. I respect them for devoting time and effort to something they truly believe in, and for trying to help people in the way that they know how. And many of these churches step up and do feel personally responsible to do a lot of good, hard work in society that the average person doesn't think twice about not doing.
So. My usual routine is just to smile and listen patiently for a while, throwing in a few bits here and there to show that I do know a bit of what they're talking about, mention that my grandfather was a preacher, and thank them for what they are trying to do, but explain that I already have my own personal beliefs. And attempt to exit the conversation as gracefully as possible.
For the ones who let me go at that point, it usually ends well. But for the ones who try to hold on and insist, sometimes there's a tense exchange about being respectful of other people's beliefs, and what kind of behavior I personally find to be Christ-like. And what kind I don't.
These young women luckily fell into the former category. I didn't make it out completely unscathed, though. They did get my phone number. But only after we'd branched off into conversation about other things, especially how they are having to study English at university and how I am now studying Korean at about the same level.
The next day, I received two messages from one of the girls. Not saying anything too pushy, but wishing me a safe trip home and things of that type. But, in the meantime, I'd had time to reflect on the encounter and I'd realized that they had completely lied to my face in our initial conversation. And it annoyed me. I understand why they did it, but I couldn't get around being annoyed about the shamelessness of it. So, I didn't answer.
This week, something happened that's made me realize that just ignoring this is not going to make it go away. I'll explain why a little later.