Eunhae Kyohae

Happy Easter! I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk a little about the Korean church (kyohae) that my sister and I used to go to when we were little.

Like many people, my family decided to turn to God when they needed a favor. We all started going to Eunhae Kyohae when my father was diagnosed with cancer.

From left to right: my grandmother, my father, my mother, and some random choir member. Grandma looks uncomfortable, probably because she was a Buddhist.

After my father passed away, my mother and brother stopped going to church (perhaps they felt cheated that the hours they logged in with God didn’t save his life) but it was an unspoken agreement that my sister and I would continue to attend on Sundays, as sort of religious embassadors for the Ahn family. Meanwhile, my brother and mom worked at the family catering business on Sundays, oftentimes delivering food to Eunhae on their weekly Korean church rounds.

Sunday mornings worked like this: My sister and I would wake up and dress ourselves in anything that was pretty clean and slightly nicer than what we’d normally wear to school. This meant no jeans, but I could pull off wearing a cotton t-shirt tucked into a satin skirt (or so I thought). Then we’d stop by my mom’s store, collect a dollar* from someone to put in the collection basket, and get a ride to church in a delivery van, which of course mortified me to no end. (*One time I showed up early and some adult handed me a dollar for church. Since I had not  specifically asked for cash for the collection plate yet, I assumed that it was just spending money for my personal use. I raced over to the general store across the street and bought myself a Hello Kitty slap bracelet. Later, in the ride to church I freaked out because I didn’t have anything for the collection plate. My brother took pity on me and gave me a dollar, but not before giving me a bunch of grief. The end.)

My sister and I disliked going to church, but neither of us really admitted it to each other until we stopped going, when I was in junior high school and we were thinking more about college. Also, at that point our youth group started getting heavily into street-evangelizing, which I was not about to do. The main reason we didn’t like it was because everyone was awfully cliquey. The girls in my grade all seemed to know each other intimately and hang out during the week. They were all skinny, had perfectly straight hair, and their parents also attended Eunhae Kyohae and were friends with each other. But I’m sure I wasn’t too welcoming to these people, either. Whenever someone was nice to me I assumed they just felt sorry for me because my father died and I looked poor. My sister and I would sullenly accept rides home from church with these people when no one from the store was available to pick us up.

The other reason church was uncomfortable for us was that we didn’t understand most of it. We sang along to the youth group band when they played a song in English, but the pastor’s sermon was almost exclusively in Korean. (I can remember exactly two times that he threw us English-speakers a bone. Those sermons were fun.) When the congregation stood up to recite the Apostle’s Creed and The Lord’s Prayer, we were encouraged to recite it in any language we wanted, but everyone seemed to choose Korean. I can’t speak for my sister, but I never memorized these verses so I would just move my lips along with the group and try to look appropriately enraptured.

We did make a couple of friends during our time at Eunhae Kyohae. The Rhee family had a girl about my sister’s age (two years older than me), a set of twin girls who were my age, and a youngest sister. They got along with the rest of the church folk, but my sister and I still related to them because they were also poor dressers, spoke perfect English, and they had working-class parents who didn’t always go to church with them on Sundays. These girls lived two blocks away from us, so when we got a little older we would sometimes walk home from church together in a big, all-Korean-girl group.

The twins – named Helen and Christina – were born sometime around Easter. I remember this only because I was at their birthday party one time and their father presented them with storebought Easter baskets and I got SO jealous. So happy birthday to Helen and Christina, and warm thoughts go out to the entire Rhee family. Thanks for making church a little more worthwhile for me. Happy Easter, everybody!

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2 Comments

Filed under childhood, Flushing, language barrier

2 responses to “Eunhae Kyohae

  1. I can’t quite explain the perfection of this post, but rest assured, it is awesome.

  2. Thank you! I wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested. Meanwhile, you better be working on so many posts!

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