Advice from a single mom dying of cancer
Adima Shirky (1994 –)
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Hyeran learned to pray from her mother, a devout woman who, after converting to Christianity early in Hyeran’s childhood, attended prayer meetings at 4:00 every morning. Prayer formed the background for her childhood, despite her father’s atheism and her family’s troubles. As a ten-year-old, Hyeran discovered that her father had a mistress and “another family.” How could such a situation be resolved? She had no answer beyond her mother’s example of constant prayer.
As a teenager, Hyeran’s questions about identity also played out against that background of prayer.
I was like Jacob in the Old Testament who always struggled with his identity, and asked: Who am I? And then wrestled with the angel, saying, “I won’t let you go until you give me a name.” And then he got the name Israel, his identity, finally.
When I was a teenager, I was not just asking “Who am I?” but I was trying to discover what my identity was in God’s word. How much is God involved in what happens in the world? And then: What should I do for God?
When Hyeran was sixteen, she had a vivid experience of Jesus:
While I was praying, it seemed that a strong wind blew around me, and I was suddenly struck by the feeling that I was a sinner. Then I wept and wept; my sin killed Jesus. That was an experience of being baptized by the Holy Spirit.
At the same time, Hyeran’s awareness of the injustices of South Korea’s competitive economic and educational system was growing. During a crucial examination period in high school, a teacher mocked the vocational students headed for Korea’s factories: “It bothered me. A teacher should give his students hope and enthusiasm, but he was looking down on them.” In protest, and despite being a usually well-behaved student on the school’s top academic track, Hyeran refused to take his test.
Her rebellion earned her punishment, both hands beaten with a wooden rod until they were swollen, and meetings with her alarmed parents and school administrators. She eventually gave in. (Later, Hyeran and her teacher found understanding and reconciliation.) “I graduated and went on to university, where I studied urban design and engineering. I had great hopes that we could change cities, especially housing and transportation systems. They weren’t built with people’s best interests in mind, and so many people suffer in them.”
Hyeran had to fight to hold her own in a field heavily dominated by men. As well as being a woman, she was also the only Christian in her college cohort. Social life was defined by heavy drinking, dirty jokes, and selfish individualism. Seniors demanded that underclassmen address them as God. One initiation rite involved “duck walking,” a hike up a mountainside in squatting position, with their hands touching their ears.
After graduating, Hyeran joined a group that was praying for the reunification of North and South Korea. She helped plan a peace village to be built in the demilitarized zone between them, and publish a magazine about reunification, justice, and community.
Suddenly one thought came to my heart strongly. I felt that God wanted me to pray for our nation for a whole year. So I decided to quit my job to spend one year in pilgrimage and prayer, traveling around Korea and visiting convents, abbeys, orphanages, and communities. I wanted to know how God was working in Korea, and I also wanted to find the place where God was calling me to be. During that year I was inspired by reading the Gospels, and was deeply moved by God’s love for this world.
I felt like I was on a cliff, and I had to either keep standing there, or jump. I decided to jump – to give up everything.
After that year, Hyeran visited Beech Grove Bruderhof, which she had learned about through her publishing work. She stayed there a while, then visited a few other communities in Europe, and then Danthonia. It was there that she decided to become a member.
I felt like I was on a cliff, and I had to either keep standing there, or jump. I decided to jump – to give up everything. After I made my vows, I was told: “Hyeran, now you belong to us, and we to you. You will be taken care of for the rest of your life.” I wept. I had longed to find a place where such a mutual commitment is possible for so many years, but never found it.
I had such joy losing myself. I don’t want my life to be about what I’m doing, or what I planned and then achieved. What I really want is that God’s kingdom affects everybody’s life, not only my life.
In early 2019, Hyeran moved back to South Korea with a few others to found a small Bruderhof community there.
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With photography by British photojournalist Danny Burrows, this 300-page hardcover book celebrates what is possible when people take a leap of faith. It will inspire anyone working to build a more just, peaceful, and sustainable future.
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