Posted January 07, 2011 in My Story:
Is My Life Mine?

by Emmanuella Kim.

I was born in Korea into a poor family, which was very common at that time. It was seventeen years after the war, but our country was still recovering.

My parents were very hard working and faithful to the family. My father was a manual worker, and my mom had a little grocery store, which was open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, even Sunday. She did this work for over thirty years while raising four children.

The store was attached to our house and was kind of a center for the whole town, and all my relatives lived close by. So our house and store were always full of people.

My parents considered themselves Buddhists but they didn’t practice it except for some special feast days.

The education system in Korea is very demanding. We studied very hard. In high school, we took two lunch boxes and stayed at school until 9 or 10 p.m. to study. To get into a good university, we had to do this.

So there wasn’t time to think about life or anything else except getting good marks. You just studied hard, and that was it.

Thinking and struggling about life began for me when I entered university. Our country’s political situation was still very unstable after 25 years under dictatorship.

In 1987 we had a huge demonstration against the military dictatorship, so the government allowed us a direct election for president. There were other changes, too, such as workers could legally form unions. New organizations and newspapers were begun, and there was more freedom to gather and speak.

The following year, when I attended the most politically active university in the country, there were still demonstrations every day by students, and cars with tear gas and policemen were constantly near our school. Most of the demonstrations were very violent.

I respected what those students stood for, but I wasn’t sure their way of using violence to get their goal was good, and most of the students who participated didn’t come to class at all.

I went a few times to their study group which was studying Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, but I didn’t find warmth from the people, and I didn’t understand the teaching well.

In this time of confusion for me, a good friend asked me to go to the Catholic Church with her. She had gone to a Catholic high school and liked it.

I also went to a Protestant church with another friend, but I didn’t find it attractive at all, so in my mind I thought if I go to church, I will go to a Catholic church.

In Korea, the Catholic Church has a very good reputation for its good works for the poor and the sick and especially its work for justice.

When our country was struggling against dictatorship, the churches became shelters for workers and activists. Police couldn’t come into the churches to arrest them.

So my friend and I went to the church and asked what we had to do to become Catholic.

I was twenty years old. Little did I know that becoming a Catholic would change my whole life.

At first I tried to read the Bible on my own, but most of the time I was scared to read it because it seemed impossible to live the way God wanted us to live. So I stopped reading it.

But I fell in love with Jesus, who is so kind to the poor and who stands for justice. He was a good man to follow.

I remember one day with my friend, we talked about guys in our parish who she liked. I told her I found the one I wanted to marry. "It’s Jesus. If I find a man like Jesus, I will marry him."

When I graduated from university, I had to decide what to do with my life. It seemed there were two options: one was making lots of money and helping the Church that way. The other one was working for the Church. I chose working for the Church.

I found a job in a Catholic association for the blind and worked there for four years. For another four years after that, I worked with working women, especially helping to give job training to single mothers. At the same time, I was active on and off with a young adult group in my parish.

My life was very busy with work and friends, but I wasn’t satisfied. There was something missing.

I was also exhausted by all the competition around my workplace. Even though it was a social agency, we had to compete with other agencies, and we had to do lots of paper work. We spent more time doing paper work than meeting with clients.

It was hard to find the meaning of my life. I saw myself moving further from the Church and doing whatever I felt like.

For example, I loved hiking, so I skipped Mass thinking I could worship God just as well on the top of mountains. I told God that I was so tired I couldn’t go to Mass, hoping he would understand me because he is a loving and merciful God.

I was looking for some other lifestyle than this competition and striving for money, so I started reading books about different communities around the world.

So when I heard about Madonna House through someone who had gone there, I was so excited because it was exactly what I was looking for.

Without knowing much about it, I thought it would be good to go away from my usual life for a year to live with a Catholic community and learn their life and English as well. (I knew very little English.)

So in March 2003, I went to Madonna House Combermere for a year as a working guest.

My first impression was that these 150 people who lived there talked about God all the time throughout meals, spiritual readings, prayers and Mass, even at tea times.

I thought to myself, after over fifty years of being there, was there still more to say about God?

I could see that life there was not lived according to the world but rather it was penetrated by the life of the Church. Every day was a new experience for me and new learning. I felt that they knew what the treasure is and that they lived what God asked of them.

Combermere seemed like the place where Jesus gave his sermon on the mountain; it was holy ground.

Another big lesson I learned was that every little thing we do can be a prayer. When I wash a cup and put it away in the right place with love, that love passes on to somebody who will use it later. And the same with sweeping the floor, cleaning the toilet and just smiling at somebody.

All these things took on new meaning for me. It was a revelation to me that what I do has an effect on my neighbour and on the whole world.

I remember vividly the first time God challenged me here. I couldn’t stand it when people said "God is in charge of my life." I thought that my life is mine. I wanted to go to a university, so I went. I wanted to get a job, so I did. I wanted to come here to Madonna House, so I did. See, I control my life!

So I started to ask the staff about it, "Do you think your life is yours?" Everybody I asked said, "No, my life belongs to God."

I thought to myself, "They are brainwashed, poor people. They have lived here too long."

I started going to poustinia. During my first poustinia, through a passage from John’s Gospel, God spoke to me. Do you love me? (21:16) It’s a question Jesus asked Peter after his Resurrection. I said, "Yes, I love you. But I can’t give up just anything for you."

This question stayed with me for a week, so I had to pray with it. Finally I could say to the Lord, "I love you, and I will do what you ask me to do."

The next question that came to my heart was, "If you love me, could you give your life to me?" I said, "Yes, I love you, but…"

So the same thing happened. I struggled with this question for a week and finally I went to the chapel upstairs and said, "I love you and will give my life to you because you gave me my life."

The next question was, "If you love me, can you give your life for so and so?" I was hesitant. Actually, I was so shocked to hear that because I had really a hard time with that person.

I answered, "I can give my life for my family and friends, but not for her." It was impossible for me to think of laying down my life for someone I didn’t like.

But later Jesus showed me that he loves that person as he loves me, and that that person is precious to him as well. So I surrendered my will to him in order to love those whom I have a hard time with.

I said "yes" to him without the "but." That was the beginning of my journey into the heart of Jesus.

From that moment on and from other experiences of community life, I realized that Jesus wasn’t just a good person. He was my creator, lover, and saviour. My life was his, not mine.

My desire for him grew and grew. I wanted to follow him wherever he led me—but not in Canada. I had never thought about living in a foreign country, and my English was so poor.

Then to my surprise I found out that he wanted me to follow him in Madonna House in Canada.

I remember the day I asked Jean Fox, the director general of women, to be an applicant. With my poor English, I couldn’t say much. I just said, "God called me, so I said ‘yes’.’’ Jean said, "That’s right."

This is the story of how I became a member of Madonna House.


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