Faith formation in Korean families

Hye Jin HwangEvery Family Matters

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One night, when I was young, I shook my mother awake in the middle of the night
“Mom, I have a stomachache. I can’t sleep!”.

“Oh my dear, where does it hurt?” My mother’s hands were already on my stomach though her eyes were still closed.

“Let’s pray together! God, Hye Jin’s stomach is hurting. I believe that when two or three people pray together in your name, you are there in their midst. Hye Jin and I truly believe that you are the only one who can heal her. In Jesus’ name, we pray.”

Some minutes later, I complained again. “Mom, my stomach still hurts!”

My mother said, “Let’s pray again. God listens to our prayer.” She prayed the same prayer that she did a couple of minutes ago. All night, my mother and I prayed again and again before we fell asleep together on her bed. The next day, my mother and I woke up and thanked God that God had answered our prayer.

My mother always wanted our family to pray together. She raised my siblings and me to pray together for everything, even though a simple pain medication would have sufficed for our pain. As a young child, I couldn’t understand why my mother placed such importance on praying together and why she herself began to pray so fervently after our father passed away. However, despite my young age, I could see how dedicated she was to God and how she wanted to raise her children in faith. All of my siblings developed the habit of praying together because of the example our mother set for us. My siblings and I learned that whenever our family had any prayer concerns, praying together would be the best and first step to deal with them. Looking back, we all see that praying together led us to bond emotionally and spiritually as a family.

Family is a very important part of Korean life. Relationships within the family are the most highly valued in Korea. Korean culture and Christianity intertwine together to create a unique faith formation. The Christian Korean family believes that the family is most influential in nurturing the children to love Jesus Christ. Although many Korean families lead busy lives, we try to come together and share our faith. Family prayer and family worship are common practices among Korean Christians. We see these practices as essential to faith formation.

Korean Christian families like to pray together. One of most natural times to pray together is when all family members sit down to eat. Everyone gathers around the table for prayer. Other times to pray together include special Korean traditional days, church holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, memorial days, before and after school, and during family worship. Special prayer time is added if any member of the family is experiencing difficulty. Even when the family is not physically together, relationships are close and strong to bond together within God.

Family worship has a long history in the Korean Christian tradition. Parents strongly believe that worshipping together on a regular basis strengthens faith along with familial relationships. For many Koreans, family worship is held once a week and every member is usually present. The worship time usually consists of singing, Scripture reading, biblical instruction and prayer, ending with the Lord’s Prayer. Family worship also provides time for family members to enjoy each other’s company despite their busy lives in modern society.

Because the Korean church emphasis is on family bonds in upholding the faith, church curriculum resources are strategically aligned with various family programs. Such family programs include mission trips, where parents go with their children, family events on special occasions, and family daily devotional program.

One midnight, some months ago, my first daughter who is a senior in high school, woke me up.
“Mom, my stomach has been hurting all night. Now my body is shaking.”
“Do you have a fever? What did you eat today?”

Her sickness made my husband so worried. As parents with a hurting child, we prayed desperately to God. We went to the ER to check her out. All night we prayed and we trusted God to heal our daughter. All our family, including my daughter, came to know that the time spent praying together all night strengthened our family bond under God. My family came back home together with joy and gratitude.

Praying with my family in the ER reminded me of that night when I was young and awakened my mother because of a stomachache. The tradition of praying together as a family had come full circle from my mother, to myself, and now to my daughter.

Hye Jin Hwang has been serving as a minister and associate pastor in Christian education more than 20 years. She received her M.Div. and Th.M. (Christian Education) at Princeton Theological Seminary. Hye Jin has been a member of APCE since 2006 and currently serves as an associate pastor for education in Presbyterian Church of New Jersey.