Just to explain: the exact time frame and specifics of what happened are, of course, filtered through emotions and the fuzzy memories of 35 years ago, but this is my account to the best of my memory. There are plenty of other details that I bet could add much more perspective and flair and comedy to this story if all of us girls could get together and remind each other of what happened and how each experienced the same events through their own eyes. I'm so pleased to know that my old (not so old) pal Barbara who was with me on the trip has been reading these posts and enjoying them, so Barb, or Beth or Rachel or any others of you who might be reading this, if you have any new insight to add, please do so!! Also one correction, this happened in May of 1978, not 77 for those of you who might care...:)
So now the morning of our last day dawns and we are ready to head home. But not quite yet... The local police chief wants to meet and greet us in his office in town. We are to be escorted off the temple grounds and taken to see him, and we have no idea why. We cook our very last breakfast over the campfire of blueberry pancakes from an American mix that someone was able to buy at the US Army post exchange back in Seoul - a real treat!
By this time we had all become good friends, not just friends because we went to the same school, or friends because we'd known each other for so long. We had a bond that came from sharing something unique and difficult that forced us to pull together and work as a team. Among us were really popular girls, jocks, cheerleaders, brainy girls and just regular ones that didn't seem to fit in anywhere, but now we all belonged to an elite group. We were the girls that had just gone through the most absurdly weird, trying, hilariously funny and yet sweetly insightful camping trip ever, and came out friends.
So as we left the beautiful mountainside that we had called home for a week, and walked into the police station to meet the most honorable police chief, we were laughing and as relaxed as ever. Much like our afternoon with the head monk of the monastery, we were smashed into his office and sat on sofas lining the wall. Glasses of coke were brought out for us and we sat around waiting to see why he had asked us to come. I had thought he wanted to question us more about the robbery, but instead we discovered that we were to be a part of some PR stunt. Newspaper photographers were there and we were lined up to snap pictures with the smiling police chief and his officers and we guessed we'd show up in the papers the next day. They took a few different angles of Coach Gustafson shaking hands with the police and all of us grinning to the camera, and who knows what they reported about us later? I've wondered if I ever came across that police station if I'd find my 16 year old smiling face hanging on a wall somewhere... who knows?
Time to go yet? Nope. We were now to be the honored guests of the honorable police chief at a local Korean barbecue restaurant that served the country's famous beef pulkogi, grilled at the table over hot coals and eaten with white rice and spicy kimchi and plenty of other spiced and flavored vegetables. To feed a huge bunch like us must have cost the police department an arm and a leg, but they insisted, and we didn't complain! To be honest, the beef was a bit tough, and we had all eaten better, but compared to food out of a can for five days, this was great! The police officers who were chosen to join us were happy to indulge their appetites, and we munched away until we couldn't eat any more.
With many thank you's and much bowing and handshaking, the very dirty and tired bunch of us boarded our train to head back north to the capitol city of Seoul. One distinct memory I have is going to the back of the train with Barb. There was no caboose, just the very last train car that opened up to the tracks that were rapidly flying by. Obviously this would never be allowed on an American train these days with all our stringent safety regulations, but that was rough and tumble Korea, still recuperating from a war just 25 years before, and under the oppression of a dictatorship. People were poor, humble, trusting, and abundantly friendly - and safety was not much of an issue, just like indoor plumbing and sanitation was low on the country's priorities. We took turns sitting at the back opening and letting our legs dangle over the speeding train tracks, leaning against the rail and watching the countryside whiz by at 80 miles an hour.
What had God shown me in this extraordinary trip?
- That no matter how ashamed you are of your failures, just persevering and pushing through is an act of faith that God can use to turn failure into a blessing. By the end of the camping trip, I even got praises for my little orange tent as others began to complain about theirs. Who woulda thunk it?
- That I had become comfortable with living among those who didn't know my Lord and Savior - too comfortable. I needed to see these people who had become ordinary and mundane, through the eyes of someone else (Coach Gustafson) who felt sorrow for the spiritually lost so that I could question how real my faith was, and how much I cared about the lost myself.
- That God's creation reveals who He is - that His hills and mountains and the beauty of His starry skies overhead are all a way for Him to call out to us to tell us how deeply He loves us and wants to be an intimate part of our lives. The day that we finally climbed all the way to the top of our Narnia mountain was an experience so deep that I felt the presence of God speaking to me through His creation. As the Swiss love to yodel, the Koreans loved shouting, "Yah-ho!" to mountain climbers. (Not yahoo, yah-ho!) And as they shouted, smiled and waved, and as we shouted back, it was as if we were all proclaiming, "Isn't God amazing? Look at His beautiful handiwork!"
- That in times of danger and fear, God comes through even when we are weak - God also may choose the most unlikeliest of people to answer us when we are in need (e.g.. num-chuck monks!)
- That if anyone tries to tell me about the superiority of eastern religions, Buddhism in particular, I know by experience, that those who were deeply committed to that path were also quite ready to leave that path to enjoy laughter, singing and American top 20 music. That their leader had no real answers when asked about what he believed or why anyone should want to follow their path. He seemed a bit unsure himself. What we had - though we were not necessarily the greatest testimonies of our own faith - was still something sweet and attractive to them, something that they wanted to be a part of. (It had to be spiritual in nature because God knows we sure didn't smell very sweet or look all that attractive after days without bathing!)
- That boldness, strength, assurance and faith are built through pushing through tough times, not by just praying for these qualities to appear. That God honors those who try, who stick with it, and who seek to find Him at work in every situation.
So late at night, we disembark at Seoul Train Station and go our separate ways, to see each other again in school on Monday. I have the furthest to go, gotta take a taxi to another bus station and then another hour and a half ride north to my house in Tong-du-cheon. I finally stumble into the doorway with my ragged clothes and backpack. My mom smiles and says, "Oh, you're home! Did you have a nice time?" and then proceeds to walk out of the room to attend to some other business. I follow her and try to tell her everything that happened but she's in that zone of nodding her head and saying, "Uh huh, that's nice..." and I know she isn't hearing a thing.
"Mom!" I followed her into another room, "Weren't you even worried about me?"
"No, I know you can take good care of yourself, and I was praying for you anyway. Tell me all about it later, I've got things to do..." And off she went again.
Oh well, God knew exactly what had happened, and He knew that this would somehow form who I would become today. That was the final lesson of that trip - that if nobody else knows or cares what God is doing inside of you, He knows and He'll use it to impact your world if you let Him.
Finally, I've told the whole story - now to get my mom to hear it 35 years later!