By Young Lee Hertig
My recent visit to Korea alarmed me about how fast Korean society has changed into one of the most wired countries in the world. Steve Jobs changed human behavior forever! Digital streaming is readily available even in the subways. People’s eyes were glued to their iPhone screens, their ears plugged with headphones. Hence, even a public space like the subway is highly individualized with no human interaction in a country that was once all about community. Undoubtedly, it offers convenience and efficiencies beyond what the U.S. offers at the moment. Riding the clean and air-conditioned subway everywhere was convenient, although the riders looked robotic to me.
Another area that stood out to me was the paradox of an aging population with an increasing average lifespan, but the retirement age remaining at 55. Every day, the news media reported the increasing number of the elderly living alone in poverty without a social safety net. For a country supposedly connected through technology, many people seem to suffer from intense loneliness. For example, many empty-nested middle-aged women feel lost after devoting their lives to their children’s immensely competitive education. More than 80% of high school graduates go to college in Korea, yet 40% of jobless women are college graduates according to March 2010’s stats. 
In one of my guest lectures at a local women’s university, I asked the students what nagging questions they struggle with. One bright woman raised her hand and asked, “I want to get married but don’t want to have children because they will interfere with my success.” No wonder Korea has the highest infertility rate in the world! Consequently, the rate of its aging population is increasing more than its rate of newborn babies. As a result, the government covers expenses for up to two children to encourage wives to reproduce. Furthermore, because men in rural Korea cannot find Korean spouses, they go on a popular “marriage tour” to the former Soviet blocks and Southeast Asia without proper intercultural preparation. A country once known for being monolingual and monocultural is changing and confronting intercultural conflicts in family life.
Whereas the society has radically changed, the Protestant churches in general remain a-contextual. The sermons are more church-centered as if the church is equivalent to God’s Kingdom. The 24/7 Christian TV channels spew the message, “If you serve the church, you will be blessed.”
Building upon the foundation set by the Bible women who served as cultural brokers for the western missionaries at the turn of the century, the Korean churches have abandoned the tradition of hiring female Jeondoa (unordained women staff) who buffered male dominance within the church. Sadly, the elderly women are in need of the church’s care, their lives isolated without visitations from the churches that they served so faithfully. The visits of young male pastors do not suffice, as they come across more like their sons. Meanwhile, church women during the weekdays go out to the subway stations and hand out evangelistic tracts to recruit more people to their churches. Of course, there are churches that offer weekday programs for the elderly. In fact, a pastor expressed that they now need to change their once-prominent vacation bible school for children to an elderly summer bible school.
In consideration of the increasing senior population in a country that lacks social welfare programs, more churches need to care for their elderly as the early churches did. They need to resurrect the tradition of female jeondosa and their role of visitation of church members. To my surprise, several women senior pastors exist in Korea with more than 2,000 members in their churches! Their messages and style, however, seem no different than their male counterparts.
So how does the situation in Korea relate to the Asian American women here in the U.S.? In today’s globally interwoven world, we no longer live as islands. Los Angeles is viewed as one of the municipals of Seoul. Besides, the interchange of Christianity between the U.S. and Korea is threefold—the U.S exported church growth to the Korean church, and the Korean mega church culture is exported back to the Korean immigrant church in the U.S. The threefold traffic of Protestant Christianity warrants theological reflection in light of increasing socioeconomic inequality and imbalance.
 Cho Chung-Un, “40% of Jobless Women in Korea have college degrees,” The Korea Herald Asia/News Network, Saturday March 20, 2010.
Rev. Dr. Young Lee Hertig is executive director and a founding member of ISAAC (Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity) and AAWOL (Asian American Women On Leadership). She teaches in the Global Studies and Sociology Department at Azusa Pacific University and is an ordained Presbyterian clergy as well as a commissioner of the Presbyterian Church USA to the National Council of Churches Faith and Order.