February 18, 2018 – Travelling Light

Text:  Genesis 12: 1-10

I vividly remember the day I took a flight in South Korea to come to Canada. I remember saying good bye to Peace who was 7 month old, which was hard. We had a plan. I was going to start studying English in downtown Vancouver, find a place to live, and a couple of months later we would be reunited in a new home. My brother took me to the airport to see me off. Standing beside him, were my mother and my nephew. It was not so much a bitter farewell as a hopeful new adventure. I didn’t embark on the journey with nothing. I accepted a call, a new ministry with youth at a Korean Immigrant church in Vancouver. Although it was a part time job – 14 hours a week, it could secure the most basic necessities – housing and food. I shouted as I was leaving my family behind for the security check at the airport. I said “I will be back after becoming successful” without any idea what I meant. I travelled light carrying just one suitcase and one backpack.

That’s all I had to make a fresh start. I never sent my belonging from my home country to Canada. All of my possessions in Korea are still in two plastic containers in my parents-in-law’s house. I never owned a house or bought furniture until I moved to Winnipeg. My family and I have moved a lot both in Korea and in Canada. Our unstable status led us to travel light. Freely we have received and freely we have given. We have met numerous people along the way who taught us hospitality and generosity. It is amazing to see how much stuff we have now in our two bedroom house. Will that make it difficult to travel light again if we have to? It’s not what we leave behind, but what is attached to the things we leave behind that makes us travel heavy. I am talking about emotional bags.

I have had two big emotional bags which made my journey heavy. Both bags came to me unexpectedly. Less than a year and a half after my arrival in Canada, my brother was diagnosed with brain tumor, and within a month he died. It was a tragedy for everyone who knew him, and especially for our parents and the rest of his young family. Missing him day after day was one thing, and dealing with his permanent absence daily was another. I knew how much the family in Korean would need me, but I knew as well that my life was in Canada. Returning to my family in Canada, I felt a heavy burden on my shoulder that I knew I had to carry with me: a sense of guilt that I was never going to be around in times of need for the family in Korea. 10 years passed since his passing. I am not sure if the emotional bag that I have been carrying has ever been lighter or if I have ever been stronger. It feels like a chronic disease, something no one can fix, but I have learned to live with it, accepting the pain as part of who I am today.

Another emotional bag that I experienced was when I knew that my family and I were going to move to Winnipeg. For about four months I had to deal with a sense of uncertainty. On the one hand, I was committed to follow Ha Na, who accepted a call in Winnipeg. On the other hand, I could not embrace the change. I was tired of moving and dealing with any change. Deep inside, I was grieving a loss: a loss of the mountains, the ocean, fresh seafood, and most of all, the friends that I had made. Turns out, I have discovered a new treasure after moving here that I have not been able to find otherwise: a beauty and a comfort that only the prairie can offer, and all the friendly people here whose warm hearts can keep mine warm. Some emotional bags, I have found, can feel lighter as time goes by.

When I think about the journey of Abraham and Sarah, I think about their emotional bags that they have to carry with them. The Bible doesn’t talk about their emotional bags, only their physical baggage. They take all the possessions that they have gathered, and all the persons whom they have acquired including all the animals. Obviously they do not travel light. I suspect that their emotional bags are even heavier.

This family knows trouble and hardship just like any other families do. Abraham had a brother who died before their father, Terah. Terah took his son Abraham and his grandson Lot, who lost his father, and his daughter-in-law Sarah on a journey of migration. They settled in Haran, which is near the modern-day border between Syria and Turkey. After Terah died, Abraham and Sarah embarked on a new journey responding to God’s call. God said, “Go from your country and your kindred to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and all the families of the earth through you.” So Abraham and Sarah went as God had told them, and they also took Lot, Abraham’s nephew with them. I am glad that they did it. The loss of his brother brought Abraham, Sarah and Lot together, which might have lightened their emotional bag.

They have another emotional bag that they have to carry with them. They are a childless couple. They are torn apart between waiting for God’s promise, and the unchanged situation and the delayed promise. Ten years passed since they were given the promise. They are tired of waiting. So they decide to do what’s customary at that time in the ancient Near East, to take the servant, Hagar as a surrogate mother, only to be told again that they have to wait even longer. Finally, Sarah gives birth to Isaac. It takes 25 years for the promise to be fulfilled. Those of us, who have experienced heavy emotional bags, can only imagine what they have been through with uncertainty and disappointment day after day and moment by moment.

I remember watching a video about a news reporter showing what refugees carrying in their bags as they were leaving everything behind. When refugees flee their war-torn country, they can bring only a small selection of belonging with them. It’s devastating to see what must have been essential for them to carry with them. We can only imagine the life-threatening situations they had to escape, and the dangerous risk-taking journey they had to take. They must travel light, and it’s not by their choice. Sadly the news reporter couldn’t show their heavy emotional bags. But they can be seen by those of us who have experienced. And they can be lightened by those who are willing to carry together.

The good news is that no one is alone carrying emotional bags no matter how heavy they are. No one has to carry the bags all by themselves. We journey together lifting each other’s bags. That’s how we can travel light together.