Wednesday, August 08, 2007


The Old Lady's Lesson

I'm terrible at guessing ages, but I'd place this Korean woman ambling down a narrow street at about 60. At the end of this alley is my apartment, which I'm returning to from the nearby ATM.

I'm 6'3, so my legs cover territory quicker than the average person, especially here in Seoul. Even so, I can tell that this lady is walking rather slowly. Her purse is in one hand and a brown paper bag is in the other. I can't tell is these bags are weighing her down or not, but each of her steps covers no more than a few inches. I've been in this country as a missionary teacher for more than 18 months, but I still can't tell what she's muttering to herself as she takes each minute step.

Having long since passed her, I look back at her from the doorstep of my apartment building, wondering if I can help. However, I notice that she has stopped walking about halfway down the alley.

Must be her apartment, I think, and enter my apartment with a freshly-cleared conscience.

Inside, I gather the spare change I'm planning to use in the taxi on the way to the supermarket. Moments later, I'm back on the street, walking directly toward the same woman I passed only moments ago. Apparently that wasn't her apartment; she was just stopping to catch her breath. Now she's back, inching along the alleyway, still muttering in her native tongue.

The internal debate inside of me rages anew. Someone should help her, but does it have to be me? In my mind, I can justify my lack of action as I walk by: I wouldn't even know how to communicate with her.

But wait: I have heard Koreans ask each other, "Where are you going?" How do you say that again?

I turn around, and within seconds I've caught up to her.


It must be the right sentence, because she starts pointing at the pass that leads behind my apartment building. I extend my hands and she places her bags into them. Instantly, I know that the problem is contained entirely within her legs: the bags couldn't have weighed less if they'd been filled with grass.

Soon, we're walking side-by-side, and now she's muttering in my direction, though I have no idea what point she's trying to articulate. Then, she utters two words I do understand, first in Korean and then its English translation.

"Yesu," she says. "Jesus."

I find that her apartment is only a few feet away, so our walk is a short one and my help is minimal. However, there's a Seventh-day Adventist Language Institute only a few buildings away. This lady has probably lived here long enough to know that our school brings foreigners like me here to teach English, and also to witness.

And I can witness, both for my institute and my Savior, just by showing a little concern for others. This lady, whose name I'll probably never know, showed me that this kind of care translates into any language.

I should be thanking her.

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