The Words of the Schanker Family

Jin Joo Ellen Byrne's Seung Hwa Ceremony

Phillip Schanker
September 6, 2002

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Before writing this testimony, I visited the website to look at the pictures of Jin Joo Byrne's Seung Hwa Ceremony. I do recommend that you take a look, if you haven't already. You will see one of Jin Joo's poems, written in her own hand, which we read during the ceremony. Like so much of what was shared from or about Jin Joo during the Seung Hwa, it radiated her bright heart and hope for the future. In this sense, it was painful to hear, and yet it was so appropriate to this moment of her transition to the limitless world of spirit, even as we laid her body to rest: " with the earth, one with the sun, one with the stars." Some of the messages and prayers shared that day are on the website as well.

Some of the photos may surprise or puzzle you. Laughter, tears, longing and loss, victory and hope... these and other emotions were felt and expressed. One participant who attended questioned the emphasis upon a joyful heart, considering the tragedy of a young and pure life cut short, and the need for each of us to grieve according to our heart's schedule. I myself was surprised as I prepared early that morning to lead the ceremony at the way God's spirit filled me with the certainty of Jin Joo's transition to peace and glory. I spent much of the ceremony gazing from the pulpit into Martin and Isabela Byrne's eyes as they sat in the first pew, watching the comfort, assurance and strength flow into them ever so strongly. There was no forced or artificial effort to be joyful. Why was this upliftment so powerful? Was it the reality of who Jin Joo is... Blessed, without condition to be dragged down, anointed by True Parents, lifted up and sent on a national foundation (please read Dr. Yang's heartfelt benediction)? Was it the confidence that True Parents' blessing was indeed a banner to proclaim her rightful place and a searchlight to guide her through the darkness?

If we felt these things, it was not in a shallow way, and it was not without having walked through the valley of the shadow of death. Centering on Martin and Isabela (and Jin Joo as well, since her feelings, regrets and apologies were felt by her parents even as they apologized to her), Jin Joo's team, all of STF, our second generation and indeed our movement has experienced the shock, loss, and heartache of these recent days. As soon as our worst fears were confirmed, I flew down to Charlotte, and from the crime scene to the police interviews, from the grief counselors to the memorial services, I witnessed the utter disbelief, the pain, the doubt, the guilt, and the regret felt by virtually everyone at one point or another.

But God was so powerfully in the middle of it all. A favorite Amy Grant tune of mine asks: "Ask me how I know there's a God up in the Heavens... where did He go in the middle of her pain?" Later, it answers: "He's in the middle of her pain." This journey brought us unexpectedly quickly to a height of confidence, comfort and offering which truly came from beyond our capacity. Plus, we truly felt a responsibility to lift her up and free her from any encumbrances in our hearts, with the dignity she deserved and the joy that permeated her time on earth. I expect that Martin, Isabela and many of us may have other levels of emotion to work through in the process of lifting this offering to God. But I believe we all tried to invest our whole hearts in accomplishing a "Seung Hwa," or "harmonious ascension," for Jin Joo.

After an all-night vigil from 8:00 PM to 8:00 AM at the HQ church on Columbia Rd. in Washington, Jin Joo's body arrived, and the family gathered in front of the altar with Dr. Yang and close friends for a special ceremony, with questions and answers designed to release and liberate Jin Joo emotionally & spiritually. The HQ church, which seats nearly 500, reached standing room only. After we sang The Song of the Garden, CARP President Joshua Cotter offered the invocation. The written biography in the program was there for all to read. But Jin Joo's friend Yoshiko read about who she was and is, as we watched photos of her as a baby in her parents' arms, fishing in Kodiak, dancing as a ballerina, hanging with friends, etc. Then Karilee Rogers, another of Jin Joo's best friends, read the poem you'll find on, which Jin Joo wrote in April, 2001. I deeply appreciated Rev. Jenkins' Seung Hwa address, which cut through the questions of why, acknowledging a tragedy that should never have happened, but testifying how God took the crucifixion of His son, which should never have happened, and built upon it to attain victory and claim many souls back from death. He considered the rage and pain in God's heart as the sky darkened and the earth shook, and described True Parents' heart in turning Heung Jin Nim's tragic death into an offering.

Family and friends offered flowers, incense and prayers as they said fare-well. The ceremony paused for a few moments, as those who knew Jin Joo best embraced her parents and one another. How moving to see the heart and courage of the Byrnes as they embraced Jin Joo's weeping friends one-by-one. Isabela wiped their tears, smoothed their hair, comforted them. World CARP VP Jin Man Kwak shared the message, heart and encouragement of Father, Mother and Hyun Jin Nim. Fred Park from Seattle and Mi-ae Schanker from Jin Joo's STF team shared testimonies about this sweet girl's impact upon their lives. It was only here that I would have wished to hear more of what we heard the previous Sunday during a memorial service with STF- stories of Jin Joo skiing down a slushy Kodiak street, or eating her favorite Hawaiian pizza on an overnight with friends, then staying up to comfort someone who couldn't keep her pizza down- stories that had us shedding tears of laughter at the innocent, unpretentious beauty of this caring and fun-loving young woman. The short video that followed gave us taste of this. It was snippets of Jin Joo, preaching with PLA, doing a skit with her teammates, expressing the warmth and joy that is really her... that transcended her body.

We stood and sang "Shining Fatherland" several times through, and our spirits truly lifted. Dr. Yang, who had so deeply guided us all from the beginning, and who was so sensitive both to the painful hearts of the members and the profound meaning of this National Level Seung Hwa, offered a beautiful benediction and report to Heaven. We then filtered out to our cars and vans, and most joined in a huge procession across town to the Won Jeun, which I'll share about next. Subsequent Email will explain what happened, why & how, as well as what actions are being taken in response to this tragedy, and whether or not it is enough.

Love & prayer,

Phillip D. Schanker

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