The Words of the Shin Family
In 2006, the Korean Women's Federation for World Peace opened a branch for expatriates living in Korea, International Women in Korea (IWK). Its most enduring project is the monthly Coffee Morning, which welcomes guests to listen to and discuss topics of general interest and concern. The program creates a natural opportunity to develop personal relationships with people in society with whom we share similar ideals, and some guests have taken a deeper interest. We spoke with two of the women who make this happen.
Question: What is so exciting about this coffee morning?
Betsy Colford-Shin, IWK Event Organizer: An IWK Coffee Morning is a good thing to bring people to. I feel very comfortable telling people I meet about IWK. These are new contacts. Even if they don't come, I get their names and put them on our mailing list. They receive our monthly invitations and can read about our activities. It's nonthreatening and it's not a church event; we have Muslim and Catholic women who come, and non-religious people. Women feel good to be there. They are invited to the church service if they want to come, but they don't have to.
We do not hide the fact that we are Unificationists, of course. Right on the book table when you walk in is Father's book and a beautiful brochure that we have made with a picture of the founder and the founder's husband. We begin with the women's pledge' so people know who we are, but we don't push them. Some of our guests have come with us to church and had a good experience.
One of the ladies I invited went to the church service twice and heard Hyung-jin nim speak; she thought his sermon was great, she loved him, but she told me she would not wish to join our church. She was afraid for professional reasons -- which means she did actually consider joining. She just doesn't have the strength to stand up and join, and maybe receive criticism later.
Question: So it's a way to connect with people in local society?
Robin Debacker, President of IWK: Friendships with people outside our church community are very important if we want to grow. In that respect, IWK has an important function. We are serving and making friends with many women, as well as with each other. We feel free to visit each other's houses, go shopping together or get a massage, call each other up for advice or just a chat, and that's building community.
We've also realized how important networking is. If we really want to promote True Parents or the church, we need to be part of something going on outside its bounds. People want to share their story, not just listen. It's a natural kind of witnessing.
IWK is getting more involved in community activities every year, especially in our own church. We have sponsored and organized Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas parties, American Independence Day cookouts and farewell parties to bring members and guests together to eat, dance and celebrate being alive. Last year we hosted two seminars running weekly over six Saturdays, one on how women can have more successful marriages, and one on principles of love and peace. We also initiated an eight-week Bible study that brought many members as well as guests to the church, some of whom stayed for the service afterward. They felt inspired by the chance to share and be heard, as well as by the excellent content.
Question: Are there special ingredients?
Robin: We have found a format that works, so well stick to it. We limit our speakers to thirty minutes, and break into small groups to discuss our responses over lunch. Everybody likes it, and sometimes it's hard to bring a meeting to a close because everyone wants to keep on talking. At the end, one person from each table reports what their group discussed. Every meeting concludes with dancing, and we all love that part too!
Question: Do you keep in touch with those who participate?
Robin: We almost always have new guests, and follow-up is a critical area. The fact that we have a regular program makes it a lot easier to keep track of people. They sign in when they come for the first time, and immediately become part of our mailing list, so they always know what we are doing. They usually receive a text message the day after an event thanking them for coming, and a reminder the day before, so they feel personally connected.
Once I got a phone call from the Ghanaian embassy. A woman who had been coming to the Coffee Morning had returned to her country and passed her telephone on to her successor, a man, who called to find out what it was he was being invited to!
Question: What was behind the inception of IWK?
Robin: We owe our beginnings to Alexa Ward, former president of WFWP in America. She visited Korea in June 2006. On the inspiration we received from her, we immediately formed a group of international members.
Alexa told us not to do any project the first year, but to focus instead on making relationships with each other. It wasn't until 2008 that we held our first public event, which included the WFWP Bridge of Peace Ceremony. That was after almost two years of meeting with each other regularly and becoming friends. The program was called East Meets West: Women Bridging and Healing the Cultural Divide, and it was supported by a grant from the Seoul government. Approximately sixty Korean women attended, and sixty women from a wide range of other countries. It was an expensive event in both time and money, none of which we wanted to go to waste -- hence, the birth of the monthly Coffee Mornings to meet with our "bridge sisters."
Betsy: Hyung-jin nim did twenty-one thousand bows for the sake of witnessing. Then he said we have to find every one of those members. That's what I feel. Each lady we bring might be one of those people who are prepared, and because of him, we can bring them to join. I am not very shy. (Well, I used to be). Lately, I have surprised myself. While I am waiting for buses, I just go up to people and start talking to them.
Robin: We have a good program and a good foundation. Now we just have to take it to the next level. 2011 is a new beginning, and we are hoping to see great results.