ⓒ 2014 WATV
On April 16, something that should have never happened, happened. As the Sewol ferry sank, more than three hundred passengers died or went missing. People who lost their loved ones all of a sudden wailed. As many of the victims were high school students who were on their way for a school trip, their parents fell into extreme grief. Watching the news, all the Korean people felt rage and cried. The 1st volunteer service at Paengmok Port (April 21–25) and at Jindo-gun Gymnasium (April 30–May 9) to comfort those who lost their loved ones
So did the Church of God members, who work hard to save souls and put God’s love into practice in obedience to the will of God who loves lives and regards them as precious. On April 20, as soon as the Resurrection Day worship service was over, the members of Jeonnam Seobu Church Association of the Church of God around Jindo Island set up a free meal service camp at Paengmok Port, and started operating the camp from the next day. The camp was not big enough as more volunteers gathered. So on April 30, they moved the camp to in front of Jindo-gun Gymnasium where there was a temporary lodging for victims’ families.
The members who came for the volunteer service were mostly moms from the female adult group. Due to the concern that the victims’ families might feel more heartbroken if they saw students or young adults who were about the same age as their children, student members and young adult members could only send their sympathies without participating in the service. Like moms who cook early in the morning for their children, the volunteers left home early in the morning at 2 or 3 a.m. from the cities of Mokpo, Naju, Haenam, Muan, Hwasun, Yeonggwang, etc., and prepared breakfast. A female member from Mokpo who got up at 2 a.m. and prepared morning meals said, “All the moms who have kids have the same minds. How heartbroken they must be! I’m doing the volunteer work with a mother’s heart, hoping that the victims’ families will be comforted through the mother’s love.”
The male adult members, too, took a leave or closed their business temporarily, and came for the volunteer service, taking turns. A male adult member who works in the aquaculture and agricultural industries in Wando Island participated in the service and said, “The reason we can do this volunteer service and share broken hearts is that we have Mother’s love. No one can comfort parents who have lost their children, but I pray that the Heavenly Parents’ greatest love is delivered to them so that they can be back on their feet again.”
“Mom’s homemade meals” were prepared with fresh kimchi made the night before, and with soup and side dishes cooked early in the morning that day. Every meal had different menu, considering the conditions of the victims’ families and other volunteers. Mother’s love could be felt in their food: bulgogi, spicy chicken soup, soy sauce marinade beef, fried tofu, fried anchovies, roasted seaweed, and more. They also prepared nutritional porridge and herbal medicine made of ten restorative medicinal herbs for the victims’ families who were having a hard time eating.
The Church of God free meal service camp was visited by many people from early in the morning. They were hands-on workers who were working hard to resolve the incident, and the volunteers who gathered from all around the nation to help the victims with medical service, daily necessities, cleanup, laundry, etc. The reporters who were on standby, and the rescue workers who were too busy to eat, too, came and satisfied their hunger.
The volunteers who ate at the Church of God camp said, “While working, we easily feel hungry. The food here tastes so good.” Felix Lill, a German journalist, tasted many different Korean foods here and said, “I heard this food has been prepared for the victims’ families. All the food here seems to have good ingredients and good for health. It’s really delicious. I’m sure it took a long time to prepare all this.” He said that he was greatly moved by the Korean volunteers and added, “I believe that this kind of volunteer service helps cure the wounds of the hearts of those who are in great despair after losing their loved ones.”
The victims’ families sometimes visited the meal service camp as people around them helped them walk. It was not hard to recognize them even from behind because they looked haggard. The members silently served them with the food they had prepared wholeheartedly. No word could comfort them, but the members hoped that God’s love and grace would come upon the victims and their families.
They delivered porridge and herbal medicine to the victims’ families who were drained on the mattresses on the 1st floor of the gym. The members frequently checked if they needed anything, brought them wet towels, and cleaned restrooms and around where the victims’ families were staying. While delivering the food, they checked dusty spots and cleaned all those spots when the victims’ families were about to be done with the food.
Usually, the church members do volunteer services with joy. However, this time they could not have a smile on their faces, which made them have a hard time mentally. However, they said that they were very thankful to the victims’ families who said to them, “I couldn’t eat anything, but this one was easy to eat. I enjoyed it.” Some families came to eat in a less busy time and told the members what was in their minds and shared their sadness. While listening to their stories, the members shed tears together with them.
On May 9 when the number of missing people decreased to thirty from three hundred, the Church of God free meal service camp closed for the time being by the advice of the local government. Even after closing the camp which had been operated from early in the morning until late at night for fifteen days, the members made efforts to help the bereaved families and the remaining victims’ families and prayed for them.The 2nd volunteer service at Jindo-gun Gymnasium to give strength and hope to all (August 13–September 19)
When only heartbreaking news were heard that the search of the missing was prolonged and that the families and volunteers became extremely exhausted, on August 12, the Community Service Center of South Jeolla Province asked the Church of God if it could reopen its volunteer service. The officials of the Community Service Center made an urgent contact with the Church of God because they needed an organization that could prepare food for over a hundred volunteers as the Red Cross took down its camp.
With one mind, the Church of God members prepared things from that evening, and reopened the free meal service camp at the Jindo-gun Gymnasium from early next morning. The atmosphere was a lot different from the 1st volunteer service. The number of hand-on workers and volunteers from other groups had decreased evidently, and the Church of God camp was the only meal service camp. The many reporters were nowhere to be found. The families of the missing concerned that they might be forgotten like that. The families and the other volunteers lost appetite and strength little by little, getting more exhausted.
The Church of God members became one not only to help them regain their strength with warm meals, but also to give them hope and courage. They started their 2nd free meal service with a brighter face than the 1st service. Although they were physically tired as they had come early in the morning, they were still happy because there were people who waited for them from early in the morning and gained strength after eating the meal they had prepared.
The volunteers who came to eat at the Church of God camp expressed their gratitude, “We can feel that the food has been prepared wholeheartedly. It’s delicious. We’re also moved by the kindness of the Church of God volunteers. If it is not from their heart, this kind of service is impossible.” And the other volunteers who enjoyed every meal said, “As the food is delicious, we’re able to have more strength to work with joy.” A volunteer from Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province, said, “Each and every volunteer of the church are kind and bright. They are like angels. I easily feel depressed, so I think it will help me a lot in my life if I go to their church. When I go back home, I’ll go to the Church of God near my house.”
Until right before the church’s autumn feasts, the 2nd free meal service continued until September 19 which was the original time requested by the Community Service Center of South Jeolla Province. The members felt sorry to close their camp. On September 19, after providing breakfast, they held the closing ceremony. Over eighty people participated in the ceremony including Pastor Baek Eun-seon of the Church of God in Mokpo, representatives of the Jeonnam Seobu Church Association, Lee Ju- yeong the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries, Son yeong-ho the Vice- governor of Jindo County, Lee Seong-tae the Executive Secretary of Community Service Center of South Jeolla Province, and other volunteers.
Lee Ju-yeong, the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries, visited the Church of God camp and encouraged each and every volunteer despite his busy schedule, saying, “We gained great strength as you operated the meal service camp. As a person in charge of the Government-wide Emergency Headquarters, I really appreciate your service. I will remember you forever.”
Son Yeong-ho, the Vice-governor of Jindo County, participated in the closing ceremony and said, “I watched you prepare food and distribute it. You truly did it with all your heart. It seems that volunteer service is a part of your life. Sharing love for forty-four days, leaving behind your work, would’ve been hard if you didn’t have the same mind through the community called the Church of God. You did what Jindo County was supposed to do.”
Jang Gil-hwan, who was in charge of overall volunteer work for the victims’ families, delivered the greetings of the victims’ families. He said, “To prevent health problems and trauma caused by stress, the victims’ families and the volunteers needed a space where they could laugh. Then the Church of God came and gave great comfort. The victims’ families also felt it, and asked me to tell you how much they appreciated it. Many families said that they would never forget how you stayed with them in their time of difficulty, and that they were grateful for what you did for them.”
After the closing ceremony, they provided them with lunch, and by that, the Church of God free meal service which served about 15,000 plates for forty-four days ended. The members said, “We only shared the love we’ve received from God. However, as time passed, they gained strength and thanked us, and it also gave us strength,” “We were so happy to be able to serve them.” Saying goodbye to the people they spent time with like their own family members, the church volunteers earnestly prayed that there would be no more tragedy like this and that the victims and their families would be comforted in God’s love and gain a new life and hope.