by Dennis Ricci
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"Michael-shi, what is your best impression of Korea right now?"
Brett Michael was in the third month of his six month consulting engagement in Seoul. Park Sook-Joon, his closest collaborator among the clients he served, invited him to his home for dinner, a gesture he knew to be a high honor.
"For sure, I love the food, and the city has a high energy. And I'm very grateful for the kindness shown to me by all the people I've met, especially you Park-shi."
Park smiled, eyes closed, and bowed slightly toward Brett.
"But I think my most dramatic impression so far is what I saw the night I first arrived in Seoul from Kimpo Airport."
Park smiled. "You saw all the electronic signs. Like your Las Vegas."
"That is a great sight Park-shi, but that's not it. I'm talking about all the white neon crosses I saw on the hillsides and all over the city."
A stern look replaced his gentle smile. "Our hills and city are marked with many crosses, yes, but we live in very bad ways, how you say, like hell on the earth."
Brett was stunned by Park's bluntness. He had learned in his business culture training that Koreans generally don't talk about themselves and are especially uncomfortable discussing personal issues.
"What do you mean, Park-shi?" Brett asked, feeling a tugging at his heart.
"Every day we travel two hours into Seoul to work. Then we spend twelve hours in office, maybe more. Every night after work we go out for drink. Sometimes karaoke, two or three stages. We go home, sometime we see our wife and children, most time we do not. We go to sleep. Next day we do it all again. Saturday is longest night, four, five stages karaoke, sometimes women involved."
Park looked across the table at his wife. "I am shamed by this. There is, how you say, we are forced. Chaebol is big control over our life, like company family. I must work hard, so hard, every day. Then if I do not go with boss to after work drink I am not, how you say, accepted. He do not give his trust to me."
Brett had participated in an after-hours ritual similar to what Park described. Wanting to be respectful of his hosts, he took a drink of soju every time the man next to him offered his glass ...
His American consulting team was not expected to join the nightly ceremony, but his Korean collaborators on the project were.
"Park-shi, I don't know what ... I'm honored you would share your hurt with me." They remained silent about a minute. "May I ask you a question?"
"Yes Michael-shi." Park did not make eye contact.
"I know your wife does not understand English. Can you ask her if she would like to share her thoughts about what you have just shared?"
"Oh, no, Michael-shi, I cannot ask her to do that, it bring her much shame."
"Does she know about these after work times?"
"May I speak with you alone?"
Park nodded, and they both got up from the table, bowed to Park's wife, and walked over to his small study.
"Michael-shi, I must tell you something. You talked about the crosses you saw coming into Seoul." He paused. "I am Christian. That is why I have much shame. I know what I do Jesus do not like, but I am afraid to go against the bosses.
"Korean life much controlled in the past by Confucius teaching. Now Jesus teaching become bigger, much because of Yonggi Cho. My wife and I, we go to Yoido church in our town. Our pastor, he teach us about this problem many times. He talk about Daniel, how he not bow to the king ... about three boys thrown in the furnace because they not bow to the king ... how Jesus protect them. He tell us we can have same courage because Jesus give us same strength. But I do not do it.
"Michael-shi, I know you know Jesus. I see Him in you. That is why I talk to you about this. I am so hurting about all of this. I want to stop, but I am fearing lose my job if I do not continue to go ..."
Brett had never said a word to Park, or any of his other clients, about his faith.
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