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Gospel choir gives expat Christians a taste of home

It happens every first Sunday. A line snakes inside the lobby and spills outside the doors of the Doongsoong Presybeterian Church in Hyewah, Seoul.

Expats and natives congregate for a curious cultural exchange as the Heritage Mass Choir prepares to spread the gospel with a foot-stomping, hands-waving-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care side-to-side swagger.

Worship leader Kim Hyo-sik is the hype man who gets the packed house on its feet, where the audience stands for most of the service. If it were a rap concert, Kim would be the MC. In this ensemble, he’s the Kirk Franklin, except he sings ― and he’s Korean.

Heritage has been lifting the spirits for many expats who miss familiar sounds of soul-stirring religion. The R&B-infused, hip-hop flavored gospel choir pays homage to many of the popular African-American singers of today and years past. They can be heard singing, in Korean, all over Youtube.
The Heritage Mass Choir
The Heritage Mass Choir

Marc Hogi remembers his first Christmas in Korea. “I was so lonely,” said the university instructor. But Hogi attended a holiday service with Heritage when they performed a Kirk Franklin classic.

“They begin to sing Silver and Gold,” said the New York City native. “And I was in tears. It made me feel like I was back home.”

Lori Kashack, of Pennsylvania, attended a monthly service with her daughter who lives in Seoul. 

“It was an answer to my prayers,” said Kashack, who was disappointed to hear that her daughter was no longer a Christian.

“During the service, I peeked sideways at my daughter and she was singing too,” said Kashack. “I hoped that she was feeling a stirring in her soul that was there when she was a little girl and she was being reminded once again of her faith.”

Heritage started about seven years ago with just a handful of singers. Now the mass choir is more than 80 members strong. Now they have the Heritage Ministry that does community service throughout Seoul. They also opened a choir school where they learn about black gospel techniques and the history of gospel music and Bible study.

“They don’t just get up there and perform,” says Nikia Brown, a university student in Suwon. “You can tell that they are really worshipping. I appreciate that.”

When visitors come to hear singing, they also hear a sermon. This month, the Rev. Suh Jung-oh shared a testimony that he had been fighting with his wife.

“I felt like such a hypocrite when it came time to pray,” said the senior pastor at Doongsoong.

“You should worship even when you don’t feel like it,” he explained to the audience. “God is always worthy of praise.”

The choir believes that their talent and their ministry is a gift from God, Kim said. “Our roots are in worship. That’s the reason why we sing.”

They’ve broken the stereotype, says Bishop Nelson K. Williams, senior pastor at Unity Christian Fellowship International in Virginia. Williams helped mold the choir in their early stages of development when he was stationed in the military in Korea. “I believe they are a great inspiration.”

Kaschak said she never would’ve imagined she’d travel around the world, and hear the same songs she heard at her church in Pennsylvania. “To hear that song being sung in Korean and English made me cry. This is really what’s all about. We are all one people, with one purpose, serving one God everywhere.”

By Sonya Beard

The writer is an English teacher. She can be reached at sonyabeardmail@gmail.com ― Ed.
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