Last summer, a group of students from River West Church in Oregon visited the Ilsan Center in Korea. And the impact went both ways.
The River West Church high school group had never traveled this far before. Over 5,000 miles separate Lake Oswego, Oregon from Seoul, South Korea — the group’s destination for their June 2018 mission trip. They visited the Ilsan Center – a residential care facility built in 1961 by Harry and Bertha Holt that specializes in caring for children and adults with special needs. Today, the Ilsan Center serves about 300 residents who range from toddlers to adults. The center’s original purpose was to care for disabled and homeless children after the Korean War and has since grown to the world-class facility it is today.
Throughout the week, the River West teens planned to interact with residents and volunteer with numerous work projects around the facility. This was an opportunity for the high school students to form new relationships and bond with the volunteers and residents at Ilsan.
But the long journey and Ilsan itself wasn’t unfamiliar to everyone in the group. Garin Griffith, a senior, and Bridget McMurray, a sophomore, had both made the trip to the Ilsan Center once before — and they were so excited to return.
Mr. Lee, a former Ilsan resident and current head landscape caretaker, made a lasting impact on the River West group. Both Bridget and Garin said Mr. Lee is one of the most inspiring people they met, and that how beautiful and welcoming the center is because of his hard work. Garin and Mr. Lee bonded over appreciation for hard work, which helped form their “mutual respect and love for each other,” Garin said.
At Ilsan, Garin and his group assisted Mr. Lee by raking leaves and pruning trees. During one of their volunteer sessions, Mr. Lee took Garin aside to show him his workshop, which housed a massive leaf blower. The two rejoined the group, with Garin wearing a face mask and controlling the leaf blower. The other volunteers and Mr. Lee cheered him on as he cleaned the streets. Through a series of little moments like these, Garin and Bridget felt like they served and connected with the people at the Ilsan Center in a powerful way.
“Even though there was a language barrier,” Garin said, “God’s love could be communicated.”
Over the course of her two trips, Bridget felt she was truly able to get a glimpse into the residents’ daily lives. She even had the opportunity to be a part of a special group outing to the local shopping center. There, she saw the residents’ joy as they purchased food and toys. They exuded a positivity and excitement that resounded with her greatly.
“They were so full of joy,” Bridget said, “and it was a joy you could not capture. They had more joy than most people.”
Both Bridget and Garin had personal connections to Korea prior to their church’s mission trip. Bridget is one-quarter Korean, while Garin has practiced taekwondo – a Korean martial art – his entire life. These aspects of their lives helped them better understand the value of respect in Korean culture, which was further reiterated during their time at the Ilsan Center.
“It was cool to see how much respect is key,” Garin said. “Even for us random Americans coming to their facility, they showed us so much respect.”
Reflecting on the center’s impact, Bridget sees Holt’s work as a positive example of orphan care and caring for people with special needs.
“Holt takes them under their wing,” she said.
“The atmosphere is one of care and love,” he said.
Through Holt volunteer opportunities – like serving at the Ilsan Center – Holt supporters can experience a new country and culture while also serving a community of people they wouldn’t have met otherwise.
“For anyone who is maybe on the fence about going to Holt to help out,” Bridget said, “don’t think about it for another second. Buy that plane ticket.”
Hayley Demanett | Family Recruitment Intern