LATE AND WET ARRIVAL TO CHURCH
Korea was a nation of people who were mostly Buddhists. They bowed down to statues of Buddha and worshiped them. They prayed to their ancestors. They were very superstitious and always afraid of evil spirits bringing them illness and bad luck. They did have very strong family values and bonds with reverence and respect for their elders. These ideas came from the strong influences of the teachings of Confucius.
As a young boy, one night I peered over our wall to see who was chanting and pleading in the alley behind our house. It was a full moon out and a Korean woman was bowing to the moon and praying to it out loud.
To this backdrop of paganism, fear and superstition, my father arrived with the family to preach the gospel of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The people were thirsty for the good news, and through the work of the many Christian missionaries that came to Korea, this nation went on to become the most Christianized country in the Orient. Korea now sends missionaries all over the world.
As part of his mission work, my father taught in Christian colleges, Christian Theological Seminaries, built and helped stock libraries for these schools, taught and preached at leper colonies, distributed food to orphanages and old folks homes, among many other things. He was often invited to preach in small, struggling, fledgling churches way out in the country side. Often these churches were hours away and sometimes close to inaccessible. My brothers, my sister, and I often went along on these trips and helped pass out Christian tracts, Bibles, and other reading material.
On one particular trip to a far off country church, my brother Sterling and I got up with Dad at about 4:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning to start out on our journey so that we could get there in time for Dad to preach. I was about nine years old at the time. It was rainy season in Korea and it had been raining already for many days.
Our Land Rover made it out of Pusan City onto a narrow mountain road. The gravel road with numerous pot holes had no railings and there were quite a few partially washed out areas. One driving mistake or a land slide out from under us and we would have fallen hundreds of feet to our death. There was enough room for one vehicle so when we came upon a bus coming the other direction, we had to stop. My father got out in the rain and in the headlights of both vehicles, I could see my father having a heated discussion with the bus driver as to who was going to back up. My father evidently convinced him that the last place that we could have squeezed past each other on the road was much farther back on our side than theirs. So the bus backed up in the dark in the rain and we followed until we came to a place that was barely wide enough for us to get past each other.
When we finally made it down into the valley, we came upon a greatly swollen river much like the one in the picture below. There was no bridge, and during the rest of the year, you could drive through the shallow water and make it to the other side with no problem.
But, now there was no choice but to gun the engine, and plow through the water hoping the four wheel drive would get us through to the road on the other side. It had worked before.
Well, the engine got flooded half way across and we were stuck in the middle with the water in the car all the way up to our waists.
Dad put the car into first gear and turned the starter key so that when the battery turned the engine over, it would move us a little ways forward. He did this quite a few times and we did make some headway so that we were about two thirds of the way across when the battery finally gave out.
Sterling and I got out of the car and, with water up to our chests, tried to push the vehicle while Dad pushed and steered from the driver's side of the car. Well, with too little man power and rushing water upsetting our footing and pounding the side of our vehicle we did not make any headway.
So, Dad told Sterling and me to wade (and that is using the word very loosely) across to the far side and find a farmer that could bring a cow and a rope to tow us out. In the dark, fighting the current, we made it to the other side without being washed away. We had to walk up the road about a quarter of a mile or more in the near total darkness because of the clouds and rain until we found a farmer's house.
We knocked and knocked until the farmer woke up and came to the door. He was not happy to be woken up at 5:00 in the morning, but his dour glare turned immediately into bewildered astonishment at the sight of two little American boys at his doorstep. We spoke good Korean and explained the situation to him. He graciously got his cow and some rope made out of straw and followed us back to the river.
With the help of the farmer and a strong cow that was used to pulling a plow, we made it to the other shore.
We pushed the car and Dad popped it into first gear, jump starting the car.
We thanked the farmer and headed on our way.
When we finally made it to the country church, soaking wet and two hours late, the whole congregation was still there waiting for us, singing and praying.
A RUDE AWAKENING
My father, Reverend Theodore Hard, had a deep commitment to bring the Word of God to the disenfranchised leper population in Korea. Those with leprosy lived in villages way up in the mountain sides away from the rest of the population. Any contact with them was greatly feared, so, they were shunned by society and sequestered away in their own communities to fend for themselves with little to no help from the government.
The lepers were a sad lot and most were dirt poor farmers, eking out a living in the mountainous, rocky soil. The disease severely disfigured them. The cartilage broke down which was most noticeable in the face where the nose caved in. Wounds and infections did not heal. Many had oozing sores and fingers worn down to a nub from the tissue not regenerating.
Many of their children lived with them, and many of the children eventually ended up with leprosy. Some children of lepers were kept in orphanages away from the parents.
My father helped establish churches in the leper colonies. He eventually helped in the development of a Christian seminary for lepers so that the churches would have trained, ordained ministers to shepherd their flocks.
My older brother Sterling and I accompanied my father on many occasions to these far away leper villages when he went to preach at a Sunday service. I helped my father with the visual effects when he conducted Sunday school before the service. I sometimes did several magic tricks that my father would tie in with some kind of Biblical lesson for the kids.
As depicted in the following photograph, people sat on the floor with the women on one side and the men on the other side.
On one particular trip, we arrived on Saturday night and my father stayed overnight at the pastor’s house. The Korean country houses were small and had one room in which the whole family slept on the floor. There was no room for Sterling and me, so we slept in sleeping bags on the floor of the church that night.
I remember a similar trip in the past when we all did stay at the preacher's house overnight. That trip was memorable in that in the middle of the night, the preacher’s wife woke up screaming. She had been bitten on the head by a poisonous centipede. Her head swelled up immediately and she was in horrible pain but there was nothing that could be done for her. There were no phones, no ambulances, no 911 system, and limited medical resources in the remote village.
Anyway, back to my story. Having arrived Saturday night and having gone to sleep in the church, we awoke suddenly early Sunday morning to the sound of many voices praying. Actually, Sterling woke up first and I was awakened immediately afterward by his loud frightened yell.
The Korean services had a time of prayer when everyone would pray out loud at the same time until the preacher finally took over the prayer and finished up at the end with a loud, “Amen!” Many worshippers prayed fervently while sitting cross-legged and rocking forward and backward, bowing their heads almost to the floor. Sterling awoke suddenly out of a deep sleep and was startled by the horribly disfigured face of a leper woman, amidst fervent prayer, rocking down to within inches of his face.
We had gone to sleep on the floor in the women’s section of the leper church and woke up in the middle of a bunch of terribly frightening “monsters”. The parishioners had quietly assembled for the daybreak service which was before Sunday School and before the main service.
Both of us frantically started to get out of our sleeping bags, but realized that we were only wearing underpants. When we soon recovered from the initial shock of such a sudden and rude awakening, we wormed and wriggled our way to the back of the room while still in our sleeping bags. There, we recovered our clothes and dressed while still inside our bags.
We then sat down in the men’s section and finished out the service. That was a very memorable trip to say the least.
THE SHIP TO KOREA
Stormy seas, a precognitive dream that comes true, a man overboard, Christmas on a ship, and a near-death rescue by a young boy made for an interesting trip to say the least.
On December 18, 1953, the Reverend Theodore Hard, his wife Grace, their five year old son Sterling, and I (the four year old son) boarded the SS Alowai in San Francisco on our first mission trip to South Korea. The cargo ship carried nine passengers along with a seasoned crew.
Almost the entire trip was stormy. The Pacific Ocean was very choppy, and the unceasing pitch and roll of the ship in the giant waves made most of the passengers very sea sick. My mother was pregnant with my sister Gwendolyn and was nauseous and listless for the whole three weeks until we arrived in Japan on January 11, 1954.
Fortunately, Sterling and I escaped the misery of getting sea sick. With Mom in bed most of the trip and Dad going about his own business, Sterling and I had a wonderful time exploring our new surroundings with pretty much an unsupervised free run of the ship much of the time.
One of the crew members went crazy and jumped overboard during the trip. In my father’s diary he writes, “Parsons had continued to act queerly. He was found staring at the turbine saying, “That girl’s in there. We’ve got to get her out.” The engineer thought he would scald himself so reported it to the Captain."
“You can’t lock a man up just for talking queer,” said the Captain. “It’s against regulations.” He apparently has to act violent first. Nevertheless the Capt. had him watched in his room by two others.” Parsons got away from the guards and jumped overboard as they watched helplessly. They turned the ship around and searched, but never found him.
On Christmas day my father wrote, “Weather worse, but kids up before light digging into Christmas stockings. Presents galore from churches all across U.S.A. Mostly toys for the boys, but many other things - also from relatives. Weather increasingly rough. Spent most of day in bunk. Christmas dinner bountiful but we managed only a few turkey sandwiches. Carol sing and semi-funeral service in saloon at request of Bosin. Good attendance of a dozen or so.”
We stopped over in Honolulu on December 29th for three days but I don’t remember much about that. We visited my father’s brother, John, who was stationed in the military there.
One night I had a very vivid dream about a strange house I had never seen before. It was not like anything I had seen in America. In the dream, I wandered through the house and out buildings in the walled-in yard taking in the details. It was so vivid, and it made enough of an impression that I told everyone about it at breakfast the next morning.
On Monday, January 11th, 1954, my father wrote, “We are anchored outside Yokohama waiting for order to dock. Wind fierce. Finally, about nightfall we edged into dock. There waiting was Miss Cocts and the Uomotos. For days they had waited, never getting much information from the company.”
After clearing customs, we were driven to the home of Rev. George Uomoto in Tokyo, where Mom and us kids were going to stay while Dad went ahead to Korea to make living arrangements.
When we arrived at the house, there it was! It was the exact house I had dreamed about on the ship. My excitement mounted as I explored our new home and realized that every room was as I had already seen it. To this day, I do not know what to make of that experience as I have not had another one like it since.
Dad had left for Korea, so Mom and us kids settled into our role as house guests. The Uomoto family was very nice. Sterling and I learned quite a bit of Japanese since that is what all our playmates spoke.
One cold winter afternoon, Sterling was looking for Mom and heard some unearthly moaning as he approached the attached bath house in the back yard. He opened the door and found Mom lying naked and unconscious on the tile floor next to the charcoal fired ofuro (Japanese soaking tub). She had been overcome by carbon monoxide and was choking on her own vomit.
The scared five year old summoned up the knowledge, courage, and strength to open the windows, clean out her mouth, and then drag his mother out of the room full of poisonous gas to cover her with a blanket. He saved her life.
God was not done with her yet. Grace Hard went on to be the wonderful mother of us five children, raising us in a Godly, loving home. God used her for thirty five years to bring His good news to the people of Korea. She went on after that to years of mission work in the Philippines and in India helping the poor and teaching in Christian seminaries.
Because the military authorities in Korea would not give permission to my father to bring the rest of the family in yet, Mom and us kids ended up staying in Tokyo for about three months before finally joining Dad in Pusan, Korea.
The adventure was over. No, it had only just begun!