[Episcopal News Service – Seoul, South Korea] Bishop Stacy Sauls, chief operating officer of The Episcopal Church, spoke Oct. 1 to Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries’ Sept. 30-Oct. 5 international consultation here about the gift of transformation that he was given years ago in Korea.
Sauls told the story of his and his wife Ginger’s experience of adopting two Korean children. It has been one, he said, that taught him about seeing the world through Asian eyes and transformed his understanding of what it means to be made a child of God.
Sauls spoke after dinner at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Nicholas in downtown Seoul, the main venue for the gathering.
The text of Sauls’ remarks follows.
This is Your Son
The Rt. Rev. Stacy F. Sauls
Chief Operating Officer
The Episcopal Church
My heart has been unexpectedly full these last 48 hours since landing in Korea. I have not been here for 28 years. The last time I was in Seoul it was to bring a baby boy we had adopted home to his mother and older brother. Korea gave us both our sons, Andrew and Matthew. I find myself a little surprised at how fresh these memories have become in returning to Seoul.
On the last day I was in Seoul, I got up early to go to the orphanage to pick up baby Matthew, whom I had been introduced to a few days earlier. More on that later. For now I want to tell you about our trip home, Matthew and I off on our first adventure as father and son.
It was a miserably hot and humid day. After completing some packing, I checked out with my two suitcases of baby clothes Ginger had instructed I buy from the vendors in Itaewon. We got on the hotel shuttle and settled in for the trip to the airport. In those days there was a monthly air raid drill in Seoul. That turned out to be the day. So back into the heat and humidity and into the hotel we went. I always found it odd that anyone thought we might have been safer inside the hotel in the event of an actual air raid. We waited for the air raid siren to be silent. Eventually it was.
Back into the heat to board the hotel shuttle again, two suitcases and baby in tow. We had lost a lot of time, though. Making the flight was going to be tight. That’s when we ran into the traffic jam on the highway to the airport. It was stop and go all the way. More valuable time lost. Still, as we pulled up to the terminal, we had just enough time to make it I thought.
And that would have been true in some contexts. Not in this one. What little Matthew and I found instead was a disorganized mass of humanity pressing up against the Northwest Airlines ticket counter. There was nothing resembling a line. Just hundreds of people pressing forward with no order at all. It seemed to me as something like the last days of Saigon. I waded into the crowd with Matthew strapped into a snuggly baby carrier on my chest, kicking the suitcases forward, first this one and then the other one. Every once in a while, Matthew would slip out of the baby carrier on my chest and I would dive to catch him before he hit the floor, which miraculously he never did. I had not yet figured out that the straps on the baby carrier were supposed to go under his arms. Precious time was ticking away. Still, we got checked in with just enough time to make the flight. Barely.
So off the two of us went, freed at least of the suitcases but still with a big bag of baby supplies that might be needed on the long flight to Seattle where we would connect to another flight to Atlanta. Now this was long before the marvel of the technologically advanced airport at Incheon. This was in the days of Kimpo Airport. Moving sidewalks were not even dreamed of. So I ran, baby now more securely strapped to my chest and with the baby diaper bag flapping behind me.
Security was yet another nightmare of a mass of humanity. At least there was a line. But still more time lost. Surely the airport was air conditioned, even in those days, but it didn’t much matter to me. I was sweating badly at this point. I kept running to our gate. Matthew and I were the very last people on the airplane.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Now it was safe to relax I thought. That’s when the pilot announced that there was a problem. It was so hot in Seoul that day that they could not completely load the plane with fuel. It would be necessary to stop in Anchorage on the way to refuel, which we did.
We finally arrived in Seattle, but we arrived after our flight to Atlanta had left. We would have to rebook. So once we got off the plane, Northwest Airlines, in its infinite wisdom, had two agents to rebook an entire 747 full of people with missed connections. More of the last days of Saigon. By this point, Matthew had an upset stomach. I wasn’t about to get out of the line, so I laid out a blanket on the floor and changed Matthew’s diaper. More than once. So as we inched toward the ticket agent, I pulled the blanket with Matthew on it and then changed his diaper. Then I pulled the blanket with Matthew on it and changed his diaper again. On and on. It took hours. Two different flights to Atlanta left while we were stuck in the line. And by the time we finally got ourselves rebooked, the last flight of the night left. We were rebooked on the first flight the next morning. I looked incredulously at the agent when he asked if I would like a hotel room for the night.
But that wasn’t the worst part. This was a day before cell phones. While Mattie and I had been in the rebooking line, Ginger had left home for the airport to meet the flight we were supposed to be on expecting to meet her baby boy for the first time. The flight arrived. The first class cabin got off. The coach cabin got off. The flight crew got off. Eventually the cleaning got off. No baby. Ginger asked the gate agent. After a great deal of confusion, he eventually discovered what had happened. Ginger went back home. Only then was I finally able to get her on the telephone and explain what happened.
The next morning, though, everything went fine. I arrived home and handed the baby into Ginger’s arms and looked forward to a nap. The good news is that Matthew, who was four months old, was sleeping through the night at that point. The bad news is that it was the Korean night. He slept during the American day. During the American night, he was open for business.
Now let me go back to the beginning of the story. I told you I had been introduced to our new baby a couple of days before he and I left. He stayed with his foster mother, whom I also met, until I picked him up. But I’ll also never forget arriving at the orphanage immediately after arriving in Seoul at the beginning of the trip. He was sitting up on a sofa, looking a little bit like a sack of potatoes. I walked into the room, and I will never forget one of the most beautiful sounds I ever heard, the social workers soft voice saying in a beautifully accented voice, “Mr. Sauls, this is your son.”
I received three of the most precious gifts of my life from Korea, which is why my heart is so full to be back. One is my son Matthew. The second is my son Andrew. The third, though, is the gift of transformation.
There are a lot of things I could say about that transformation. My family was both completed and transformed on that last trip to Seoul. I think about that a lot. But let me explain it to you this way.
What transformed me was that I became part of an Asian American family. I began to be able to look at the world through eyes that might not have looked like it but had nevertheless become Asian eyes. Sometimes the view was amusing, like when people assumed by boys, because they are Korean, were good at math. Sometimes the view was not so amusing, like the time we were at Soccer sign ups waiting for their names to be called and the person in charge became impatient when we didn’t respond when another child was called, the other child being named Sammy Chang. Sometimes the view was infuriating like the time when I had trouble enrolling them in our upscale neighborhood’s Cub Scout group because they weren’t white. Sometimes the view was even more infuriating like when they got treated as “honorary” white people because Ginger and I were their parents.
Here’s the best way I know to express the transformation. From this time forward, Sauls is an Asian name. When the next census happens and my children fill out their name and race, they’re going to put down “Sauls” and check “Asian.” When the have families of their own, my grandchildren will be listed as Asian or mixed race. One of the gifts I got from Korea was being able to see the world in a way I would never have seen it otherwise.
And this is a deeply important spiritual gift, a gift to understand what these words mean. “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” It is a gift to understand how God loves us, how God loves me, as an adopted child. It is a great gift, an incalculable gift, to imagine angels singing, “Mr. God, this is your son,” and to know how God feels. We are all God’s sons and daughters. We are all each other’s sons and daughters. It is Korea’s gift to me to understand what that means.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.