Just days after the tragic sinking of a ferry off the southern coast of South Korea, President Barry H. Corey and a group of Biola students were given the opportunity to visit mourners at the relief site, offering songs and prayers for a country stricken by grief.
On April 28, after four days of performances across the country as part of a long-planned tour, the 35-member Biola University Chorale, along with Corey and chorale director Shawna Stewart, were invited to visit Paengmok-hang Harbor near Jindo Island, where families waited for search and rescue news. Less than two weeks earlier, the April 16 capsizing of the Sewol ferry had left more than 300 people dead or missing — many of them high school students — eliciting shock and disbelief around the world.
“We are only a short distance from what is perhaps the world’s epicenter of grief,” Corey told the students on the way to the site.
After a rainy, three-hour bus ride to the harbor, the group solemnly made their way through the puddled relief site to the Salvation Army tent. There, the Biolans grieved with the families for an hour in silence, seeking to console and minister to those who had lost loved ones. Paul Chang, a Biola student, translated a prayer given by Corey for those in attendance, the chorale sang Psalm 23 and the student a capella group The King’s Men performed “I’ll Fly Away” in Korean. The group closed by singing “Amazing Grace” and the Doxology.
“The Holy Spirit was so present in this tent while the rain was falling down,” Stewart wrote on the trip’s blog. “After the Doxology many people came up to us and thanked us for giving them hope.”
Within one day, news of the visit spread and videos of the chorale appeared on many South Korean news programs and websites. For a time, “Biola University, Amazing Grace” was the most popular search topic on Korea Today’s website, the news agency reported.
“The hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ reverberates through the Paengmok-hang Harbor,” said Korea Today reporter Seo Misorang in an April 29 newscast. “When the students sang ‘Amazing Grace’ at the end of the service, victims’ families, government personnel and volunteer workers alike were deeply moved and tearfully joined in singing the well-known hymn.”
Chorale members said they were grateful for the experience and opportunity to minister to South Koreans.
“It’s amazing how broken, fickle college students can be used to uplift and encourage a nation,” said senior Jordan Weaver, a member of The King’s Men. “God moves in mysterious ways.”
The trip to South Korea had been planned a year earlier, when the Rev. Billy Kim, a well-known Korean pastor and chairman of Far East Broadcasting Company, invited the Biola University Chorale to travel the nation on a concert tour.
In an online reflection about the visit, Corey wrote that it had been one of his life’s great honors to spend time “mourning alongside those whom we did not know and whose heartache was beyond our comprehension.”
“We tried to be faithful in being present and going where we were invited to go, and the result was an overwhelming response,” he said. “Biola cares deeply, loves deeply and is praying deeply for the people of South Korea.”