Young, Gay and Single Among the Nuns and Widows at U.S. Monastery in South Korea
In a large church in Uijeongbu – an old city of North Korea – a group of women and men kneel before a huge black-and-white portrait of Jesus.
“We have been called to give this our entire lives,” says Kim Hyun-joo, head of the order of nuns at the church. “That’s why we’re here, to serve others, to help others, to build others.”
Outside the church, the temperature is in the 90s, the bright sunlight reflecting off the white tiles and the brightly colored banners draped across the wooden beams above the doorways. The women’s caps are tucked under their jackets, their hair pulled back into their tight bun, as they listen with rapt attention to the sermon.
In contrast, inside the church, the air conditioning isn’t running, the wooden floor is a cold, white tile. The service is interrupted by a man, about 70 years old, who enters carrying a bag of food and asks the nuns to take care of him.
While he has a slight beard and wears a hat, he is otherwise dressed in a colorful uniform. He is a monk, according to Sister Hyun-joo, and her order is his house of worship.
The United States is home to more than 150,000 monastics worldwide, about half of the world’s Christian community. Many of the men and women were born in North Korea, but others were brought over by relatives, and many others were adopted or adopted by missionaries. Some of them have been there since birth.
In 1950, after the Soviet Union invaded, all religious groups were persecuted in a process that came to be known as the “great religious purges.” But by the early 1970s, most of the