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Korean minister takes plunge into Kiwi culture

For new Methodist minister Rev Martin Oh the dry, rocky landscape of Alexandra is the ideal place to take a leap into the deep end and get submerged in Kiwi culture.

Martin Oh
Martin is the first Korean to be ordained by the Methodist Church of NZ. He says he is delighted to be serving with a parish in the high country, though it means living away from other Korean families.

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Martin was brought up in the mega church that hosted last year’s World Methodist Conference. He undertook theological training in Korea between 1992 and 1997. When he was ordained, he accepted an appointment to come to New Zealand to minister to a Korean Methodist congregation in North Shore.

“It was a very hard time for me because shortly before I arrived the church split into three and only 10 of the original 200 families remained in my church,” Martin says.

After working with the Korean congregation for several years, Martin decided to do further training to better understand New Zealand society and theology. Because he had already done extensive theological study Martin was placed in Trinity College’s Ministry Training Unit (MTU), where the focus is on applying theology in the community.

His English was not strong and he struggled with the course, leaving before the year was complete.

“Both the English-speaking people and the Pacific people were very hard to understand, and sometimes I was not comfortable with the different cultures. For the first two or three months I could not address Professor Susan Adams. She wanted us to use her first name but for me it was too informal. In Korea we always use people’s formal title.”

After a year off, during which he studied English, Martin returned to the MTU in 2004. With his improved English, he completed the programme, which included placements at two Auckland Methodist churches, the Immigration Service, and Manukau City Council’s Community Development Department.

“Through the programme I became more familiar with New Zealand society. At that time I decided that if I could get a chance to work with an English-speaking congregation, I would like to do it.”

Therefore, when the opportunity came to work with the Alexandra-Clyde-Lauder Union Parish, he took it. Martin, along with wife Sunmi, daughter Esther (13) and son Harim (10) arrived in Alexandra in January.

The parish has three worship centres and also provides services in two rest homes. Martin says he was attracted to the parish because it has two strong worship teams and several good lay preachers.

“When we had our face to face meeting, I said I would come here to be part of a team, not as a presbyter who run everything. I am learning a lot from the worship teams, and they want to learn Powerpoint from me.”

There are no other Korean families in Alexandra, although there are some Koreans and a small shop where they can get Korean noodles in Queenstown. Martin says it doesn’t worry him. He and his family are ready to get the full Kiwi experience, Central Otago style.