Shattering Through the Wall of the Past | Teen Ink

Shattering Through the Wall of the Past

July 27, 2008
By Dongeun (Jane) Seo GOLD, Davis, California
Dongeun (Jane) Seo GOLD, Davis, California
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More than sixty years ago, Adolf Hitler uttered the horrific phrase that forever changed the course of our history: “The year 1941 will bring completion of the greatest victory.” For the next four, gruesome years, Hitler defied the essence of victory – an achievement of mastery or success – by inciting and charging one of the most atrocious wars, World War II, which left enduring scars of anguish, pain, and horror. For Hitler, victory was nothing more than the sheer satisfaction of claiming yet another bloodthirsty battle, massacring millions of innocent groups he deemed “inferior,” and subduing the public with his deceptive lies, secrecy, and manipulation. Yet, victory – as Hitler viewed it – is not the end result of an individual’s greedy, senseless pursuit; rather, true victory is a common goal achieved through the collective force of a community.
Under Hitler’s regime, the Nazis systematically slaughtered Jews, Poles, Gypsies, the handicapped, and other ethnic and social groups he considered “inferior.” Masses of more than six million were ruthlessly shot and dumped into shallow graves, torturously asphyxiated in gas chambers, abusively worked to death, and inhumanely victimized as medical experiments. As the Chancellor of Germany, Hitler imposed laws that prohibited individual freedoms of press, speech, and assembly. He egregiously celebrated the rise of his power and victories, proclaiming, “It is not truth that matters, but victory.” The Nazis mercilessly subjected civilians in sanguinary battles and concentration camps, exalting Hitler, their leader, for each acclaimed “victory.” But – what is there to celebrate when millions of lives were lost, millions lived in constant fear, and millions suffered enduring abuse? Hitler did not achieve victory of glory, but of disgrace and shame.
Rewriting Hitler’s perverted understanding of this noble word has been a world effort since the end of World War II. Occurrences of genuine personal victory and success abound in our society: In a pool, a young swimmer garners his first place ribbon; in an office, a dedicated employee greets the news of his promotion; in a hospital, an optimistic woman surmounts an arduous battle over cancer. Yet, beyond these triumphs by individuals, how can a community, as a group, achieve victory? How can a society, through cooperative effort, overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges? As I pondered these questions, one notable community I belonged to stuck out: a group of disparate, yet akin, individuals who congregate every Sunday under the unifying roof of a church.
My family has been a member of Davis Korean Church ever since we moved to the United States six years ago. For us, the church wasn’t just a place to worship, but a sanctuary where we found solace with other immigrants who were also setting down roots on this foreign land. Over the years, the members of the church grew in numbers, developing intimate interactions and relationships among each other; however, there existed one, overarching problem that impeded further development of our church.
When the church was initially established in 1982 by a small mélange of college students, the worship hall, as it stands today, was sufficient to accommodate all of its fifty members. Soon, the population of the church – over five hundred members to date – outgrew the tight confines of the worship center. Because the hall wasn’t spacious enough to provide room for all the congregators, some of the unfortunate “late-comers” were forced to sit outside in the hallway. Because the building only had two worship halls – one for the adults and the other for the Sunday school children– the newly-established youth service was held at an elementary school six blocks away. In addition to spatial problems, the decrepit, twenty-six year-old building was a decaying problem itself. The members attempted to fix minor problems, such as replacing old carpets and embellishing the weedy fields, but the troubles of tenacious termites, outdated floor plans, and sporadic outages persisted beyond the members’ reach. What the church needed was a big, dramatic change.
Five years ago, the church committee suggested a plan to construct a new building. Immediately following the proposal were throngs of complaints from the neighbors, as well as legal challenges imposed by the city. Despite these setbacks, the church members cooperated to solve these issues, one step at a time. Essentially, the church organized weekly meetings with the neighbors, discussing measures to alleviate their concerns. Gradually, the church garnered the approval, trust, and support of the once-averse community. The college ministry offered free car washes to the general public on numerous Saturdays to increase community awareness. In addition, there were garage sales of eclectic items donated by the church members, special offerings and donation drives to lessen the construction cost, and even generous contributions from the community-at-large. In fact, a local columnist wrote an editorial praising the church for its joint endeavor, and involvement with local volunteer networks such as STEAC and canned-food drive; also, a private business offered to lend a 40-car, parking spot across the street, completely free of charge. When the city approved the proposal last February, the vision of a new worship center finally became a reality. Through ceaseless effort and support from the community, the entire church members can finally gather and worship together, as one entity, without bleak walls obstructing their views.
The construction of a new worship center began two Sundays ago. A problem previously thought to concern only the members of our church actually involved the entire community. Though the proposal was initially greeted with reluctance, the neighbors and the city council eventually granted not only a legal permission, but also an agreeable acceptance.
Unlike Hitler, who pursued a self-victory of absolute autocracy, the church members, as a community, fought for a common, beneficial goal. Victory can not be self-declared by the efforts of a single individual. Instead, victory is possible only through the cooperation, collaboration, and involvement of the entire community as a whole. Symbolically, the wooden post planted in the ground of our church serves as a tangible mark of our successful, community victory.

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