Caitlin Davis watches the Olympics on the edge of her seat for more reason than wanting to see the figure skaters’ form. The recently returned missionary of the South Korea Seoul mission gazes at a former mission area when she looks at the TV screen. Expressing her excitement about the Winter 2018 Olympics being held in South Korea, she gushes, “Korea is such an amazing place and it does not get enough credit. The Korean people are so hardworking, ambitious, selfless and genuine. Hopefully tourists will see that. Also great for missionary work” She hopes hosting the Olympics will help to put PyeongChang on the map. Jeong Seo, born and raised Ulsan, South Korea, echoes Davis’ enthusiasm. “I feel so excited that the people are being together in Korea from all around the world,” Seo shares.
Along with being excited about the location of the Olympics, Seo and Davis are also pleased about the debut of LDS Church’s Helping Hands Center. The Center opened January 27th and will remain open until March 25th. According to Daniel Woodruff at LDS Public Affairs, “They have already welcomed over 100 visitors to the center, and look forward to continuing to do so throughout the Olympic and Paralympic Games” (http://www.ldsliving.com/Church-Prepares-for-Olympic-Visitors-in-South-Korea-with-Helping-Hands-Center/s/87675). It is located near PyeongChang in Gangneung, South Korea (http://universe.byu.edu/2018/02/06/south-korea-hosts-first-winter-olympics-in-pyeongchang/).
Seo believes the location of the Helping Hands Center is ideal since PyeongChang is very rural, and there aren’t many tourist attractions (Seo). She is hopeful tourists and Olympians will be able to rest and learn more about the Church at the Center.
Mormon Newsroom reveals the Center includes “interpretation services in nine languages, a winter sports photo zone, DIY activities for families, free Wi-Fi, and a place to warm up, enjoy warm beverages, recharge cell phones, watch live Olympic broadcasts and even explore one’s family history” (https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormon-helping-hands-pyeongchang-winter-olympics?__prclt=wonnECQ4). Clearly, Olympians and tourists alike can find refuge, fun, and spiritual growth at the Helping Hands Center.
Although the center is new, Helping Hands laid roots in South Korea over a decade ago. Helping Hands is an organization sponsored by the Church. (https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/humanitarian-aid-welfare-services-breakdown-donations-costs-resources?filter=leadership?filter=leadership) They offer international relief and aid during times of crisis.
Most recently, Helping Hands aided South Korea after the 5.4 magnitude earthquake hit November 16, 2017. According to Mormon Newsroom, “Volunteers and Church Humanitarian Services delivered oranges and apples to those in need, transported supplies and worked on various local projects.” In 2007, Helping Hands contributed hundreds of volunteers to the 7,000-person effort and aided in cleaning a devastating oil spill. (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/10/world/asia/10skorea.html and https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/humanitarian-aid-welfare-services-breakdown-donations-costs-resources?filter=leadership?filter=leadership)
Many members of the LDS Church hope that the Helping Hands Center will propel missionary work in South Korea. At first, Seo expressed some concern about the Center being opened because, in general, people in Korea are wary about religion. However, she believes that the center will help people see that the Church wants to serve and help people, rather than exploit them financially (Seo). Gabe Smith, also a returned missionary of the Korea Seoul mission, expounds on Seo’s concern. He says:
I hope people will see the church truly stand out among other churches in Korea. Churches overall have a bad reputation, as many church officials turn religion into a business and take large sums of money from members. The building will show what our church truly cares about: the temporal, physical and spiritual welfare of all God’s children on earth. I hope this opens doors that missionaries couldn’t get into in the past because of this negative view of Christianity in Korea.
Davis, Seo, and Smith all agree that the Helping Hands Center can have an impact on how the LDS Church is viewed in South Korea in the future. It may be long after the games before we see a paradigm shift. However, it is clear the LDS Church is making a great effort to offer service and to dispel misconceptions.
Photo: Mormon Newsroom