South Korea is a wonderful example of great things coming in small packages. It’s about two-thirds the size of Iowa, but 50 million people live there. Seventy percent of the peninsula is covered in beautiful mountains, which probably explains why 25 million South Koreans live in and around the capital city of Seoul alone. This includes the satellite city Yongin-si where the Trinklein missionary family—with one million others—call home.
Since 2016, Rev. Dr. Hans Trinklein, formerly the pastor at Olive Branch Lutheran Church in rural Okawville, Ill., has been a theological educator at Luther University & Seminary, which is run by our LCMS partner church, the Lutheran Church in Korea (LCK).
“Being a theological educator missionary means that I am here to teach Korean students at both the graduate and the undergraduate levels. My objective is that those students would be well-equipped to preach and teach the Gospel—whether they are ‘official’ church workers or not.”
One interesting twist regarding Trinklein’s position is that he is currently teaching both theology and English. “It allows me to meet and mentor freshmen in all four majors that Luther University offers. This is especially significant because many students coming to Luther University are Buddhist or non-religious. I don’t have to leave campus in order to witness; I simply teach English and—by some strange coincidence—Jesus keeps coming up during class!”
This cannot be real
Trinklein, who worked as an accountant in Los Angeles and New York City before becoming an LCMS pastor, never thought he would be doing overseas work. “It’s true that as we homeschooled our four children, we used a lot of missionary biographies for our family read-aloud time. We didn’t know it at the time, but God was planting seeds 20 years in advance!”
As you can imagine, when the call to serve in Seoul came, the family went through many emotions.
“Probably my first thought was something like ‘This cannot be real!’” said Gretchen Trinklein, Hans’ wife. “I was not opposed to serving overseas … It was the timing of this move that seemed really off to me, since three of our four children were teenagers and our oldest daughter was twenty. Navigating the college and launching years from a foreign land seemed very daunting to me.”
Their four children—Jael, Abigail, Michael and Johnny—were all sad to leave behind what they had when they heard they were moving to South Korea. Abigail said she thought her life was over.
Best way to know a culture
“At first everything surprises you,” Abigail Trinklein said. “After a while, you gradually begin to get used to things until one day you are surprised that the stuff doesn’t surprise you anymore. There’s also a weird balance of feeling like you know everything, but you also know nothing.”
“I haven’t entirely adjusted yet,” she continued, “but I’ve started learning the language and have a hard time not bowing as a greeting, saying, ‘yes,’ instead of ‘you’re welcome’ … while in the States on furlough.”
For 19-year-old Michael Trinklein, the best way to know a culture is to get to know its people. “I’ve been spending my time getting to know Koreans of all ages,” he said. “That way I can understand not only the present culture, but also the way it has changed.”
Coping with the challenges
Learning the language is, by far, the biggest challenge all of the Trinkleins faced. “The Synod gave us six months’ time once we got here, for intensive language training,” Hans Trinklein said, “but to get to the level where you can actually converse in another language? That takes a long time.”
The other great challenge is understanding deep-level cultural differences. “Let’s say I want to offer my guest something to drink,” he said. “In America, I’d say ‘Hey, would you like anything to drink?’ If they say ‘No, thanks,’ that would be the end of it. But in Korea, you have to ask three times and if they say ‘No’ three times, then they really mean ‘No.’ The first two times they’re just being polite. I am just getting the hang of this.”
Johnny Trinklein prefers the food and the low-crime rate in Seoul. “You don’t have to worry about anything being stolen,” he said. Regarding the food, his mom added: “Most of us really enjoy Korean food. Part of the reason for that, I think, is that we were able to try it before we moved to Korea. I would encourage other families who are preparing to serve as missionaries to do the same experience the food before you move, if possible. It will be one less unfamiliar thing to get used to!”
In 2018, the Trinklein’s eldest daughter, Jael, married Levi Karth, whose director of Christian education (DCE) internship was as an LCMS GEO (Globally Engaged in Outreach) missionary to Peru. They reside in the United States as Levi awaits a call to a DCE position.
The remarkable reward
According to Hans Trinklein, the potential rewards of living with your family in a foreign country are great, including “an increased appreciation for the worldwide size of the Christian family; a deep, gut-level understanding that the Gospel really is for the whole world; the remarkable chance to live in another culture on the other side of the world and experience life from a completely different vantage point ….”
Most importantly, though, the Trinkleins would ask that you faithfully pray for their family and ministry.
To the Trinkleins, we say: We are proud of all the hard work you do in the name of Christ. We know it can be hard sometimes. We thank you for serving through good times and bad. May God bless you. He does all things well.