Kimchi Making at Mubeopjeongsa: Connected by Purpose & Love

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The provincial bus service had just pulled out from the stop and was winding down towards the main road and as it passed, it revealed the scene of the days campaign: ‘Operation Kimchi with Big Mama’.

The day was my first visit to Mubeopjeongsa, and although I had heard much about it from the passionately involved Cathy McQuade, I was looking forward to an opportunity to see the contributions made by ANZA members at work and to engage with the community there.

Our arrival was not met with any fanfare or fuss; our role was as all of the other people there; all loved, all important and all there to do our bit. We got big smiles, a thank you for coming and, within minutes of arriving; all the other volunteers were told that ANZA had supplied money to pay for some of the ingredients required and that Big Mama was truly grateful for that assistance.

Preparations for the day were going on so we took the opportunity to see some of the projects that have been completed with ANZA donations and meet some of the children. Shy little faces smiled at us and waved, eager to get back to playing with their LEGO. As we weaved around the building it became clear that everyone there is cared for and respected, their needs well met. When I entered the prayer room; I truly understood the meaning of the word ‘haven’. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place and surely must bring comfort to all the residents there.

It was time to get stuck in. Huge vats of kimchi sauce had been prepared: onion, garlic, ginger, a type of shrimp sauce, possibly vinegar, dried chilli (in vast quantities) were expertly mixed into a thick, pungent sauce. Serious discussions were occurring during the making of the sauce and it reminded me a little of being involved in family preserving activities on the farm; everyone putting their two cents in about how much of this or that. It seemed Big Mama cast the deciding vote as all good leaders do.

There was pressure like no other when I was asked to taste the sauce but there was no need to worry. The vibrancy of flavour was delightful and the sauce was perfect!

A mountain of cabbage awaited us and although the instructions on making kimchi seem simple; there is a technique to it and it took me some time to develop. Not too much sauce, not too little, spread evenly from the inner leaves to the outer leaves and from the stem to the tips. Pretty basic really but you have no idea how many times I had to be reminded!

The day passed quickly from then. An hour or so of applying the sauce and within a short time we had filled several large storage pots. We worked alongside each other connected by the vital task of preparing food that would be needed over the coming icy months.

After a while we were invited to join in with the lunch that had been prepared: cabbage soup, boiled pork, and of course, kimchi. Thoughtful volunteers had also brought in some treats to share and gave the meal a real party atmosphere.

There was not much left to do and we finished our cabbages, cleaned ourselves off inexpertly (we really had managed to get the sauce everywhere) and said our goodbyes.

During the day we meet many of the residents at the orphanage. It felt very much like visiting a large family with Big Mama being the warm centre, guiding, teaching and loving all who come into her orbit. The orphanage in Mubeopjeongsa is a triumph of love over circumstances and I am grateful to Cathy and ANZA for the opportunity to help, even in a small way.

When someone is loved, they do not need to be told, it is felt. As I said goodbye to the group, Big Mama looked at me, carefully wiped some kimchi sauce from my brow and smiled. I felt loved.

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