YOU CLIMB up the stairs to the auditorium, swipe your student ID card, find your seat. You hear the choir singing to an unfamiliar song, perhaps make it through the “prayer of Yonsei” and wonder how long this is going to last. Sound familiar? Welcome to four semesters of mandatory chapel, you are in for a treat – or not. At the beginning of each semester, the chaplain introduces t h e chapel requirement in terms of keeping true to Yonsei’s founding spirit. And indeed, Yonhi College, the predecessor of Yonsei University, was founded by a Christian missionary named Horace Underwood. Yonsei’s educational philosophy lends itself to a Bible verse that says, “know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). As such, all Yonsei students are required to complete a course in understanding Christianity and four semesters of chapel. But is this what we take part in every week? The order of procession may seem like your typical service: starting with a hymn and scripture of the day, introducing the guest speaker, hearing the message of the day, and closing with prayer. But is it possible that we are simply going through the motions without really meaning anything? Take a close look around you the next time you are sitting in chapel. Most people are nodding off in their sleep, or surreptitiously checking their phones to see how much time is left to endure. Although most people are physically present to ensure a passing grade, their minds wander to worlds beyond. The formality of a service does not mean anything. In fact, the Bible warns against such meaningless worship. “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me? … Stop bringing such meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me” (Isaiah 1:11-13). The messages are no different. Although numerous guest speakers are invited to share their stories and God’s working in their lives, they are unable to openly share what is in their hearts. They are constrained by a request to “tone it down” for nonbelievers who may have difficulty accepting their message. For any storyteller, it is natural to understand the audience he or she is dealing with. But that does not mean that the essence of the story should be taken away. In the case of a sermon or testimony, even if there is an intellectually stimulating theological argument or an emotionally touching anecdote, it may be only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal if the essence of the message – God – is missing. Granted, not every Yonsei student is of the Christian faith. But out of all the universities available, they chose Yonsei out of their free will, well knowing that Yonsei was started as a mission school. As future intellectuals, the university setting is where students are given the opportunity to pursue knowledge with open minds. Christianity, whether taken as a field of study or a way of life, is no exception. Furthermore, for some students, chapel may be the first or the last time that they get to hear the gospel. This cannot be taken lightly. Given the time and resources poured into organizing chapel every week, it is astonishing how complacent we seem about this missed opportunity.
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Yonsei started as an institution that would equip leaders to reach out to the world. But today, it seems that the world has reached out to Yonsei instead. Instead of proclaiming the truth to the world, Yonsei has lost its voice and purpose amidst the stream of time. “Know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” These words should be reflected in the time we are here. It is time we bring Truth back into our chapel.