When she came to Korea from the U.S. in 1912, Korea had lost its sovereignty to Japan. The government and most of society left the weak ― such as the disabled, the poor and widows ― neglected.
Naturally, beggars and patients with tuberculosis or Hansen's disease increased and people continued to die of hunger and disease.
In such a dark age, Seo-pyeong loved Koreans, especially people in Jeolla Province. She had previously changed her name, Elisabeth J. Shepping to a Korean name, Seo Seo-pyeong. She lived like a Korean and helped accomplish various tasks, including taking care of the disabled and discarded widows, for 22 years until her death at age 54. She was buried in Jeolla province.
Seo-pyeong was born in Germany in 1880, but when she was just a year old, her father was killed and her mother left her and emigrated to the United States. Seo-pyeong was raised by her grandmother until she was 9, when her grandmother left the world. After that, she met her mom in New York and was able to finish her schooling.
After graduating from nursing school, she took more Christian and educational courses for missionary work. At that time, she met Wilbert Webster White (1863-1944), who taught her how to interpret the Bible. She decided to sublimate her life to self-sacrifice. In the process, she, a Catholic, converted to Protestantism. This choice led her mother to disown her.
Romans 5:3 in the Bible says, "Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."
The sad stories in her life, such as her separation from her parents as an infant, her mother's disownment and her infirmity strengthened her character.
She realized that though the U.S. in those days was a rich country, it lacked social benevolence to the jobless and poor immigrants. She volunteered for them and did missionary work. Then, she decided to serve Korea and help alleviate its poverty with affection and sharing. As the first step, she learned Korean culture, customs and traditions, and acquired Hangeul.
At first, when she came to Korea, Seo-pyeong was prepared to live as a nurse at Severance Hospital in Seoul, but her chronic disease prevented her from working there. Instead, she held a job at Jejung Hospital in Gwangju, South Jeolla Province.
While staying there, she understood the citizens' harsh lives in Jeolla Province better. Seo-pyeong began to help improve their lives in various ways such as education, nursing, salvation and social relief.
For example, she treated and looked after patients, and built churches to deliver Jesus' message around South and North Jeolla Province and also Jeju Island.
She built a lady's school called E-il and taught them how to support themselves.
She inspired the school to support itself by raising silkworms and educating the residents how to sew.
Contrary to most missionaries who built mansion towns and led comfortable lives, she lived with 34 poor and discarded widows and adopted 13 daughters. She ate only soybean soup and barley food, wearing rubber shoes. She only communicated with others using the Korean language.
When she passed away, her assets were half a blanket, two bowls of wheat flour and seven coins. Her death was due to malnutrition. Her last words were to use her body for dissection at Severance Hospital.
Her motto for mission was not success, but service.
The writer is English teacher at Yeosu High School in South Jeolla Province. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.