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Yung's Mission

The throng of peasants circled around Yung just as the skies grew brilliant in that hour before dust. Most of the Koreans wore American hand-me-downs and their bony elbows poked through holes, and their knees showed through tears in pants. Here and there, a child with skinny arms and a full belly would cry, while another with matted hair clung to a mother. They smell like sheep feces, urine and sweaty gym socks left in a locker at least a week, Yung thought as he watched a child pull at his mother’s breast, while his older sibling wove in and out of the crowd, wailing all the while. Many of them are starving, too, he worried. Why would they listen to me? These distractions especially bothered him tonight, when he was to preach of Christ’s second coming.

At least, now, Yung’s voice was full, instead of squeaking like an out-of-tune flute. “His family will be blessed,” he bellowed in an oboe’s tones. “Yours will be, too, if you repent.” Five wide-eyed listeners in U.S. Army fatigues edged in closer.

“Jesus did not come to die on the cross,” Yung went on, “but to restore the whole earth.”

Under a thatched awning, Yunu smiles and rested her forearms on her belly. It had swelled to house a now eight-month-old fetus.

“So God has told us to move our mission westward.” Yung’s words built to a crescendo, but his neck sweated and he tugged his tie. He wasn’t comfortable in his clothing. Yunu had insisted that he dress in a white tuxedo with a white tie and white buckskin shoes to symbolize his purity. “We are going to the United States. We want to take each and every one of you with us. But sadly, we cannot. Just the same, we need your help.”

Yunu cupped her hands over her ears and shook her head.

Yung looked away from her. “If you bless us with five-hundred yen, God will return it to you.” He looked at the stratosphere, then he lowered his gaze to gleam at the audience. “Yes, God will return it to you in blessings tenfold, hands down!” He clapped his right hand over his left the way he’d seen Pentecostal evangelists do in Berkeley.

Immediately, the crowd turned away and dispersed.

Yunu still shook her head when Yung hung his and lumbered to her. “No, no, no,” she whispered. “That may work in the United States, where most people coming to these rallies are not starving. But not here. Here, you must first feed them, wrap them in clean, untorn clothing, then convert them. Later, they will work and bring you part of their earnings.”

Yung sighed. He’d been sure the technique would work. He’d studied it so diligently. Then, he stared at Yunu’s belly. This would be Baby Ghunne Number Six. He hadn’t seen the Vision since his Berkeley days, and the nest egg he’d saved when he worked as an engineer was cracking. Now, Yunu, who’d nagged him almost every day about moving to the United States, was telling him to spend more of that nest egg on the yenless Koreans. He scratched his neck and scraped a slimy film from the creases there.

Yunu stared the cold stare of a woman ignored, the cold stare of authority.

Yung wrinkled his forehead. “You think that will work, truly?”

She nodded. Her black hair almost eclipsed her moon face.

Yung glanced at the sky and shook his head.

Consequently, the Rev. and Mrs. Yung Sung Ghuune didn’t make it to the States until 1971, after ten years of establishing thatched huts to feed rice soup to knock-kneed children, swaddle frail women in oversized C.A.R.E. designs, and shelter vagabond men who did exactly what Yunu predicted: Once on their feet, they shared perhaps too much of their wages with the Ghuunes. Yunu invested those tithes into GE and IBM stocks, and by 1970, the Ghunnes reaped $270,000 in dividends. It was enough to buy a suburban ranch house with a swimming pool in Simi Valley, also enough to support the quickly growing Ghunne clan, which then comprised thirteen members.

But the young Ghunnes were not burdens to their evangelist parents. Oh no! They were sure signs from God, Yung preached, that Yung was fulfilling his mission. The reverend would draw his “Blessed Children” in a huddle at the front of the crowds. Yes, these were “Blessed Children” of “Blessed Parents” who were following God’s will. Smiling and bowing, the children filtered through the crowds, clasped and shook hands, held and kissed babies.

Even though Yung had trained his children well, by 1971, he was as anxious as Yunu to move to the States. Because he’d fed and clothed so many homeless Koreans, many of his followers started analyzing his title: Lord of the Second Advent. Rumors spread that Yung was Jesus Christ in the flesh, the very reincarnation living the Second Coming, just as The Devout Principality had decreed.

“What will I do?” Yung wiped sweat from his neck after an urchin had rubbed Patchouli oil on his evangelical feet, then kissed the feet and toes repeatedly until finally, Yung patted the child on the head, led him across the room, shooed him out the door. Yung shook his head, looked at his wife, and shrugged. “The boy thinks I’m Jesus Christ.”

Yunu closed her almond-shaped eyelids. Then she smiled and nodded. “This is good. You will get used to it.” She, too, smelled of Patchouli oil.

Yung stared at his wife’s belly that was once again growing and now swayed like molten lava. “I don’t know about this. What if the Vision returns? He won’t be happy to find people think I’m him.”

Yunu shrugged. “You haven’t disobeyed Him. Besides, didn’t He dub you the Lord of the Second Advent? Wasn’t the lordship part of your job description—your bargain?”

Yung sighed then shook his head. He dabbed his neck with a Patchouli-soaked handkerchief. “I don’t think He’ll be happy.” The fact was, Yung was so worried the Vision would return and destroy the fledging kingdom he and Yunu had struggled to build that his nightmares had returned.

Yunu ran a fingertip across his brow. “Why do you worry so?”

Yung looked at her and pursed his lips. “Don’t you understand? He could zap us with one holy thunderbolt.”

She laughed and shook her head. “Think of California. How could he find us among all the lunatics there?”

Yung looked away from her then stared at the white button that rested atop his navel. The Vision had found him in Berkeley, but things had changed so much since he’d been in school. A legion of religious sects had popped up. In fact, one of them, a group called Heave’’s Gate, all brainy web-masters, had committed suicide together in hopes of hopping on the head of a comet. And one out of three LSD aficionados had visions of being Jesus Christ. They’d hang onto lamp posts proclaiming that identity. Perhaps the states, especially Southern Cal, might be a good hideout. Plus, the white button reminded him of the hamburger buns on the McDonald’s burgers he’d gobbled as a college student. In fact, it made him long for one of those sandwiches right then.

So a month later, although tears rolled down Yung’s chubby cheeks the last time he stood on a bluff overlooking green-shrubbed hills interwoven with purple streams around the thatched hut where he’d fed so many hungry peasants, he smiled. Then he turned to Oshi To, his eldest son. “Someday,” he said in a fatherly tone, “you will return here, here, to your birth-land, to your heritage.” Yung’s voice grew even more solemn. “And they will remember you. They will revere you like a god.”

Oshi To flung back his shoulder-length hair, picked his nose, and scratched an earlobe. Then he shrugged. “Not me, Dad. No way. I’m trying out for the Dodgers.” The fourteen-year-old spun away and headed down the hill.

“You might at least try the Angels first,” Yung yelled after him, his voice nearly cracking when he ripped the back seam of his white slacks. Then he stumbled over a rock. He glanced once more down the valley then at the stratosphere, and shook his head. Finally, he nearly fell to his knees when he stumbled over an urchin who’d crouched behind a shrub. But this one didn’t kiss Yung’s feet. Instead, the child spat on his white buckskins.

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