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Korea Anabaptist Centre promotes peace in anxious climate


February 10, 2003
-by Lynda Hollinger-Janzen for MC Canada


Jae-Young Lee
, Kyong-Jung Kim, a North Korean refugee and Tim Froese pause during a recent visit of Marietta and Sheldon Sawatzky to Seoul's Korea Anabaptist Center. Lee, Kim and Froese provide leadership for the centre's ministry of peace witness and conflict resolution. Mennonite Mission Network photo

Jae-Young Lee and Kyong-Jung Kim, both former military men, now promote peace through their ministries at the Korea Anabaptist Center in Seoul. The Korea Anabaptist Center is supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Mennonite Mission Network, and Mennonite Central Committee. Photo by Marietta Sawatzky.


SEOUL, South Korea– World leaders toy with different solutions to the instability of the divided Korean peninsula.

While President Bush’s State of the Union address was seen by North Korean officials as an “undisguised declaration of aggression,” the newly elected South Korean president, Roh Moo-Hyun, promises to continue the “Sunshine Policy” of his predecessor, a policy that seeks engagement with the North. However, even while pursuing enhanced North-South relationships, President Roh is increasing security to deter North Korea from repeating the 1950 invasion that started the Korean War.

“The political uncertainty of the Korean peninsula is a constant cause of anxiety,” said Sheldon Sawatzky, MC Canada Witness mission partnership facilitator for East Asia, who recently traveled here.

South Korea’s Anabaptists propose another way to work at the divisions on their peninsula – peace building. The Korea Anabaptist Centre in Seoul celebrated its first anniversary last November with a Peace Seminar that attracted 50 church and civic leaders, as well as civil-action groups. The centre provides peace resources and education through printed materials, seminars, personal conversations and English classes.

In 1998, Korea’s budding Anabaptist movement called the Karen and Tim Froese family to help nurture their vision for relevance, renewal, faithfulness and transformed lives. Three mission agencies support the Froese’s ministry; Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Mennonite Mission Network, and Mennonite Central Committee.

“The Korea Anabaptist Centre’s vision for Anabaptist ministry is to integrate Jesus’ commands to love God, our neighbors and each other into a Christian lifestyle and message that is both biblically faithful and culturally relevant,” Tim Froese said.

“Interest in Anabaptist distinctives is growing but very selective,” he said. “To the Korean church, talk of discipleship and Christian community is attractive, but a commitment to nonviolent peacemaking is foreign and often misunderstood. On the other hand, peace and nonviolence are our greatest contact points with the non-Christian community. Our vision is to keep these emphases in balance and in conversation with each other.”

While Tim Froese played an instrumental role in the establishment of the Korea Anabaptist Centre and serves as co-director, two Korean staff members – both former military personnel – powerfully promote the peace that comes from knowing Jesus Christ.

“Working for peace is not something Kyong-Jung [Kim] or Jae-Young [Lee] ever imagined they would be doing,” Froese said. “Yet both of them embody and articulate Christ’s message of peace in this ministry.”

Jae-Young Lee learned of Mennonites when his father was the farm manager at the Mennonite Vocational School near Taegu, but the message of pacifism didn’t take root in Lee’s life. He joined Korea’s Marines as part of his compulsory 26-month military service.

In 1996, Lee traveled to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he attended Canadian Mennonite Bible College (now part of Canadian Mennonite University) and graduated three years later.

Lee was astonished to hear Mennonites discussing world problems in church, as most Korean churches avoid political involvement. “Churches that talk about pacifism automatically get in trouble with the government,” Lee said.

Lee’s transformation from military man to Christian pacifist is important for the Anabaptist movement in Korea. “[Lee] has already made significant contacts and presentations on peace and reconciliation programs,” Froese said. “In addition to interests in restorative justice, peace and reconciliation, [Lee] is hoping to get Korean youth involved in Mennonite-related service and exchange programs in other countries.”

Lee completed a master’s degree in conflict transformation at Eastern Mennonite University in 2002. He is now part of a 14-member conflict-resolution group that does research and writing on conflict-resolution issues for the South Korean context. They also lead seminars on these themes for educators.

North Korean defectors present a growing problem in South Korea. Unfamiliar with a capitalist economy, they are often victims of scams and treated as inferior beings. The Korea Anabaptist Centre offers English classes for these refugees.

According to Lee, it is a matter of time before the two Koreas reunite. However, when President Bush linked North Korea to an axis of evil, the hopeful dialogue was totally blocked, Lee said. He believes that North Korean refugees, who learn to know the culture of South Korea, may be helpful in spanning the chasm between the two countries.

Other Korean Anabaptist ministries in which Mennonites are involved include Abba Shalom Koinonia and the Jesus Village Church.

Abba Shalom Koinonia is an Anabaptist community located three hours north of Seoul, near the demilitarized zone. The community, founded in 1987, conducted Bible institutes, summer work camps and spiritual retreats, but is currently inactive because its leader, Yoon-Sik Lee, is studying at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind.

Jesus Village Church, not far from Abba Shalom Koinonia in the city of Chunchon, strives to rediscover the vibrancy of the early church and take discipleship seriously. In 2001, the church began an alternative school offering Christian education. Erwin and Marian Wiens of Windsor, Ontario, currently serve through MC Canada Witness at the Jesus Village Church.

Karen Froese reaches out to international women and assists them with cross-cultural issues and adjustment to life in Korea. Karen and Tim are joined in ministry by their three adolescent children, Michelle, Lucas, and Stefan.

Mennonite Church Canada Witness succeeded the Commission on Overseas Mission (General Conference Mennonite Church) and Mennonite Board of Missions (Mennonite Church).