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Mission educators engage in teaching marathon in Korea


June 4, 2003
by Lynda Hollinger-Janzen

Alan Kreider, Mennonite Mission Network educator, and interpreter, Kyong-Jung Kim, of the Korea Anabaptist Center, address a group of independent churches in South Korea. Kreider and his wife, Eleanor, addressed 3,500 people in 33 presentations during a three-week assignment in that country. Photo courtesy of Korea Anabaptist Center.

Elkhart, Ind. — Many travelers with an Asian destination have canceled their flights, frightened by SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). But Alan and Eleanor Kreider, educators with Mennonite Mission Network (Mennonite Church USA), were not among them.

The Kreiders spoke to a cumulative 3,500 people and attracted the attention of the national media as they taught in six major South Korean cities in April, giving 33 presentations in a three-week period.

Speaking in churches, universities and seminaries, the Kreiders were enthusiastically received, according to Tim Froese, co-director of the Korean Anabaptist Centre and Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker.

"In numerous instances, Alan and Ellie were the first Anabaptists to speak at those institutions," said Froese, who serves with Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network. "They had receptive audiences and had opportunity to speak to most of the major denominations in Korea as well as to those in the independent church movement.

One professor emeritus was so moved by the Kreiders' presentation that he stayed up all night reading church history books to find out more about the early Anabaptist church and its martyrs. He expressed regret at not having heard about the Anabaptists earlier in his life.

More than 10 congregations have indicated their desire to be more closely affiliated with the Korean Anabaptist Center since hearing about Anabaptism. Some have pledged financial support. "The [center] welcomes these gestures and views them as an answer to prayer," Froese said.

During the first two weeks, the Korea Anabaptist Center hosted the Kreiders. They spent the third week three hours northeast of Seoul, near the demilitarized zone, with the Jesus Village Church in Chun Chon.

The Korea Anabaptist Centre - created in 2001 to promote discipleship, the training of Christian leaders and peace building - has already made a significant impact in South Korea. "We believe this [impact] will grow appreciably in the years ahead," Alan Kreider said. "We were struck by the quantity and quality of the work done in a tiny office."

Largely funded by Korean churches and individuals, the Korea Anabaptist Centre, is also supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Mennonite Central Committee, and Mennonite Mission Network.

The Jesus Village Church (Chun Chon), an alternative to the institutionalized mega-churches of South Korea, strives to rediscover the vibrancy of the early church and take discipleship seriously. MC Canada Witness workers Erwin and Marian Wiens (Windsor Mennonite Fellowship) currently serve at the Jesus Village Church.

Of the topics presented, the Kreiders reported that the early church and Anabaptism generated the most interest. The Kreiders spoke on the early church's growth, its worship and its approach to war and peace.

"Some Korean Christians are frustrated with church life here, and long for fresh approaches," Eleanor Kreider said. "The two of us have taught about early Christian life and worship in many cultures now, and we have always found people excited and moved by what they have learned. Our Korea trip confirms us anew in our sense that the early church is a potential source for renewal for the global church in many denominations."

According to Alan Kreider, Anabaptism is a new and sometimes unsettling tradition in Korea. Many consider it a cult. "Anabaptism will have to earn its way step by step, as fears are disarmed and trust is built," he said.

The Korean translation of the Kreiders' book, Is a Peace Church Possible?, appeared just before their visit. Another publication, Worship and Evangelism in Pre-Christendom written by Alan Kreider, was released just after his departure.

Also coinciding with the Kreider visit was the war in Iraq.

The Iraq crisis heightened interest in thinking about war in a broader context, Alan Kreider said. "Previously all discussions on war were apparently dominated by the ongoing threat of war between the two Koreas.

"The standoff with North Korea, which has threatened to begin producing weapons-grade plutonium, had become increasingly tension-filled in the weeks prior to our arrival. South Koreans long for reunion with their relatives in the north; but they feel threatened by North Korean conventional weaponry - its artillery could destroy Seoul - to say nothing of its potential nuclear arsenal.

"The peace church seems a very new idea here," Alan Krieder said. "The Jesus Village Church people have been challenged by our seeing peace in a much broader framework than politics and war; [we also emphasized] peacemaking within congregations, families, schools and work places."

Alan and Eleanor Kreider worked in England for more than 25 years, helping to organize the London Mennonite Centre and establish a network of Anabaptists throughout the United Kingdom. Their experience made them useful resource persons to the developing Korea Anabaptist Centre. (Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers Vic and Kathy Thiessen now direct the London Mennonite Centre.)

"The personnel of the Korea Anabaptist Center are very gifted, but since there are only four staff members and they have so many possible fields of ministry, they are trying to establish priorities," Eleanor Kreider said. "Since all Anabaptist centers have certain things in common, we helped them to look at what profile they want."

In South Korea, as in other countries where denominations proliferate, the Mennonite Church has chosen to work at church unity rather than to plant Mennonite congregations.

"We observed Anabaptism functioning in Korea as it does elsewhere in the world, as a 'sectarian' Christian tradition that provides a surprising place of ecumenical meeting. It gave us joy to see this," Alan Kreider said. "We have been delighted to be short-term participants in the remarkable development of Anabaptism in Korea."