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First Person: "an-nyong haseyo"– How is it with your spirit?


June 14, 2004
- from report by John Harder


l-r: Marina Lepp, Hedy Dennis, John Harder, Gordon Janzen, and Louise Langeman ring the 21 ton Bell for Peace at the Unification Observatory in the demilitarized zone – the Northernmost part of South Korea civilians can visit. The bell sits atop a tower erected in 2000 as a symbol of hope for peace and reunification. Learning Tour participants present but not pictured are Werner Kliewer and Lois Konrad.

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John Harder (Windsor Mennonite Fellowship), Lois Konrad and Louise Langeman (Leamington United Mennonite Church), Marina Lepp (Harrow United Mennonite Church), Hedy Dennis (Valleyview Mennonite Church, London), Werner Kliewer (Charleswood Mennonite Church, Winnipeg) and Gordon Janzen (Mennonite Church Canada Witness) participated in a Mennonite Church Canada Witness Learning Tour to Witness ministry locations in South Korea from April 19-30.

Windsor, Ont.— The friendly way to greet a Korean is with the words ‘an-nyong haseyo,’ meaning ‘How is it with your spirit?’ This greeting is an example of the deeply spiritual nature of Koreans, which I experienced during my 11-day learning tour of South Korea.

Korean Mennonites are fervent pray-ers. They pray often and passionately and believe firmly that their prayers make a difference. Our host’s first agenda item was sharing their Friday evening prayer meeting with us. Upon our arrival in Chuncheon we went straight to Brother Cha’s apartment for a potluck supper followed by the prayer service. When I stood up to introduce myself, I said, “I’m John, the husband of Julie.” A ripple of recognition and affirmation ran through the gathering, since they have long prayed for healing from cancer for Julie. Now here in the flesh was her husband! I was able to let them know directly that she has been doing well and to thank them most sincerely for their love and concern.

Twenty-five to thirty-five percent of Koreans identify themselves as Christian, broken into mainly Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, and Methodists, as well as a few very large evangelical charismatic churches. But the only church that identifies itself as Anabaptist, centred on born-again adult baptism, discipleship, community life, and peace and non-violence, is the Jesus Village Church (JVC) of Chuncheon. Erv and Marian Wiens (Windsor Mennonite Church), Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers in Chuncheon serve on the leadership team, together with three other couples.

JVC is a family oriented congregation of about 40 members that meets in an office building. Many of the adults are professional, including several university professors. This core of leaders – all men in a still male-dominated society – takes turns at worship leading. Worship lasts about 90 minutes and consists of praise and hymn singing, prayer, a sermon, children’s story and congregational sharing. They do not have pews. Instead the common practice is to sit on cushions on the floor.

JVC actively supports several Korean religious and humanitarian organizations, such as Hospice and the Korean Anabaptist Center (KAC) in Seoul. KAC’s ministry fosters discipleship, community and peace building throughout Korea. The staff of three Canadians and two Koreans, headed by Tim Froese of Mennonite Church Canada Witness, conduct seminars and classes on peacemaking and conflict resolution. They also seek to interface with the many secular NGOs (non-government organizations) that promote peace in Korea, to bring a Christian emphasis.

KAC staff also meet with other church leaders to foster a working relationship and to promote peace, simple living, an Anabaptist Christian faith, and the possibility of non-participation in the military or alternative service. This can be challenging in a society where military service is mandatory for all young men.

One of the highlights of our visit was our trip to Unification Observatory. Here we could gaze across the heavily guarded border into the North, where a railway is currently under construction that will link the two Koreas. Brother Cha calls this passage a pinhole through the barrier dividing a people: once such a pinhole is established, his hope, and the prayers of all of us, is that it may lead to the reunification of Korea in our lifetime.

The high point of the entire trip was the middle day of our 11-day stay, the Sunday service we shared with Jesus Village Church. We prayed with them, sang ‘Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow’ for them, and shared stories and gifts. The blessing of sharing our faith with brothers and sisters across the ocean will stay with me as long as I live. I thank God for this opportunity.

May it go well with all of our spirits as we continue to seek the path of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.