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60 years after occupation, Japanese and Korean Anabaptists seek peace


Members of Jesus Village Church in Chun Chon, South Korea, gather around Japanese visitors for prayer during the Japanese group's visit to Korea in early April.

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May 26, 2006
-by Ryan Miller

Elkhart, Ind. - For many in South Korea, Japan is still the enemy.

Sixty years after World War II ended Japan's 35-year occupation of the Korean peninsula, Koreans' history lessons still teach them of the atrocities committed - resources stripped, dissidents jailed and killed, mothers and daughters forced to work as "comfort women" in Japanese brothels.

Koreans learn to hate the Japanese, but groups of Anabaptists now hope to begin reconciling their nations' histories of anger and hatred through group visits, shared experiences and personal commitments.

Since his experience listening to Koreans and Chinese talk about unhealed wounds with Japan at a 2003 theological consultation at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Kaz Enomoto has thought deeply about Japan's role in the region. This year, before representatives from 12 countries at a Mennonite mission consultation in Macau March 13-16, Enomoto asked for forgiveness.

Enomoto is a Japan native and Mennonite mission worker in Tokyo with a history of support from Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network. Enomoto told listeners at the consultation that if Christians cannot live in peace within the body, then faith becomes only a personal matter and has no power to transform the world. Japan's salvation, he continued, would not be complete without reconciliation.

Listening from the crowd was Kyong-Jung Kim, office manager of the Korea Anabaptist Center (KAC), a ministry begun by Mennonite Church Canada worker a Tim Froese.

Kyong-Jung paused at the word reconciliation. As a Korean, he was taught to hate the Japanese. Instead, as Enomoto finished speaking, Kyong-Jung rose and the Spirit moved.

The Korean offered forgiveness to the Japanese man. The pair embraced.

"I wasn't there. He wasn't there. But somehow we're still carrying the same burdens from our parents' generations," Kyong-Jung said. "I felt I gained one brother."

More reconciliation may come. A group of Mennonites from Tokyo recently spent March 29-April 4 in South Korea. The group toured museums that chronicled the atrocities committed during the occupation of Korea, even visiting the House of Sharing (a home for living comfort women) outside of Seoul and speaking to one of the female victims.

The Japanese group joined a worship service at Jesus Village Church (JVC) in Chun Chon, South Korea, where the Japanese and Koreans committed to pray for the relationship between their two countries and that they, as reconcilers, may spread the gospel of peace.

Daniel Ahn, a JVC leader, said the joint worship carried meaning.

"No one said, 'This is a moment of reconciliation.' But we felt it," Ahn said. "We share Jesus. Through the love of Jesus we can break down the old history."

According to Kyong-Jung, the visit also was educational for Koreans, who grow up learning to hate Japan.

"It is so hard for us, even though we are Korean Christians, to rebuild relationships [with Japan]," Kyong-Jung said. "But if Christians do not talk about peace and reconciliation with Christians and neighbors, then we miss the whole point."

"The disciples of Christ are to live out the truth that the cross of Christ has broken down the walls of hostility that separate peoples in this world," said Enomoto, who led the Japanese group. "If we remain strangers to each other, how can we treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ?"

Jae-Young Lee, KAC's peace program coordinator, said in the restorative justice concept, offenders must understand how their actions affect the victims. Japanese students rarely learn of the horrors of the occupation during their schooling. This was a chance, Jae-Young said, for the Japanese to see the unwritten part of their history.

Enomoto's group trip to Korea had been planned before the Macau meeting - Enomoto first visited Korea in 2004 and several KAC members have visited Japan on professional trips - but the connection with Kyong-Jung further convinced him of the need for continued relationship-building among individuals, congregations and organizations like KAC and Japan's Anabaptist Mennonite Educational Network.

The trip was just an early step in the reconciliation process. Kaz Enomoto has already returned to Korea when Tom Yoder Neufeld of Conrad Grebel University College visited in May.

KAC and Japan's Anabaptist Mennonite Educational Network plan future exchanges. Four Japanese Mennonites will attend a weeklong July discipleship and mission training program in Korea. A KAC staff member plans to travel to Tokyo for a restorative justice presentation by Howard Zehr of Eastern Mennonite University later this summer. Enomoto said that while an Asia-wide network witnessing to Christ's reconciling power is vital in the region, Christians finding peace together does not mean the two nations are or will be reconciled.

It is a beginning.

Kaz and Lois Enomoto serve in the Tokyo-area Mennonite churches. Lois teaches English and Bible to children's classes, serves on church committees and relates to women in cross-cultural marriages. Kaz teaches biblical studies, preaches regularly and is developing a training program and seminars for the Anabaptist Mennonite Educational Network (AMEN). Their home congregations are Mennonite Brethren Church and Mennonite Community Church in Fresno, Calif.

Sidebar: Politics remain tense

The connections between Japanese and Korean Anabaptists did not immediately impact politics in the two nations. According to media reports, government officials from both countries are disputing ownership of a set of islands called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan.

In April, Japan announced plans for a seabed survey in the area now under Korean control. Koreans saw a territorial claim. In response, South Korea dispatched 20 gunships to protect its sovereignty. Japan later agreed to call off the survey if the Koreans agreed to hold off on naming area seabeds.

During the discussions, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun did not ask for new apologies from Japanese officials, but called on Japan to cease glorifying past claims and past wrongs while acknowledging historical truths about the period from 1910-1945 when Japan occupied the Korean peninsula. While compensation claims between the nations have been settled, many South Korean women have pending court cases seeking compensation for being forced to work in Japanese brothels during that period.

Kyong-Jung Kim, office manager of Korea Anabaptist Center, said lingering anger over the occupation makes the Anabaptist peace position difficult to discuss. Koreans, he said, are taught to be strong and fight back to prevent any future occupations. Too much compromise with Japan, he said, could be seen as an unacceptable weakness.

Kaz Enomoto, a Mennonite mission worker in Tokyo, said the two Anabaptist groups must retain peace as a central position. "Why should we join the public in the dispute over rocks between two countries," he asked, "when we should be standing together on the Rock of Ages?"