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Korea Anabaptist Center hosts Yoder-Neufeld on lecture circuit

   
 


Students at the Korea Baptist Theological University and Seminary discuss with Tom (far right) and Kyong-Jung (far left) theological matters after Tom's lecture.

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July 14, 2006
-by Douglas Friesen

Seoul, Korea — South Korea is a remarkable land, alive with economic activity and endless apartment complexes, whose recovery from the Korean War into a fully industrialized nation is nothing short of remarkable. In it, Christianity has become the predominant religion.

Yet Korea also bears many scars. It is now the last remaining country to still be divided as a result of the WWII allied victory. Most South Koreans still hope for eventual reunification with their brothers and sisters in the North.

It is in this context that the Korea Anabaptist Center, whose mission is to develop and provide resources, education, training and relationships in the Anabaptist/Mennonite faith tradition, invited Tom Yoder Neufeld, Director of the Graduate Theological Studies program at Conrad Grebel College, to be its guest speaker.

Sponsored by Mennonite Church and KAC, this past May Yoder Neufeld spent three weeks visiting churches, seminaries, and Christian groups from all over South Korea, speaking to audiences that ranged from 20 to 300 persons on the topic of “Peacemaking as the Imitation of God”, and the theme of social justice throughout the entire Bible.

Yoder Neufeld’s talks were very well received, whether at a Baptist, Presbyterian, or interdenominational venue, or with various groups such as the World Christian Frontiers (a peace building organization), Intervarsity Fellowship, or a UNESCO seminar of peace leaders. One could feel that this biblical idea of a God working for social justice found in so many stories of the Bible, from the Exodus, to the Prophets, through to the New Testament in the story of Jesus, and in the letter of Ephesians in particular, was one that was new, fresh, inspiring, and very challenging.

Kyong-Jung Kim, of the Korea Anabaptist Center (KAC) said, “The seminaries we visit continue to enjoy the guest speakers from KAC which come every year. In our conversations they really appreciate the Anabaptist perspective on peacemaking and community, and encourage us to publish more books, as we provide a unique perspective on these topics not found anywhere else in Korea.” KAC currently has published eight translated books on topics including Anabaptist history, peacemaking, community and conflict mediation.

Presentations to seminary students were especially invigorating as pupils always energetically engaged us, and asked many difficult and challenging questions – questions I in fact usually had as well.

It was a challenge for Yoder Neufeld to keep his answers brief to the complex theological questions that kept coming up. Imagine a Mennonite theologian, in five or ten minutes, being asked to give a short answer on how one reconciles the passages where God seemingly orders or approves of violence in the Old Testament, when half that time is taken up in translation.

Questions such as this, and Yoder Neufeld’s interpretation of Romans 13 where Paul talks of submitting ourselves to the authority of the state, and his view of President Bush’s foreign policy, were questions that kept coming up. There was definite intrigue in Tom’s message, and those listening were very curious to understand how he responded to the traditional criticisms of peace theology.

Listener’s welcomed how the lectures brought an understanding of Christianity that is firmly rooted in all of Scripture, not just the New Testament, and how it provides a holistic message relevant to all people, and in all our interconnections, personal, social, and environmental. In this age of immense global issues such as climate change and nuclear war, I felt this message was especially relevant.

What also was very meaningful for me was the forum on conscientious objectors (COs) in Korea. Currently, all able men must serve two years of mandatory military service. However, we met this year with the first CO who is Roman Catholic. There was also a German CO in attendance, and it was nice to have Bob Gerber, a Mennonite Church international worker and CO during WWII, along with Yoder Neufeld there to share the experience of Mennonites in this situation.

Personally, to live in a country with conscription would test my convictions more strongly than I’ve ever experienced, so to be transformed into this real-life situation was very humbling. It opened my eyes to the fact that saying “no” to being a part of war is dangerous in a large portion of the world. There is much work left to do.

Yoder Neufeld’s time ended with a talk at the UNESCO building where we met with social action groups. Many were very interested in Tom’s reading of the Bible that is not stressed much in the Korean church in general. Listeners concluded that Korea needs to develop resources and education on a peace theology that emphasizes Jesus’ way of peace and working for social justice, so that future generations can learn ways to make peace as an alternative to war.

What struck me though was how the seeds of a more peaceful and reconciling worldview are already spreading all over Korea. I find this very relevant in this time where we must learn to live cooperatively with each other, lest we perish to the pressures of exponential growth in a finite environment. We had great talks all over the country, with leaders in churches and many seminaries of different denominations open to our message. Tom was also interviewed for NewsNJoy (www.newsnjoy.co.kr), a well-known Christian magazine, in which he was featured on the front page and had the feature article on peacemaking.

As a result of this lecture series, we have already seen groups planning to visit the North America to learn more about peace theology, and we hope that the seeds of peace from Tom’s trip will grow and bear much fruit in the years to come. We greatly enjoyed Tom’s visit and deeply thank him for coming.

The writer is a member of Waterloo North Mennonite Church and a volunteer for the Korea Anabaptist Center, serving one year as a Web Administrator through Mennonite Central Committee's Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program. Friesen grew up in Winnipeg, holds a B.Math from the University of Waterloo, where he attended Conrad Grebel College and was Tom Yoder Neufeld's student.