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Peace, church, and South Korea

   
 


Jae Young Lee, Peace Program Director of the Korea Anabaptist Center (left), Sung-Do Cha, a leader from the (Anabaptist) Jesus Village Church, and Tim Froese, Executive Director for International Ministries of Mennonite Church Canada Witness and co-founder of the Korea Anabaptist Center share a meal near the Korean demilitarized zone in 2005.

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November 10, 2006
-by Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man. - The Korea Anabaptist Center (KAC) recently signed, with 19 other organizations in the Global Partnership for Prevention of Armed Conflict, a letter condemning North Korea’s nuclear testing. The statement also called for the U.S. – with whom the ceasefire is currently declared – to immediately engage in bilateral talks with the North Korea.

Mainline South Korean churches, however, tend to respond quite differently.

Since 1953, North and South Korea have lived in the tension of a cease fire. No peace agreement has ever been signed between the North Koreans and the US. Partly due to this tension, peace theology is not a popular perspective or topic of discussion for mainline organized churches in South Korea, said Tim Froese, executive director for international ministries of Mennonite Church Canada Witness and one of the founders of the Korea Anabaptist Center in Seoul.

Froese lived in South Korea from 1998 – 2005. “The Just War theory is invoked readily as are stories of Old Testament wars in justifying what many would see as the obvious need to defend one's country. The Christian faith is not seen as really offering any alternative response.”

The KAC, which celebrated its fifth anniversary on Nov. 4, 2006, is trying to change that. Since the inception of the KAC, staff has worked with churches to help them “understand themselves with a peace identity,” says Cheryl Woelk, who coordinates education programs at KAC and serves as head teacher at KAC’s English teaching ministry, Connexus.

Anabaptist peace theology is gradually attracting more individuals, says Froese, but it takes time and dialogue. Nonetheless it is a discussion that my Korean colleagues are pressing and explaining as they see it as essential to the Gospel and to ministry in [South] Korea. At present it is more readily voiced by individuals than [organized] churches or congregations.”

While Buddhists are well known for their teachings about peace, the only other faith-based group to express their peace beliefs in South Korea does so through conscientious objection. Hundreds of young Jehovah’s Witness men do prison time – the only other option to serving in the military. “Anyone holding views like conscientious objection to military service is [by default] thought of as being a member of the Jehovah's Witness,” said Froese.

Woelk and Jae Young Lee, the Peace Program Director at KAC, say there is something everyone can do: pray for the situation. In particular, they ask for prayers that “… both governments and citizens refrain from responding in a sharp, reactionary way to the nuclear testing issue, that both governments and people learn more about the complexity of the issue from different perspectives before reacting in ways that increase the threat of violence and division among people, and ask that people not de-humanize the ‘enemy.’”

Mennonite Church Canada and its partner Mennonite Mission Network help support the Korea Anabaptist Center (KAC) and Connexus.

Sidebar: Anabaptists in South Korea, Japan, extend peace

Seoul, South Korea and Tokyo, Japan —Anabaptist leaders from Seoul and Tokyo are working to heal a wound caused by Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910–1945.

Seven months ago, a Japanese Mennonite delegation visited Jesus Village Church, an Anabaptist faith community in Chun Chon, South Korea to exchange greetings, pray together, and spend time getting to know one another (see www.mennonitechurch.ca/tiny/96). From October 20-23, a six-member delegation from Jesus Village Church returned the visit.

In reflecting on the experience, Kyong-Jung Kim, Director of the Korea Anabaptist Center in Seoul, said, “It is my confession that we have not tried hard enough to develop our relationship further with Japanese churches. So I was thankful to rediscover that we were actually doing something meaningful together for God's Kingdom, and it was the body of Christ that we were working through.”

Kaz and Lois Enomoto, who serve in Tokyo through Mennonite Mission Network, wrote in an e-mail that the visit was a continued attempt “to share God’s love and grace of forgiveness and reconciliation. We seek to experience in ourselves through this exchange program the power of Jesus’ cross that broke down the dividing wall of hostility resulting from the Japanese occupation of Korea over sixty years ago.”

In Tokyo, the Koreans visited sites, museums, and places of cultural interest that define the Japanese context and gave the Korean’s insight into their neighbour’s history. They also met with a Brethren in Christ and Mennonite congregation as part of their tour. Kim spoke at Yayoidai Mennonite Church and Sanguk Nham of Jesus Village Church preached at Honancho Mennonite Church; both emphasized commonality in Christ and the importance of fellowship and partnership in Asia.

“If churches try to make peace in relationships like this, especially in conflict areas, the world may want to learn from us how to bring peace instead of mocking us for not doing anything for good,” said Kim.