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Korean Mennonites model early church
August 3, 2007
SEOUL, South Korea — Considered heretics by their fellow citizens, 30 believers gathered to worship in a borrowed room. New Testament Christians from the Holy Land? Reformation leaders in Europe? Although these counter-cultural Anabaptists share a common vision with their predecessors, this congregation initially met on the first Sunday of 2007 in Seoul, South Korea.
Many Korean churches emphasize personal salvation rather than experiencing salvation as a community, say members of Grace and Peace Mennonite Church. This church, the first Mennonite congregation in Seoul, grew out of a compelling personal vision.
“There should be a kind of real church that can be restored to the early church in the Bible,” said pastor Guishik Nam, a member of Grace and Peace’s pastoral leadership team. “But I had no idea [what that church was] until I met [the] Mennonite church.”
The Grace and Peace Mennonite Church distinguishes itself from other Korean denominations by committing itself to the gospel of peace, following Jesus’ teachings and making community life a priority.
“Most Korean churches depend on one big pastor, but the Grace and Peace Church is building the body of Christ according to each member’s gifts,” said SeongHan Kim, worship minister at Grace and Peace and director of Central Media for Korea Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.
Through his master’s studies at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. and attending Mennonite churches in that area, Nam learned more about the history of the Mennonite church. The Mennonite church inspired him as a model of what the early church would look like in present times.
Nam interned with Yellow Creek Mennonite Church, where Wes Bontreger, lead pastor and Nam’s supervisor, helped him to sharpen his vision of planting the first Mennonite church in Korea. Nam stayed on at Yellow Creek for nearly a year after his nine-month term to further nurture this dream.
In preparation for his ministry in South Korea, Nam was ordained by Indiana-Michigan conference but hopes to transfer his credentials to a Korean church body as soon as one is established.
Grace and Peace Mennonite Church meets at the Connexus Language Institute, a Korea Anabaptist Center program, but prays for their own church building to help in developing community life and provide opportunities to meet during the week, when English classes occupy the space (see sidebar).
On Easter Sunday, members of Grace and Peace shared Jesus’ joy in a colorful way. After hard-boiling 200 eggs and wrapping them carefully in bright paper, they knocked on their neighbors’ doors and offered them a small package of two eggs and the greeting “Our Lord Jesus Christ has risen!”
“It was a wonderful time to share the good news with our neighbors who are all business people around us,” Nam said.
Political and military tensions with neighboring North Korea still run high. The new congregation sends books and gifts to young men who are in prison for a minimum sentence of two years because of their conscientious objection to compulsory military service.
“The church is open to identifying a Korean way of interpreting the meaning of ‘peace church,’” said Jaeyoung Lee, a leader of the Grace and Peace Church and director of peace education at KAC.
Nam preaches, provides pastoral care and trains leaders in the church. His wife, Younju Nam, helps with the worship committee, children’s Sunday school and nurturing community life in the congregation.
Joining in a partnership with Grace and Peace Mennonite Church, Yellow Creek committed $18,000 a year for the first three years of Nam’s ministry.
Nam named Grace and Peace’s pastoral leadership team as a model of good partnership, one that extends to their international alliances with Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network. Recently, Guishik Nam participated in IMPaCT – International Mennonite Pastors Coming Together, in Alberta, as one way of connecting more intentionally with other Mennonite leaders (see Canadian Mennonite, July 30, 2007, page 34-35 and www.mennonitechurch.ca/tiny/446).
Grace and Peace’s emphasis on relationships and communication drew Wonchan Lee, a Methodist seminary student in Seoul, to join.
“There is a good horizontal relationship between the pastor and the congregation, whereas other churches have a hierarchical relationship,” he said.
The majority of Koreans think of Mennonites as radical social workers who do social justice without believing in Jesus Christ as their savior, said Nam. Many pastors still teach their congregations that Mennonites are heretics because they think that Mennonite theology is too liberal to be in keeping with Christian beliefs.
As a pioneering congregation, Grace and Peace Church follows in the footsteps of the first Mennonite leaders. They do not fear society’s judgment and eagerly spread a revolutionary message: the gospel of peace.
Korea Anabaptist Center
by Mimi Hollinger-Janzen
The Korea Anabaptist Center actively participates in the mission of God by cultivating biblical discipleship, peace and Christian community. Programs include Peacebuilders (teaching English with peace education content), Connexus Language Institute, and peace education for schools, churches and the Korea Anabaptist Press. Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Mennonite Mission Network, and Mennonite Central Committee have partnered with KAC since it officially opened its doors in 2001.