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South Korean Mennonite partners pave the way of peace


(L-R) Front: Su Yeon Park, Yoon Seo Park, Kyoko Okumoto; Middle: Yun Joo Seol, Bohyun Lee, Jin Joo Park, Meri Joyce; Back: Rod Suderman (Mennonite Church Canada Witness Associate), Oyunsuren Damdinsuren, Chien-Fu Chen, Atsuhiro Katano, Jae Young Lee, Jungki Seo, Kathy Matsui, restaurant staff, Sri Mayasandra.

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Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Mission Network joint release
January 21, 2011
- DeVonna R. Allison, with files from Dan Dyck

Elkart, IND. — Though Jae Young Lee doesn’t think the recent North Korean shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island will lead to full-scale war, as Peace Program Coordinator for the Korea Anabaptist Center (KAC) he is alarmed by what is happening in both North and South Korea.

“I think it is seriously time for all of us—Koreans and others [in the international community]—to realize we need to create a concrete and peaceful resolution to our deadlock situation,” Lee said.

The Korean peninsula is a land sharply divided. Though an armistice signed in 1953 ended the military battles of the three-year Korean War, it essentially produced a 57-year stand-off between North and South Korea that continues to this day. Periodically this uneasy cease-fire erupts in violence. On November 23, North and South Korea traded salvos over Yeonpyeong Island in the disputed West Sea/Yellow Sea, in the first artillery exchange on the territory of the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War. It was a clash that displaced 1,000 people, left at least four dead and many wounded.

Karen Spicher, a Mennonite Mission Network worker who serves as a communications administrator with Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI), lives just south of the capital city of Seoul and teaches English at Connexus, KAC’s language institute. She said the shelling on Yeonpyeong Island brought a strong response from South Korean students.

 “People seem more afraid than before, in response to previous incidents,” Spicher said. One of her students, a recently-married young woman, immediately texted her husband upon learning of the shelling, telling him she wanted to leave Korea.

“There are many different opinions in this country about peace-building efforts,” Spicher said, “But right now the media are raising a voice for retaliation and the need for increased defence. So thoughts of peace-making are far from most people’s minds.”

Due to this legacy of conflict, it is appropriate that South Korea is to be home to the newly formed NARPI, an outreach project of Korea Anabaptist Center, a partner of Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Mission Network. Mennonite Central Committee also provides significant support for NARPI.

Inspired by attending Eastern Mennonite University’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute, Lee and fellow Canadian Mennonite Bible College graduate (now Canadian Mennonite University), Kyong Jung Kim, along with Tim Froese of Mennonite Church Canada, founded the Korea Anabaptist Center in Seoul in 2001. Nine years of work with conflict transformation, restorative justice, and peace education in Seoul helped KAC organizers recognize the potential for an expanded regional program. The result is the NARPI, which began organizing in 2009.

With NARPI’s creation, local peace leaders hope to encourage regional collaborative efforts that will highlight the way of non-violence. Northeast Asia is an area of the world long-fraught with deep cultural and political divisions. And while other peace-making organizations do exist in China, Japan, Mongolia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Far East Russia, inter-agency communication is limited, which hinders cohesive efforts at peace-building.

In 2009 NARPI organizers developed a network of about 200 organizations and individuals in Northeast Asia who are interested in collaborating on cooperative peace efforts. In 2010 a NARPI steering committee from the six countries worked to organize their first summer training programs. Meetings in Seoul and on the Peace Boat (on its voyage from Yokohama to Hong Kong), resulted in plans for the first summer peace building program, which is to be held in August, 2011. Also in 2010, Mennonite Mission Network helped NARPI obtain a grant from the Schowalter Foundation, a Mennonite philanthropic organization, which will be used for workshops, material development and administration.

Tim Froese, former KAC Director and current Executive Director of Mennonite Church Canada Witness International Ministries, says “the conflict on the Korean peninsula is very real and its impact extends to the entire Northeast Asian region and beyond, including the United States.”

“Sadly, decades of military build-up, posturing and exercises by all parties have not resolved historical or current issues, nor have they brought what is most desired to the peninsula, peace. Through the diverse ministries affiliated with KAC and its dedicated staff, North American Mennonites have been able to effectively partner together in our common passion for peace. The long term goal remains to engage South Korea’s significant Christian population and envision a transforming path to reconciliation and peace.”

Mennonite Church Canada (formerly COM/MBM) has had Witness Workers serving continuously in South Korea since 1996. Current Witness Workers include Sarah & Sam Blackwell, Sheri Martens, Hun& Sunny Lee, and Erv & Marian Wiens.