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Optimism after Korea Anabaptist Center divides


Ervin Wiens and Kyong-Jung Kim (foreground) renovate the new Korea Anabaptist Center offices.

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Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Mission Network joint release
January 20, 2012
-Wil LaVeist, with Deborah Froese

Winnipeg, MAN. — Separation does not always mean subtraction. In fact, for Mennonite Church Canada’s partner in South Korea, the Korea Anabaptist Center, separating from Connexus, the English-language institute that it created in 2004, is becoming a multiplication factor for both.

To cut expenses, both agencies moved from the original headquarters in Seoul to separate offices in different cities – doubling their areas of impact. KAC is now in ChunCheon City, northeast of Seoul, and Connexus is in DeokSo, a suburb of Seoul.

“It’s mainly due to the financial crisis that had many complicated causes,” says Kyong-Jung Kim, KAC’s director. “It was too much for us to remain in the city of Seoul’s downtown area.”

KAC’s staff consists of Kyong-Jung and Erv and Marian Wiens, who are resource workers on behalf of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Mission Network. Connexus reduced its staff from five to two teachers.

Kyong-Jung also says he compares the change to children growing up and leaving their home, rather than a divorce.

“The parents respect what their children are doing, and children still honour their parents,” Kyong-Jung says. “Even though they (Connexus) have their own entity and own finances and programs, still we see a big KAC family.”

In August 2011, a few months shy of KAC’s 10th anniversary on Nov. 5, leaders decided to separate KAC and Connexus. KAC is a resource centre on Anabaptist teachings for individuals and churches. It was established in 2001, after Korean leaders of Jesus Village Church invited Mennonite workers from Canada to share Anabaptist theology and practice.

As KAC’s library developed, the idea to create an English-language institute arose, in part, as a way to generate funding for KAC. Connexus is an educational community “emphasizing cross-cultural understanding through communication and exchange.”

Young people—many of whom were alumni from Mennonite colleges and universities—were recruited to teach English, creating a bond among Koreans, Canadians and Americans. But as other English institutes formed in Seoul, revenue and enrolment at Connexus declined, resulting in the move to separate locations.

KAC and Connexus continue to work together to establish a more holistic understanding of peace.

“Peace, even though it is a very essential concept, many Korean Christians see it as an absence of war, no physical fighting, or it’s calmness within yourself, or peace with God,” Kyong-Jung says. “Korean Christians don’t have the same understanding for what Anabaptists see as shalom, a way of living with humanity and with creation. Sometimes churches don’t want to talk about it because it brings in politics.”

Despite this, the desire for Anabaptist understanding of faith is growing among South Koreans who reject the religion of prosperity and materialism emphasized in the megachurches of the country, the Wiens’ say.

Peace ministries include Korea Anabaptist Press, which publishes translations of relevant Anabaptist material, and an expanded regional program, the Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI). Just this summer, NARPI held its first annual Summer Training event. Forty-eight registered participants, primarily from Northeast Asia, came together to study themes on peace and conflict, peace education, restorative justice, historical and cultural storytelling, trauma healing and peace building skills.

Jesus Village Church and Grace and Peace Mennonite Church are the two officially Anabaptist congregations in South Korea, with about 130 members (including children) between them, but many individuals and other congregations identify with Anabaptism. Future plans call for KAC to continue to work directly with congregations, teaching and providing resources on Anabaptist theology and practice. Connexus will continue focussing on English training and it will be the centre for such peace ministries as NARPI, Peace Camp and restorative justice programs.

KAC has a new locally run board and revived ties with Jesus Village Church—close to KAC. The church has helped with office renovations, provided financial support as well as spiritual support through intercessory prayer.

The Wienses say that they are assured and excited, not only about the future of KAC and Connexus but for themselves. They plan to return to Canada in the spring when their assignment ends, and are looking forward to spending more time with their six grown children and seven grandchildren.

“We are sort of waiting to see what God is doing,” says Marian Wiens, a retired family therapist who helped the KAC and Connexus staffs work through the stressful division.