Connections Letter: God is in Korea

Our 2013-14 crew at Seoraksan Park.

Greetings friends, family, and supporters,

An entire year of Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) in Korea with us has passed and a new set of young adults has already hit full speed in struggling to adapt to a new culture. Also, Happy Chuseok! The Korean Harvest Festival passed this past week (September :(…..), and Hyeyoung, Sahn, and I went to see the grandparents in Ulsan eating ourselves silly.

We did not have much time to reflect on our first set of YAVs since they headed back to the States in July because I started the new position taking me to Seoul for three days every week. Chuseok gave us a little bit of breathing time, however, and we feel very positive about our work and the future potential for this site. We have much work to do in terms of expanding the site and adding some diversity to the volunteer opportunities, but we have a solid foundation to work from.

Our 2013-14 crew at Seoraksan Park.

Our 2013-14 crew at Seoraksan Park.

We thoroughly enjoyed walking alongside Molly, Bennett, Tisha, and Eric this past year. We had the pleasure of seeing them grow and change as they encountered struggles and had to adapt to a life that stretched them to their limits. For years we will probably not know the full extent to which their time in Korea has affected them; however, they have already begun reflecting on their experience. During their last month here we took them on a retreat to Seoraksan Mountain Park on the Northeast coast. The view of the ocean is stunning, and the mountain trails gave us the perfect setting to take a breath of clean air and to let the events of a year sink in. At one point on the visit to the mountain, the YAVs left Hyeyoung, Sahn, and me behind to climb up a rather difficult path leading to a cave high above the feet of the mountain. When they came back down they exclaimed how majestic the view from the cave was. That moment in and of itself became a spiritual moment, and they each remarked how palpable the presence of God seemed to be there.

Coming down from the mountain, we spent some time asking them about their feelings having nearly completed their YAV year. One of the more striking reflections came from Bennett. He recalled how he spent his first two weeks in Korea convinced that he came here by mistake (though he kept that feeling well hidden from us!). The food and the signs in a different alphabet nearly overwhelmed him. Eventually he settled in to his life of Korean language class for the first half of the day and volunteering at the children’s center and soup kitchen the second half. By the time they all finished their semester of Korean language, Bennett began to see the change in relationships because of his increased ability to communicate with the children and the people eating and volunteering in the kitchen. Although a certain level of discomfort followed him throughout the year, he came to recognize that he “had a place” at Saenaru Community Center and that he was meant to be there after all.

Bennett in the middle of games at Saenaru.

Bennett in the middle of games at Saenaru.

Members of the community even commented on the difference of his presence. One person approached Bennett and said that, after several months, they realized he was not like the other volunteers that come in now and again from universities in order to satisfy volunteer hour requirements. They could see his devotion to the site, and they specifically thanked him for coming back every week all year. He was not able to pinpoint exactly all the changes, but the discomfort and struggle have changed him as a person for the better.

We hope to hear more and more from Bennett and the other YAVs as they head off on the next chapters for their journey. If there experience resembles my experience as a YAV many years ago, they will probably not fully understand the effects of a YAV year for some time to come. We do know for sure where they are heading this year! Bennett has chosen to take on a second year as a YAV in New Orleans, LA. Molly has also taken on a second YAV year, and she has begun her time in Little Rock, AR. Eric had already been accepted to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, so he has headed to Pennsylvania. Tisha has begun her studies at McCormick Theological Seminary. Two out of four already beginning studies in ministry is a pretty good percentage, while all four of them are already taking on leadership in the church community.

A view from Seoraksan Park.

A view from Seoraksan Park.

With our former YAVs and with the new YAVs recently arrived, we will continue to make the affirmation Eric made in a blog post earlier this summer, that “God is in Korea.” “God has been demonstrating all year how the gospel transcends all barriers of culture and language. Starting with attending the World Council of Churches conference last Autumn, where we worshipped and studied the Word with Christians from all over the globe, I have been becoming more deeply moved by God’s presence all year. I have been moved by the light of Christ in people I have met from Korea, America, Canada, Hungary, England, the Philippines, and Pakistan, who are all here in Korea to serve the Lord In various ways…. Even as the manifestation of faith in Christ is radically different in various cultures, the presence and message of God Himself in what I’ve seen of the world is profoundly constant. The gospel is truly a message for the entire world. Apprehending this has indeed increased my awe and wonder at our God….” Read his full post here.

We thank all those who continue to support our work in Korea helping young adult leaders to grow in confidence and faith. We invite all others who are interested in seeing this work continue to join our community and consider donating financial resources, prayers, or connect with us in other ways.


Kurt Esslinger

Reconciliation & Unification Committee Work and Kurt

The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations NY office recently requested that I provide them with a video description of my connection to the National Council of Churches in Korea and its Reconciliation and Unification Committee (RUC). The Presbyterian UN office was putting on a seminar focusing on Korea, so that had our work here as part of it. They were hoping to connect with me over Skype, but the timing did not work out. So, I sent them a video message instead. Thankfully, my friend and colleague, Esther Ji-Eun Kim, was willing to help me out with the part explaining the activities of the RUC. She is an intern with the RUC through a program of the United Methodist Church (USA), so she worked for a year in Zambia and is now serving for a year in her home country, Korea!


NCCK Visit to Pyongyang and Joint Worship

ncck visit 2014-8(From an NCCK news article I helped to translate into English)

The 8.15 Joint Prayer Worship for Peace and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula was held at the Bong Su Church in Pyongyang with The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) and The Korean Christian Federation (KCF).

For this, the NCCK organized a delegation of 19 people from member denominations and affiliated organizations, and they visited Pyongyang from August 13th(Wed) up to 16th (Sat).

The first steps toward this joint worship service began with the proposal of the Declaration on Peace and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula at the World Council of Churches (WCC) Busan Assembly, and then the process for action agreed upon at the Bossey, Switzerland International Consultation on Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.

The National Council of Churches (NCCK) and the Korean Christian Federation (KCF), after the Bossey Consultation, held this joint worship prayer service at the Bong Su Church in Pyongyang keeping in mind the meaning of the 8.15 Week of Prayer for the Peace and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula, which was adopted by the churches of the world.

The NCCK visited Pyongyang with a delegation of 19 people including member churches, member organizations, along with women and young adult representatives on August 13th – 16th. Especially, in accordance with all that had been significantly discussed from the WCC General Assembly and the Bossey Consultation toward the extension of the exchange of women and young adults between churches of South and North, each church included the participation of two representatives from groups of women and young adults respectively. Also there was a delegation of women from the KCF, so they sought the possibility of an exchange of women between the South and North; therefore they held a discussion on the movement for reunification and the exchange and cooperation of young adults from the South and North.

ncck visit 2014-8 2The Joint Prayer Meeting began with masters of ceremonies and Rev. Kang Myung Chul (Chairperson of the KCF) welcomed the NCCK delegation with a message of welcome for visiting Pyongyang during a difficult time. He said that still, we have been connected as one in Jesus Christ even though we have not had opportunities to have frequent meetings. Also he mentioned that our gathering has a very significant meaning for creating a peaceful atmosphere, as peace and reunification is the path toward life, while distrust and war is the path toward a ruined country. We should not forget that we are one people and one blood even if we are divided by foreign powers. He said that Jesus said there will be blessings for those who work for making peace in the Sermon on the Mount. So we Christians, who have a calling for peace and unification, should reject all machinations of war which conspire with foreign powers, and we should rise up for the peace and reunification of this country. And he emphasized that carrying out the 6.15 Declaration and the 10.4 Declaration is the way toward peace and the way that our people might live. And he wished that this joint meeting could beseech God so that the peace and reunification of God would be realized immediately in this country.

ncck visit 2014-8 3Rev. Kim Young Ju (General Secretary of the NCCK) expressed gratitude to the KCF for inviting the NCCK delegation. And he said that to have a joint prayer for the purpose of making harmony and peaceful reunification is particularly meaningful, especially today, which is the day that we were liberated from colonial control. And we should meditate on the fact that the true liberation will be completed only when we have realized the peace and reunification of the South and North. For a long time, the churches of South and North Korea have done their best to work for cooperation around peace and reunification. The churches of the world have also given support and solidarity along with the efforts of the churches of the North and South. This is a good thing, but we should remember that we ought to be making an effort on our own as well, independent of foreign powers. We should not forget that the division of Korea after liberation came about from more powerful countries following their own interests, and we had no power to overcome them at that time. The North and South governments, through the June 15th (6.15) Declaration and the October 4th (10.4) Declaration, set out the practical provisions for peace and reunification. However, we have unfortunately not been able to follow through on those agreements. In this reality, we should fulfill our role as apostles of peace, and our task is to uncover the stumbling blocks toward making peace.

ncck visit 2014-8 4Bishop Jun Yong Jai from the Korean Methodist Church (KMC) preached a sermon titled, “From my Hands We Become One,” based on Ezekiel 37: 15-23; As the divided Judah in the South and Israel in the North became one people by the hands of God, so he believes that our country divided into the South and North will become one by the hands of God, and moreover he emphasized that we need more effort toward cooperation and exchange on behalf of peace and reunification.

Rev. Park Dong Il (President of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea) presided over the Eucharist where the South and North churches shared Holy Communion together as one community, and through this communion the people experienced becoming one, and they experienced reconciliation in Jesus Christ.

ncck visit 2014-8 5After that, Dr. Lee Un Sunn from Sejong University and Rev. Kim Hye Suk (KCF) read together the 8.15 Joint South-North Prayer for Peaceful Reunification, which was adopted by the churches of the South and North. The Bong Su Church choir and the delegates from the NCCK performed a special hymn. Especially the choir and the NCCK delegates experienced becoming one through the singing of the hymn. After that, the Rev. Cho Hun Jung (Chair of the Reconciliation and Unification Committee) and General Secretary of the Korea YMCA, Nam Boo Won, and President of the Korea YWCA, Cha Kyung Ae, gave a congratulatory address, and then the worship finished with a blessing by the Chairperson of the KCF. Then, the NCCK delegation visited the Pyongyang Theological Seminary and the newly renovated Chil Gol Church.

The North and South Churches hope that through this South-North Joint Prayer, the efforts for healing, reconciliation, and reunification of the people will bear fruit.

NCCK Joint Worship for Peaceful Reunification

(from an NCCK news article I helped to edit into English)

On Sunday August 10th, the NCCK Committee for Reconciliation and Unification along with 600 people from 11 member churches and affiliated organizations held a joint Sunday prayer worship service, ”The Wave of Peace, Be the Breaker of Unification,” for the peace and reunification of the Korean peninsula at Sejongro Park.

KakaoTalk_20140814_102608662The Korean Church and the World Church have been observing the week that precedes August 15th as a “Joint Prayer Week for Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula.” In 1989, the World Church had determined at the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) held in Moscow to set a joint prayer week for peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula and to pray together.

Also at the Busan General Assembly of the WCC held in October 2013, the Word Church adopted the Statement for Peace and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula, which contains that reconfirmation about churches all over the world observing the “Joint Prayer Week for Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula.” It has been reemphasized in the communiqué from the International Consultation on Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula held on June 17th - 19th, 2014 in Bossey, Switzerland.

KakaoTalk_20140814_102603342The joint worship began with introspection over the situation of the divided Korean peninsula. People repented that they did not see the suffering and pain of others, focused only on their own benefit, and they made little effort for the peace and reunification of this country while instead blaming the surrounding circumstances. According to the “South-North Joint Prayer for Peaceful Reunification on the Korean Peninsula,” which was co-created by the National Council of Churches in Korea and Korean Christian Federation last June in Bossey, Switzerland, people prayed for ending the war through a peace treaty and that we may all of us walk the way of love and truth, serving and sharing.

Significantly this time, the worship used the South and North Joint Prayer for Peaceful Reunification on the Korean Peninsula which was co-written by the Korean Christian Federation and the National Council of Churches in Korea. This joint prayer was sent to the World Churches so they may join the suffering and the wishes for peace and reunification of the Korean peninsula.

KakaoTalk_20140814_102611871The preacher, Rev. Kim, from Deul-Gott-Hyang-Lin Church preached a sermon with the title, “I Am Who I Am,” and sent a message that “when seeing the people and countries of the Bible they always perished surely when they divided and fought each other. So the Christians who believe in the Bible should be the last bastion which is able to create unification.”

As a thanks giving and response, lay people took the lead for intercessory prayer. Kim Kyung Yoon from Dong-Nyok Church, prayed for the creation of a peace treaty to put an end to war and for the peace and reunification of the Korean peninsula and our prosperity. Also Kim Min Kyung from Gajewool-Noksec Church, prayed, “Let all of us be an apostle of peace so that we may work and cooperate for the peace of the world.”

KakaoTalk_20140814_102606323After that all people shared the body and blood of Jesus with love and sincerity in the Eucharist. People greeted each other with greetings of peace and prayed together.

After the service, all people gathered at the back and joined in the rhythms of Samulnori and Dedongnori which is a traditional Korean percussion quartet.

Joint Peace Prayer (text only)

Today is Liberation Day on the Korean Peninsula. May they be liberated from division and war. Let us pray the prayer composed together by Christians in the North and in the South:


God of Love!

It has been 25 years since we agreed to keep the week of Independence Day as a joint prayer week with the wish of reconciliation, and peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula. It was a promise from the South and North Korean churches’ deep prayer to God for peace and reunification and was a vow of love in a very difficult time. We, however, still have not reached full liberation and still are experiencing conflict and hostile policies. Oh Lord! Have mercy on us.

God of the Road!

You know our suffering and pain at the division of our people. Lord, the road of reconciliation and peace, created by the life and devotion of many people, has been blocked. A high barrier of division is again being built up by people who don’t want reunification. The door of joint economic cooperation into Kaeseong has been shrinking and we cannot be sure when the pathway of reconciliation through Mt. Keumkang will open again. All sky access, waterways and railways have been blocked. Lord, we are afraid of today’s reality. Oh Lord, help us be against the injust, and open the way of peace and reunification.

God of Truth!

When we look back at this long and painful reality, you convince us that the way for sincere reconciliation and peace and reunification is coming together in exchange and cooperation based on mutual understanding, and opening military and political barricades with mutual trust. “For he is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). The Lord of the Resurrection sent peace to all people through the love of the Cross. Lord, let the ceasefire agreement, which was not made by our will, be discarded immediately and let the war finally be ended through a peace treaty. Break the influence of darkness and injustice which tries to dominate the world by force and power, and let us all walk the way of service, sharing, love and truth.

God of Life!

We want to be a lighthouse for peace in East Asia and the world to light the peace of the world. Lord, let us put an end to the military culture of plunder, domination and death that has been made by the strong. Let us build the history of life through your love. Let those confess their sin who unjustly dominate, threatening the powerless and taking the lives of others, and let them do justice again by returning all that they have exploited. Accordingly, let the South, the North, and all Christians of the world pray, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace”, and let us come to the Lord who calls us as the apostles of peace.

In 2013 at the WCC 10th General Assembly in Busan, 345 churches of the world, representing 560,000,000 Christians, promised to act and pray together for the peace and reunification of Korea. However, unfortunately, the Korean Christian Federation could not join us in that time. Oh Lord, let the churches of South and North Korea make every effort to work for peace and reunification, praying together now more than ever. In the near future, let us hear the Gospel of reunification which will be to us a 2nd liberation. You are the love, truth, and life. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


August 15, 2014


The National Council of Churches in Korea – Korean Christian Federation



Joint Prayer for Peace and Reunification

In a few weeks the entire peninsula of Korea will honor the memory of Liberation Day from Japanese Colonialism on August 15th, 1945. This will be a celebration full of mixed feelings as this day also marks the moment when two foreign powers, the Soviet Union and the United States made the decision without Korean authority to divide the peninsula into two zones. The a long that generally follows the 38th Parallel became the line of division. Upon the Korean War, it also became an impassable wall separating families and independence partners who happened to be on the wrong side.

My new partner organization, the National Council of Churches of Korea is calling upon churches around the world to join them in praying for peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula. They have joined together with the Korean Christian Federation that represents Christians in North Korea to write a Joint Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula. Hyeyoung and I have also helped them translate a worship liturgy into English so that you all may use it or parts of it. On the Sunday before August 15th, which will be August 10th, churches in North and South Korea will use this worship liturgy and prayer this prayer together so that the responsible governments including the USA, Russia, China, South, and North Korea will dispense with hostile activities and seek peaceful reunification of the peninsula.

As Christians together we believe that our connection and power in Christ transcends the limited and imperfect means of nation states and their foreign policy decisions. Together in prayer we will find a way where there is no way as the Spirit guides us. Please join in prayer with us on August 10th, 2014.

I have attached the worship liturgy and the prayer in case you want to use it in your congregation’s worship or if you simply want to share it through whatever media your community prefers.

Joint North/South Prayer 2014

Joint North/South Worship Liturgy 2014