NCCK Letter on Peace Summits

Dear Mr. Jim Winkler and The Rt. Rev W. Darin Moore,ncck peace campaign

I bring greetings from the member churches and organizations of the National Council of
Churches in Korea. First of all, let me express a deep gratitude to you, all the member churches of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, and all Christians and peace-loving people in the US as you all have prayed and acted for peace-building on the Korean peninsula.

Since the national division in 1945 and the following Korean War of 1950-1953, we Korean people in North and South have sinned against one another, hating and even killing each other. For more than 70 years’ the division system has brought us unbearable pain and suffering. Above all, we always live with the fear of another war as the Korean peninsula has been a flash point in which the world super powers can clash at any time. Even until the end of last year, the fear of the nuclear war reached boiling point among Korean people with North Korea’s nuclear tests and the strong reactions of the US.

Since the PyeongChang Olympic Games, however, North and South have cultivated a peace momentum as we recognize, “the result of an extreme military confrontation would be a total catastrophe to not only the Korean people, but all people in the neighboring countries.” This peace momentum culminated in the two inter-Korean summit meetings on April 27 and on May 26 in which the two leaders agreed to “end the Korean War”, to “work on a permanent and solid peace regime on the Korean peninsula”, and a “comprehensive denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

Furthermore, two inter-Korean summit meetings have played a catalyst role in arranging the US-North Korea summit on June 12, even with the bumps in the road. Now it seems almost certain that President Trump is committed to the summit. Despite many obstacles ahead in consideration of 70 years of hostility, we Korean people strongly believe that the summit will be held as planned and it will address “the denuclearization process of North Korea and normalization of diplomatic relation” between the two countries.

We, the people in the Korean peninsula and the US, are situated at a kairotic moment of time in which the decades-long hostility dissipates, and an era of peace, reconciliation and prosperity shall blossom. However, we are all aware that we just began this long journey together on a new road. On this journey we will face dangers and obstacles lurking in the darkness, but we believe that God will eventually lead us to reconciliation and peace.

We are called by God as agents of peace, and this peace mission is not an option, but an
obligation for us Christians. Hence, let us lift all our hearts to sincerely pray and act for the success of the US-North Korea summit and peace on the Korean peninsula. Let us also bring all our sincere prayers for the whole world so that we can pull down this wall of hostility by Your grace.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14-16)

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Inspiration of the Korean Church’s 1988 Declaration

Shin opening

Rev. Shin Seung-min opens the conference day with announcements.

Our international gathering began with prayer and a devotion. Then Rev. Shin, Seung-min, my supervisor, announced that a South Korean government delegation had returned from a visit to North Korea and declared their meeting a success. The delegation would also soon head to Washington D.C. to deliver a message to President Trump in a move toward dialogue. (see video of the North-South meeting that just happened today!) The gathering welcomed such hopeful news, since the past two South Korean administrations had effectively closed the door to dialogue with the North. Elected on the wave of candlelight demonstrations for democracy, this new administration brings hope for new possibilities and peaceful reconciliation. We offered up another prayer and dedicated ourselves to continuing our work of building bridges across the conflict. As many participants knew from experience, the potential for meetings does not guarantee a solution, so we should continue to rely on God and continue the work of peacemaking to which God has called us.

Soon after Hyeyoung, Sahn, and I returned from our 6-month itineration to the US in mid-February, I began working on this conference. Our gathering was hosted by our partners, the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), in cooperation with the World Council of Churches (WCC) to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the creation of the 1988 “DECLARATION OF THE CHURCHES OF KOREA 1988 NCCK,” and to reflect on the need for renewed efforts to realize its vision. We heard some of the story of the creation of the declaration from a few of the authors who are still with us.

88 declaration editors

Dr. David Suh stands with others who helped to create the 1988 Declaration.

Readers might recognize one of them, Dr. David Suh, whose story I shared in an earlier Mission Connections letter and in sermons given throughout our itineration trip to the US. Dr. Suh served as chief editor for the 1988 Declaration. He spoke to the conference about the NCCK’s efforts leading up to 1987 to resist South Korean authoritarian dictatorship and how their struggle to realize democracy as well as their first meetings with the North Korean Christian Federation beginning in 1986 informed their vision of faith and the vision for peace outlined in the Declaration. He explained how the dictatorship used Korea’s division and the resulting Korean War as a pretense by which efforts toward democracy were suppressed from 1945 through 1987, and that it continues as a strategy for anti-democracy forces in South Korea today. Dr. Suh also described the suppression they faced within churches as they worked for liberation from dictatorship. Hence, they included passages that address the need for their own confession and responsibility:

“We confess that the Christians of the south especially have sinned by turning anti-communist ideology into a virtual religious idol, and have thus not been content to treat the communist regime in the north as merely the enemy, but have further damned our northern compatriots and others whose ideologies differ from our own (John 13:14-15; 4:20-21).”

ms ko wan soon

Ms. Ko Wan Soon describes her experience during the Jeju massacres of 1948.

At other times in the conference, panel speakers also told stories of the pains of division they experienced throughout the years following liberation from Japanese occupation in 1945. One defector from North Korea, Mr. Hong Gang Chul, told of psychological manipulation and a forced false confession at the hands of the National Intelligence Service (Korea’s CIA). One woman, Ms. Ko Wan Soon, told of her experience on Jeju Island when almost all of her village was killed by South Korean soldiers in one day, January 17, 1949. She described walking past the dead bodies when South Korean soldiers brought her family out with other villagers to a space near the school. When her brother on her mother’s back began crying, a soldier brought his rifle down on his head, an injury he would die from three years later. She asked the group why the US and South Korea would allow such brutality to occur under their supervision.

Another panel speaker, Dr. Jeong Se-hyun, a former minister of unification for the Republic of Korea (South), not only spoke of his own experience in negotiations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North), but also provided a fuller account of the history of such negotiations than you might read in Western media. Participants were particularly taken aback by the mention that the United States had introduced nuclear weapons to South Korea in 1958 in abrogation of the armistice agreement, thus sparking North Korea’s interest in acquiring its own nuclear deterrent. He described times during negotiations in which US or South Korean actions scuttled negotiations, such as implementing sanctions one day after releasing text of the September 19, 2005 agreement, after which North Korea turned back to development and tested its first nuclear bomb in 2006. Dr. Jeong also noted that the principles for reunification that the 1988 Declaration proclaimed — independence, peace, national unity, humanitarianism, and people’s participation — inspired South Korean government negotiators to adapt them for agreements with North Korea during previous North-South government summits on peace in Korea. The 1988 Declaration also helped to shape the policy of President Kim Dae-Jung and his administration. They used these principles in the June 15, 2000 North-South Joint Declaration (the “6.15 Declaration”), which laid out policies for unification approved by both North Korean and South Korean governments. For example, the humanitarianism and people’s participation principles of the 1988 Declaration inspired the 4th provision of the 6.15 Declaration that states, “The South and the North have agreed to consolidate mutual trust by promoting balanced development of the national economy through economic cooperation and by stimulating cooperation and exchanges in civic, cultural, sports, health, environmental and all other fields.”

break time

Kurt Esslinger stands with Frank Hernando from the Philippines Church (UCCP) and Derek Duncan from the Disciples/UCC denomination from the US during a break in action.

To honor the spirit of offering a vision of God’s peace to the world, the conference approved a communique to share the lessons and hopes of the participants. Rev. Shin Seung-min asked me to submit the first draft of the communique, but thankfully a draft committee met to perfect the language and to incorporate further suggestions from conference reflection groups. The communique articulated a theology of peace and an invitation to Christians like you in its opening paragraph. As President Trump has now agreed to a summit with North Korea this May or early June, these words resonate:

“God’s vision for this world sees swords being beaten into ploughshares (Isaiah 2:4), nations gathering together under the light of God’s justice and peace, sisters and brothers once in conflict embracing each other, and all God’s children fearing neither hunger, nor thirst, nor threats of war. So long as nations practice invading each other, developing bombs and missiles to destroy each other, and refusing to sit at the table until unrealistic conditions are met then we move further away from God’s vision for our world. We invite Christians around the world and all people of goodwill to join us as we walk the path of peace with our God proclaiming the promise that God will one day redeem this whole creation.”

Your support through financial donations, prayer, and joining your voice with our partners in Korea and abroad helps keep us able to continue our ministry here in Korea. We thank you so much for all that you have given us so far. It provides us with the sails needed to catch the wind to follow the movement of God’s spirit. If you have not yet, we encourage you to consider joining our movement. May the Spirit move us on a course to God’s everlasting peace.

Posted in Mission Connections Letters, NCCK Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Threats of Destruction and Stories of Hope

Hyeyoung Boston joint worship

Hyeyoung presents at a joint worship of a Korean church and Multi-cultural church in Boston.

Hyeyoung, Sahn, and I have been traveling the US now for four months. We are nearing the end of our six-month itineration trip of visiting churches and sharing the stories of the work we are doing alongside our partners in Korea. Our visit to the US began with a note of some trepidation in August. Our plane from Seoul arrived in Atlanta late in the evening, so we went straight to the Mission Haven house that would be our base of operations for a well-earned sleep after a 13-hour flight. We woke up the next morning to see that President Trump had given a press conference in which he threatened North Korea with “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen” if North Korea threatens the US again. North Korea immediately responded that they would prepare to strike the US territory of Guam if the US moved toward a pre-emptive strike. The world media then collectively forgot the conditional nature of North Korea’s response, and they tried to tell the world that North Korea would definitely strike US territory. Subsequently, we met with many anxious and concerned US Presbyterians as we began our visits to churches in the US soon after.

We found a heightened interest in our work in Korea and received a flurry of questions at each community we visited, and we felt a renewed sense of the need to share the stories of hope that we bring from Korea. As usual, most people in the US have only heard about the threats of war, as most media merely share stories of conflict. They share little about the Koreans consistently calling for dialogue and negotiations to bridge the gap of the conflict and find resolution without the need for war, leading people to assume erroneously that violence is the only way to solve this conflict.

The most common question we received from supporters in the US focused on how Koreans in Korea are feeling with the increased threats of war. We talk about how, for Koreans, life simply goes on. A visitor would not be able to feel much of the anxiety of possible war arriving in Korea, as Koreans have learned to live their lives with decades of threats of war. Many in Korea feel anxiety, but they have learned to keep it under the surface. When they hear comments like that from Senator Lindsey Graham, “If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there,” then many South Koreans wonder whether it is worth spending energy on worry. If someone is going to push the button across the ocean, they may feel their anxiety will not do much good if they will be vaporized anyway.

Kurt Athens

Kurt presents at First Presbyterian of Athens, Texas.

In this darkness, Hyeyoung and I share the stories of our Korean partners like Emily and the village of Gangjeong who continue to exert their strength in creating a peace community, hosting conferences, and training Korean and international groups in building a peace community despite having part of the village taken away to build a naval base. We share the story of our former YAV, Simon Doong, who responded to the suggestion of our partners in Korea that we participate in the candlelight demonstrations in Seoul demanding the South Korean president be held accountable to justice and democracy. He now volunteers as a second year YAV at the New York site and is placed at the PC(USA) Ministry at the United Nations. We also share the story of Dr. David Suh who went through the experience of transforming his hate and desire for revenge against his North Korean enemies into love and reaching out in compassion to build humanizing relationships alongside our partners, the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK).

As threats of war increase, partners such as the NCCK increase their urgency in asking partners around the world like us in the USA to help convince our leaders to turn from threats of war and instead build authentic bridges of humanizing relationships to resolve the conflict and establish a peace treaty. Even if our leaders refuse to do so, we nonetheless endeavor to build those relationships ourselves, learning about the untold stories of the conflict to better understand what successful solutions could look like.

War vets peace treaty

Korean War Veterans add their names to the NCCK Peace Treaty Campaign.

We have seen amazing responses, such as a group of Korean War veterans who, after hearing each of our stories, walked up and signed the NCCK’s petition to the US administration for entering negotiations for a peace treaty without pre-conditions blocking the dialogue.

In this way we embody the inquiry of the prophet Habakkuk, who brought the question to God, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” We also embody the response that Habakkuk received from God, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”

Thus, we wait for the promise of God and for justice. We wait to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace into our lives, but we do not wait passively. We actively write the vision, creating that reality with the power God has given us. We hold the light in the darkness so that the darkness may not overcome it, no matter how small our light seems to be.

We thank you again for your support this year with prayers, donations, and hosting our family on these visits and filling us with good warm food and compassion. With you alongside us on this journey, we are reminded of the power of the Spirit to inspire and fill us with the passion necessary to transform narratives of hate into narratives of hope.

Posted in Mission Connections Letters, US Visits | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Transforming Hate to Love

Dr. David Suh sat next to me as listeners around the world heard him tell those taking part in our webinar about the moment he met the son of his father’s greatest enemy, the chairperson of the Korean Christian Federation (KFC) of North Korea. Dr. Suh had pledged revenge against all communists while holding his father’s dead body after North Korean authorities executed his father during the Korean War. At a World Council of Churches meeting (WCC) his enemy asked him for translation assistance. “How could I help him?” he asked. “Will I dishonor my father?” He spent that night praying and asking God for advice.

This webinar was the second chance for me to hear Dr. Suh tell his story. I first heard him share it at a peace treaty workshop that I helped our partners in the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) set up for representatives of its global partners engaged in the Korean peace movement. His story moved our entire group, so we set up an online interview webinar and broadcast it to supporters around the world.

Dr Suh Story WEB

Dr. Suh tells his story to representatives of church partners from around the world.

Dr. Suh told the story of when he was a young child growing up in northern Korea when the peninsula was all one nation but was colonized by the Japanese empire. Young David’s father was a pastor of a church near the border of Korea and China, and he regularly spoke out against the Japanese authorities until Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 15th, 1945, effectively ending World War II. The US and the Soviet militaries then decided in a meeting without any Korean representation to divide the peninsula into two zones, with the Soviets occupying northern Korea and the US occupying southern Korea, which eventually became separate nations. Young David’s village became a part of North Korea after South Korea created its separate state.

Dr. Suh’s father continued speaking out, except this time he criticized the North Korean authorities. Other Christians, however, were willing to work with the new communist state, and they formed the KCF, which was later officially recognized by the North Korean government in the 1980’s. He considered the KCF to be his greatest enemies, assuming they were not true Christians because they helped a communist government, and he spoke out against them as well. After the Korean War broke out in 1950, Dr. Suh’s father was executed by North Korea authorities. When young David found his father’s body on the side of a river, he decided that he would take revenge against his North Korean enemies. He fled to South Korea and joined the navy to fight in the war.

bong su church group 2014

NCCK (South Korea) and KCF (North Korea) hold a joint worship at Bongsu Church in Pyongyang, North Korea 2014.

After the armistice, young David earned a chance to study in the US, and his path led him to study theology. He also joined the Civil Rights Movement in the US and heard Martin Luther King Jr. preach about love for those who oppress you and God’s power to transform hate into love. This challenged his constant desire for revenge, and he began to question whether he could harbor such hate and still truly live as a Christian. After earning his PhD, Dr. Suh returned to South Korea, which was suffering under a military dictatorship led by Park, Jung-Hee, the father of Korea’s previous president, Park, Geun-Hye. Dr. Suh joined the democratization movement in resistance to South Korean dictatorship, and he found himself speaking out against South Korean authority, just as his father had spoken out against North Korea and Japan. Dr. Suh joined the work of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), one of our partners there, in demonstrations demanding democracy.

One day, Dr. Suh was asked to represent the NCCK and give a speech at a consultation in Canada held by the World Council of Churches (WCC). The WCC also invited the Korean Christian Federation (KCF) from North Korea to attend the consultation for peaceful reconciliation of the Korean conflict. The KCF had selected the son of their federation founder, Dr. Suh’s father’s worst enemy, to represent them. Dr. Suh’s enemy was set to

ncck visit 2014-8 4

Communion served at joint North Korea-South Korea worship at Bongsu Church in Pyongyang, North Korea 2014.

speak just after him in a keynote address on behalf of North Korea. The night before they were to speak, Dr. Suh’s enemy approached him and asked, “Would you be my interpreter as I speak tomorrow?” Dr. Suh said that he would need some time to decide. He went to his fellow South Koreans and asked what he should do. They said, “If you help a North Korean even in Canada, you will be in danger of violating South Korea’s National Security Law. This is your decision alone.” He wrestled with God that night, but eventually he decided it was time to give up his desire for revenge and to help his enemy. He lived out Jesus’ call to love our enemies, and for him that meant Jesus was calling him to help his enemy, to reach out with compassion instead of revenge.

Dr. Suh told me that after that decision, speaking out against the suppression of justice in South Korea and speaking for dialogue with North Korea became much easier. He told me, “That was my liberation, the first time I felt truly free.” He learned more about the context in which division was created by outside forces, when US military policy created a separate South Korean state led exclusively by Koreans who were working for Japanese colonial authority. He also learned of US Presbyterian missionaries like Rev. Arthur Judson Brown who advocated for Japanese colonization of Korea to help modernize and civilize Koreans. God transformed his perception of his enemies as he better understood the context. He no longer considered them to be “fake Christians,” but rather family in Christ. When we better understand the context of a conflict, we are better equipped to resolve it. When we better understand how trust was broken, we are better equip to rebuild that trust.

white-house-demo

NCCK delegation marches, sings, and prays outside the US White House 2016.

Most of what we hear from North Korean refugees tends to reinforce our demonization of our enemies, but Dr. Suh’s story provides an invaluable example of God transforming revenge through reconciliation. This is an example we can follow, as God helps us learn more about his context, so our relationships of enmity can be transformed by God through the Spirit binding us in humanizing relationships with our enemies. Through God’s reconciliation I believe we can transform our conflicts around the world into opportunities for compassion, relationships, and peace.

I want to thank you for your support, as your gifts enable Hyeyoung and me to join this ministry of reconciliation, and to share it with partners around the world such as you. We hope to continue connecting US Presbyterians to the movement for peace in Korea, and if you have not yet, we invite you to join us through prayer, advocacy, or financial gifts. May God continue the work of transformation in us. Amen.

Posted in Mission Connections Letters, NCCK Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Peace Network for Korea in PC(USA)

You are invited to the founding and visioning meeting of the possible PC(USA) Peace Network for Korea (PNK)!

Dates: October 6th, 7th (Friday evening and Saturday morning and lunch)
Location: Stony Point Center, NY

ncck peace campaign

A number of my colleagues have thought about how we are needing some kind of network or some way to connect US Presbyterians to peace work going on throughout the Korean peninsula. I am especially interested in an effective way to create a network that might be easily mobilized in connection to the peace movement activities of our partner in the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) and their Reconciliation and Reunification Committee. For example, when our Peace Treaty Campaign has some activity or is asking people to write letters to US government representatives we could easily connect people to those actions alerts. We are open to other suggestions and visions. This network will likely connect to PC(USA) World Mission as a mission network and maybe also the PC(USA) Peacemaking Program as a kind of action network. We are exploring possibilities.

I am also dreaming about one day setting up some Peacemaking Travel Study Seminars to Korea that could connect US Americans to Koreans working for peace throughout South Korea (at least for now). That could be based on a workshop I helped the NCCK create in 2015.

Room and board at Stony Point will be covered by the Korean Mission of the PC(USA). We have spots for 10 people. We are unable to cover travel to Stony Point, unfortunately. Details of the schedule will be posted soon, we hope.

If you are able to join us for that one night in October, please email Kurt at kurt.pcusa.ncck {at} gmail.com. Also email any inquiries and we can talk about times for arrival or departure as well. If you cannot make the event but you would still like to join the network for future actions you may email that request as well!

Hope to see you there to help us dream of peace in Korea!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

US Trip Schedule – so far

eclipse

Yeah, we also found ourselves in the path of totality this week!

Greetings friends, our family is currently settling into our 6-month stay in the US (due to Soc Sec payment stuff) and we will soon be heading around the country to visit many of you. We have set up many visits around the US, and if we haven’t set up a visit with you yet you can see if we are coming near your area. Feel free to ask and check to see whether we might be able to swing near you as well. Throughout this time our home base will be Mission Haven in Decatur, GA. You can find us there in the in-between days. We will continue updating as we go along:

Sept. 9th-11th – St. Peter & Minneapolis, MN (whole family)

Sept. 17th-21st – Lincoln & Hastings, NE (just Kurt)

Sept. 23rd-Oct. 1st – Boston & Lowell, MA (whole family)

Oct. 6th-7th – Stony Point Center, NY – Peace Network for Korea (whole family)

Oct. 8th – NY, NY (whole family)

Oct. 13th-16th(ish?) – Austin College Homecoming (Kurt & Sahn)

Oct. 22nd-29th – Detroit, MI (just Hyeyoung)

Nov. 2nd-5th – Upper New York Presbyteries (whole family)

Nov. 12th – Chicago, IL (just Kurt) first visit

Nov. 15th-21st(ish?) Birmingham, AL & Shreveport, LA & Athens, TX & ??? (whole family – big drive)

Dec. 1st-4th(ish?) Chicago, IL (Presbytery Meeting) (whole family)

Dec. 10th – (holding for Indiana churches)

Christmas break somewhere in there

Jan. sometime – looking to visit to Los Angeles for two weeks or so, mabye do a big Western swoop?

Feb. – heading back to Korea sometime mid-February once we pass 6 months to maintain a Soc Sec exemption.

Posted in US Visits | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Healing after a Massacre

I sat down in a row of chairs with our Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) waiting for the memorial service to begin. The sun was warm, but our chairs were covered by tent canopies so the several-hundred people gathered there could enjoy the shade. The speaker, Yang, Hae-Chan expressed some frustration, “Some are asking us to forget what happened. How can we forget when we still have the scars? When some were made orphans? When some were disabled? We shouted, ‘We are civilians!’ but the soldiers continued shooting. We have only been having this memorial for 19 years, but I don’t know how to console my fellow survivors.”

Chung, Koo-Do director of the No Gun Ri Peace Park and Yang, Hae-Chan, a survivor, light incense in honor of family members they lost under the bridge. Picture by Lim, Jae Geun.

On June 2nd, we attended the annual memorial for the victims of the No Gun Ri Incident where the YAVs learned about an unsavory event during the Korean War of 1950. Before moving to Korea as a mission co-worker, the only Korean War massacres I had heard or read about involved North Korean forces and served as legitimation for how horrible they were and how necessary it is for us to continue fighting them.

This story, however, involved US forces coming upon a village as they moved south away from the oncoming North Korean forces. On July 23 US soldiers told the villagers of Jugok-ri to evacuate in preparation for the coming North Korean forces. As the village packed up, most physically capable young men left early so that the main village party would seem less of a threat to US soldiers; unaware of what would happen to their families before they met again. The remainder eventually headed south to a second village where they met another group of US soldiers who asked that they move once again. On July 26th, they were stopped by another division of US soldiers who searched their belongings for weapons and then ordered them up onto rail tracks. One soldier was seen radioing a message and soon several US fighter planes swooped in to strafe and bomb the village group.

The villagers left the rail tracks and headed to a bridge near the No Gun Ri village under which to hide. US soldiers set up a perimeter on both sides of the bridge and began firing into group under the bridge. The attack lasted for three days and four nights, ending on July 29th. Some of the villagers, including Yang Hae-Chan the speaker mentioned above, survived under the bridge by covering themselves with the dead bodies of others hoping the US soldiers would assume everyone was dead. With this and other methods some of the villagers lived to tell their versions of the story, such as the wife of Chung, Eun Yong.

Chung, Koo-Do stands next to survivors from under the bridge, sharing the difficulties of the struggle for truth, human rights, and for peace.

As South Korea suffered under decades of dictatorship after the Korean War, the survivors were forced to keep their stories to themselves. Whenever the subject of such incidents came up, the official response of South Korean officials was to label the entire village as “communist” thus legitimizing such immense force. Even after the war ended, the survivors continued to suffer ostracization in their communities. Nonetheless Mr. Chung felt his Christian faith calling him to bring the truth to light, and he tried collecting stories from the few willing to speak to him. He petitioned the US government in 1960. The US responded by saying, “There were no US soldiers present at that location at that time.” When military dictator, Park Chung-Hee took over South Korea, he made it illegal to mention any wrongdoing of the US military. Refusing to give up, Mr. Chung wrote a fiction novel based on the actual story.

Once military dictatorship fell to democratization protests and a degree of democracy opened opportunities for appealing to the government, with the help of a journalist publishing his story, he was finally able to pressure the South Korean and US governments to hold an investigation of the incident. Unfortunately, the two militaries could not agree on a joint investigation. They released separate reports and finally admitted that US soldiers killed non-combatants under that bridge near No Gun Ri. However, the US stopped short of admitting any mistake was made and simply expressed regret that civilians were killed. Officially, the fault still seems to lie with the villagers. The South Korean government’s Committee for the Review of No Gun Ri Incident Victims and Restoration of Honor eventually confirmed at least 226 victims died either on the rail tracks or under the bridge from the attack.

Hyeyoung Lee and Dia Griffiths in conversation with human rights activist, Lim, Jae Geun.

I appreciate the words of Mr. Chung’s son, Chung, Koo-Do, who said this was not a matter of declaring anyone in the US to be evil monsters, even the soldiers who fired the guns. “We are still happy that the US military stopped North Korea from conquering us. This is one friend telling another friend, hey you made a mistake when you were trying to help us. Somehow we must repair our relationship by revealing the truth.” Chung, Koo-Do describes his father’s vision as wanting to unite the soldiers who were there with the remaining villagers so that they could hold a service of healing, where the villagers are no longer remembered as a threat, and the soldiers can be released from their guilt by forgiveness. He explains that both he and his father have been driven by Christ’s call to reconciliation. They also have begun hosting conferences on education around peace and human rights, teaching others make sure such horrible events do not take place again. On of our YAVs, Dia Griffiths later reflected, “Here are men and women whose lives were completely broken. But their tragedy does not begin and end with their story. Their strength as they tell their stories of pain and use their empathy to create seeds of peace and justice in the world beyond themselves is reshaping my understanding of hope.”

YAVs join a women’s activists’ group inspecting the bridge under which villagers were trapped for three days in 1950. Bullet holes are marked by gov’t inspectors: circle=empty hole and triangle=shell still intact.

The villagers of No Gun Ri and the soldiers are running out of time as both are getting older. Even with those already gone, bringing the truth to light can heal lingering wounds on both sides. The last General Assembly passed an overture, number 12-01 On Acknowledging and Reconciling for Killing Korean Civilians in July 1950. This kind of step helps bring us closer to reconciliation.

Through your support we are helping to connect these relationships and issues to US Presbyterians for opportunities of raising awareness and cultivating reconciliation. We thank you for coming on this journey with us through your financial gifts, reading our letters, and praying for us. If you are considering joining us, we welcome you! It is a journey filled with painful stories, but we also believe it is filled with hope!

Posted in Mission Connections Letters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment