2016 Joint North-South Prayer for Peace

ncck peace campaignEvery year the Christians in South Korea and the Christians within the official church of North Korea write a joint prayer for overcoming conflict and moving to respectful reconciliation. Today in Korea is August 15th, the anniversary of both liberation from Japanese Occupation and division into two competing systems (US v. Soviet) in 1945. Pray with us that Koreans may one day overcome this division now lasting more than 71 years. This prayer below was written and edited by both the National Council of Churches in Korea (South Korea) and the Korean Christian Federation (North Korea). You may also add your name to an online petition for a KOREA PEACE TREATY.

2016 Joint Prayer for the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula

God, ruler of history!

Thank you for letting the churches of the South and the North share the joys of independence with the same longings again this year. The Lord’s grace that led us to share this common prayer filled with yearnings from past promises for a peaceful unification is indeed great and amazing. Please accept our earnest desires for you Lord.

Seventy one years ago, our country again found its once lost country and welcomed the joys of independence. Having patiently waited with righteous efforts, we trusted God, the ruler of history, and hoped that the day would one day come.  With shouts of victory resonating over the whole of Korea, how can we ever forget that overwhelming day when the triumphs of independence surged up in thirty million souls?

Gracious God!

Such a short-lasting joy, our people came to a dead end of a harsh road filled with division, separation, war and armistice. Through meetings and talks, paths to reconciliation were created and through economic cooperation, dreams of common prosperity were once built. But now, the walls in our hearts have become higher than ever. There is no knowing of the depths of the rivers of mistrust and the valleys of anger that we would have to cross. Lord, take pity on this misfortunate country.

Though the Lord has given the church a responsibility to take care of peace, the people did not serve such command fully. Christians were called to be apostles of peace but instead they have created conflict. As they do not even acknowledge each other as their own people, they do not bother to bear hearts to love. Lord, we confess our wrongs and sins, please forgive us.

God of love and peace!

The distance between the North and South has become unfathomable, but we believe that the day will come when we will need each other. Though our hearts have been ripped to pieces, we realize that it is not far to where we would heal each other’s pains and encourage one another. Amongst the tension of the great powers, we are certain that the day will come when we sing songs of self-existence and independence.

Lord, make one this separated country and gather all those families who have been scattered everywhere. Let the children of North and South eat from one bowl, and youths to sing songs for a hopeful humanity from one desk. Let the footsteps of the people’s coexistence lead from Hallah to Baek-du and the waves of peaceful co-prosperity surge from Dokdo to the West Sea.

Thus let the people in this safe and peaceful peninsula nourish the happiness that should be granted to all the seventy million people. And from that oneness, let the people serve all over the world with greater vigor and spirit. We pray in Jesus’ name.

August 15, 2016

National Council of Churches in Korea (South)             Korean Christian Federation (North)

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NCCK Korea Peace Treaty Campaign US Tour

The USA is reeling in the midst of violence, voices crying out for justice having lost their faith and trust in the institutions meant to protect them, lashing out in desperate misguided attempts to reset the balance, and the response by many of those in power is to further alienate the voices of the unheard.

The Reconciliation and Unification Committee of NCCK announces in Seoul their plan to campaign in the US.

In this context, I have humbly come from Korea to the US along with about 20 Korean pastors and professors to talk about the need to end the war in Korea, sign a peace treaty, and forego the dependence on violent means to solve conflicts. I realize this might be difficult to turn the focus to Korea in this moment, but the spiraling violence in the US is related to what could be spiraling violence in Korea as the US has finally agreed to installing the THAAD missile and radar system in Korea to the dismay of most of the rest of Northeast Asia. Yes, we must find a way to reform our institutional culture, police culture, and encourage people to non-violent responses in the US to create faith in the claim that Black Lives Matter to our systems of power.

The single story (which is dangerous) we have been told about the Korean conflict is that US forces selflessly came to the aid of Koreans when the evil and crazy communists invaded in 1950. What if there were more to the story that has been deliberately hidden and forgotten? What if violence in Korea began in reaction to US policies under occupation in 1945 when Koreans began asking themselves, “Do Korean Lives Matter to the US? Does Korean autonomy matter? Does the Korean right to self-determination matter?”

In the same way that we must not be distracted by violent responses to injustice, I ask that we are not distracted by the desperate violent responses of those we have demonized as our enemy in Korea. Instead we should commit ourselves ever more to uncovering and dismantling the system that leads people to that violent rebellions are the only way have their voices for justice heard.

Join this effort by signing our online petition here:

SIGN OUR PETITION

And read more about the background of the Korean context and the need for peaceful dialogue and respect of demands for justice and human rights on both sides at our website Global Campaign for a Korea Peace Treaty.

Our itinerary for the campaign in the US starting today:

July 18th – 19th: Los Angeles, CA:
Meet with Korean Church leaders in LA and share our story on the streets downtown.

July 20th – 22nd: Nevada, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Iowa:
Make our way across the west, especially stopping to hear the story of Wounded Knee

July 23rd – 24th: Chicago, IL:
Meet Korean Church leaders in Chicagoland, and worship at UMC and UCC churches.

July 25th: Indianapolis, IN:
Meet with Global Ministries of the UCC/Disciples and with Indiana state representatives.

July 26th – 28th: Washington, DC:
Meet with NCCCUSA, US gov’t representatives and members of the US administration.

July 29th – 30th: back to Seoul/Incheon (and me back to Daejeon!)

Prayers are welcome!

You can also follow our journey on Twitter with the hashtag #koreapeacetreaty. My Twitter handle is @elfslinger.

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Toward a Korean Peace Treaty

The beating of the drums and cymbals sent the performers dressed in black and white with yellow, blue, and red sashes circling around the pit. Catherine, Tom, and I were sat down in the shade at the Yongin Korean Folk Village. The warm day bringing the end of May helped our heads feel a tad lighter since this was the final day in a week long workshop. 20160523_103743The celebratory drumming and dancing of the poongmul team (traditional Korean drumming team) was intoxicating, but our heads had been filled with a different kind of drumming all week as we explored the drums of war that have constantly been beating around the Korean peninsula since 1946, or even earlier in 1932 if you don’t want to grant the 6 or 7 month break at the end of WWII.

The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) had invited Tom and around twenty other participants from 10 different countries and 15 different denominations as well as Buddhist organizations to connect their organizations to our international campaign for a Korean peace treaty. The NCCK hopes that a peace treaty will soon replace the 1953 armistice agreement that merely ceased open hostilities, but failed to end what has been a technical state of war on the peninsula since 1950. This July 27th will bring the 63rd anniversary of the armistice agreement, but this June 25th will bring the 66th anniversary of a constant state of war hanging over Koreans. Therefore, the NCCK invites international partners to join a campaign of signatures and writing letters and postcards to the US government to persuade them to transform their policy of hostility and making denuclearization a pre-condition to peace treaty negotiations.

Tom learns of some of the nastier atrocities committed by South Korean military in 1948 at the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park.

Tom learns of some of the nastier atrocities committed by South Korean military in 1948 at the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park.

The participants arrived in Korea at Jeju Island in order to hear the story of the United States of America Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) policies that led to a democratic uprising, which led to a campaign of suppression and massacre begun by the USAMGIK and finished by the South Korean military from 1948-1954. They also came up to Seoul where I gave a presentation in more detail of policies of the USAMGIK and legacies of orientalism in US foreign policy and church missions. Several Korean professors also discussed the militarism, geopolitics, and our call as Christians to peacemaking. We also visited the DMZ border with North Korea together as we looked out over to the hills of the Northern neighbor and prayed for relationships that could build trust across a divide of conflict.

Dr. Suh tells us his journey toward peacemaking.

Dr. Suh tells us his journey toward peacemaking.

Tom and most of the other participants particularly felt impressed by hearing the life story of Dr. David Suh. Dr. Suh told us about growing up in what is now North Korea before division in 1945 and during Japanese Occupation. He told us of the way his family suffered under the violent reaction of authorities in the northern region, the execution of his father, a pastor, and how those memories led him to seek violent vengeance. He also told of his transformation, about becoming an advocacy for peaceful reconciliation and the struggle he went through when meeting the Korean Christian Federation (KCF), the official church of North Korea, for the first time when the son of his father’s sworn enemy asked him to translate his statements on behalf of the KCF. He struggled with whether or not to “help” the person he once considered his ultimate enemy. Hearing the story in and of itself moved many of the workshop participants, but Dr. Suh also sent us a note afterward saying that the opportunity to share his story was a healing moment for him.

Workshop participants look out from Soisan at hills in North Korea just across the border in the background.

Workshop participants look out at hills in North Korea just across the border in the background.

It is our hope that Tom and the other workshop participants will return to their countries in the US, German, Japan, and elsewhere to share all they have learned about the history and context of Korea. They are now back in their home countries processing all they have learned and carrying the new relationships they have created together. We hope they will be able to activate the networks in their denominations to begin spreading the understanding of this paradigm shift on the Korean conflict. As more people around the world understand the need to deconstruct false enemy images and to end hostile responses to the conflict, we believe we can encourage policy makers to also transform their approaches. Based on all we have learned, we see now that further sanctions, further military threats, and further refusal to dialogue will only further encourage North Korea to take desperate measures to protect themselves. This can lead only to chaos or to war. We must open a path to an alternative if there can ever be a chance for peaceful reconciliation.

Tom and the others are now in constant contact with all of us in Korea figuring out how to spread knowledge and information. We hope you reading this, our supporters will also join us in this movement to continue learning and dismantling the idolatry of enemy images. Please follow our campaign and participate as you can by either writing letters or signing your name to our online petition: www.koreapeacetreaty.org.

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Finding Grace

Will scooped up another bunch of kimchi with his tongs and put it on the tray before passing it on to the person next to him scooping meat onto trays. He could see out of the corner of his eye the disapproving facial expression of Yu seonsaengnim (not real name), guessing that his kimchi scooping skills did not stand to muster on the four previous trays, just as the weeks before. Finally she came over and tried to explain again, of course, Will still can’t understand enough Korean and Yu seonsaengnim can’t speak enough English to make the nuance clear as to what exactly makes the perfect scoop of kimchi. She he still isn’t sure whether his scoops are too small or too big or too thin or too thick or too much of the limp outside of the cabbage or too much of the crunchy middle. Yu seonsaengnim picks up a scoop of kimchi onto another tray and indicates, probably, this was what it was supposed to look like. The trouble is, Will was pretty sure that scooped looked just like his last scoop. Not sure what else to do, Will gets as close as he can to the example scoop, and Yu seonsaengnim gives one last chuckle before moving the serving line on.

YAVs Will, Linda, and Emily washing up dishes at Saenaru Community Center.

YAVs Will, Linda, and Emily washing up dishes at Saenaru Community Center.

This exchange happens quite often for our YAVs in Korea as they volunteer at meal centers, similar to “soup kitchens” in the US, around our city of Daejeon. These encounters are wonderful opportunities for our YAVs to practice grace for themselves. Actually an entire YAV year is chock full of instances where our US YAVs are reminded that they don’t completely understand Korean culture or cannot complete a task to the same standards as Koreans. A year of constant failure can often leave a YAV questioning their self-worth, which makes grace even more pertinent. We explore what it means to hold on to our identities as beloved children of God alongside our tendency to make mistakes in another culture.

When Will arrived along with his fellow YAVs, we gave them a challenge in terms of adapting to this new Korean culture. Sherwood G. Lingenfelter in Ministering Cross-Culturally, writes about becoming a 150% person as we seek to live into a culture that is not our own. He compares this 150% person to the 200% person of Jesus, God incarnate, who was 100% God but also 100% human. Since we cannot reach the perfection of Jesus and someone born and raised into US culture can never become 100% Korean, we allow ourselves some grace and recognize that the most we might ever reach will be 75% of another culture. Then, as our new culture becomes more a part of us, we actually lose some of our original culture, thus ending up with maybe only 75% of our original culture remaining a part of us. We put that together to become a 150% person, after spending years becoming a part of our new culture. For YAVs like Will, even more grace is necessary as he will only stay in Korea for 11 months. In such a short time, most may only hope to reach a level around 25%!

In this context God’s grace manifests in the midst of our relationships to help them bear fruit despite our tendency to fail and make mistakes. In the same way God takes us imperfect human beings and brings fruit out of our limited effort, because God refuses to define us by our sin, or failures, or mistakes, and there is liberation in God’s refusal. Even when we fail, grace manifests when God persistently engages with us, believing in us as God’s own gifted and beloved children. This identity transcends our inability to fully adapt 100% to a new culture. So we try, we stumble, and we hold ever more tightly to God’s grace, to God’s faith in us as spirit-filled beings able to accomplish amazing feats as we gather strength through our relationships to each other and to God.

So Will may never fully understand exactly what makes up a perfect scoop of kimchi, and he may never be fluent in the Korean language, but he engages in the struggle of listening and looking for what his Korean partners are asking of him, picking up more of the language little by little so that he knows more than he did when he first arrived. He develops relationships with Koreans that will bear fruit as he carries them in his heart when he returns to the US this summer, so that he can no longer have conversations about Asia, can no longer vote, and can no longer participate in a global system without considering the effects his choices and life might have on the lives of the Koreans he has come to know by heart. This is the fruit we use to measure the worth of our experience here.

Mr. Goh teaching Will and Linda how to hot iron stamp wood.

Mr. Goh teaching Will and Linda how to hot iron stamp wood.

This fruit is what we mean when we talk about the purpose of YAVs coming to work alongside us in Korea. They are not here to help poor needy Koreans, and they often find themselves in situations where they are not “helpful.” An Australian Aboriginal activists group of Queensland, 1970’s, once said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

If you see that your liberation is bound up with ours, then I invite you to join us by offering financial donations, prayers, or anything else you are interested in sending. Together, alongside God, let us work for the salvation of this creation.

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NCCK Statement on the January 6 North Korean Nuclear Test

I am sharing the statement that I helped the NCCK revise regarding the nuclear test North Korea just conducted to which the US responded by flying a B-52 bomber near the border, which could have been carrying a nuclear weapon.

God’s Peace cannot be achieved through force

Since the proclamation of the “Declaration of the Churches of Korea on National Unification and Peace” in 1988, the NCCK has continuously made clear its principle of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the whole world. But amidst rising military tension due to North Korea’s nuclear test on January 6, we claim the following with deep concern.

  1. Peace cannot be built through nuclear weapons and an arms race.

We have clearly observed through historical experiences, especially the Korean War, that peace and unification in the Korean peninsula cannot be achieved through force. The North has several times proposed that they would cease nuclear testing in exchange for the suspension of the Korea-US joint military drills, but the proposals have been ignored. The US is reacting quickly to this test as they have just flown over the Korean peninsula one of their high-tech strategic weapons: the B-52 Stratofortress, capable of delivering nuclear bombs. They are also considering deploying more weapons such as nuclear submarines and the F-22 stealth fighters scheduled to arrive next month. Accordingly, Japan has convened an immediate National Security Council and is struggling to stipulate a strong military response. A few members of the ruling party in South Korea are proposing the “nuclear armament of South Korea”.

The NCCK urges North and South Korea to faithfully implement the 1992 “Joint Declaration of South and North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, and also asks the US and other states with nuclear arms to complete global denuclearization.

The NCCK further asks South Korea and the US government to stop the joint military drills on the Korean peninsula.

Moreover, we urge that South and North Korea along with the US and China immediately convene a “peace treaty” negotiation to establish a peace system in the Korean peninsula.

  1. North and South Korea as well as surrounding countries including the US must stop actions of provocation and begin dialogue.

In August last year the South and the North were almost led to the brink of war by the land-mine explosion and the anti-North loudspeaker broadcasts that followed. But through the dialogue of four consecutive days, the two governments escaped the crisis and opened a new chapter of exchange and cooperation. Provoked by the nuclear test, on January 9 the South reactivated the loudspeaker broadcasts and the North also began broadcasts. Military tension has risen again in the Korean peninsula. Words of provocation and antagonistic rhetoric are the prelude to violence and war.

The NCCK urges both governments to immediately halt the loudspeaker broadcasts and begin dialogue without any conditions as they did last August.

Furthermore we urge the surrounding countries including the US to not lead the crisis into catastrophe with the increased arms race and sanctions. Rather they should cooperate together to peacefully resolve the crisis.

  1. Sanctions against the North must be lifted and exchanges must be extensively promoted.

Ever since the 1950s, the sanctions against the North have only stimulated further conflict. Sanctions through isolationist policies have only threatened the North Korean people’s right to live, and they have been a great obstacle to the exchange and cooperation between the North and the South. Civil exchange is the seed for peace and reconciliation as well as a must for national reunification.

The NCCK urges the South, the US, and the international community to lift the sanctions against the North including the 5.24 Measure and the UN sanctions, and demands that these parties provide more opportunities in which civil exchanges are guaranteed and promoted to the fullest.

The NCCK, together with all the churches and peace-loving people, continues to pray and act in order to realize peace in the world as we are determined to participate together in the “Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace” proclaimed in the 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches.

January 11, 2016

Reconciliation and Reunification Committee

National Council of Churches in Korea

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Why My Heart Kinda Burst at The Force Awakens

I had an interesting emotional moment when I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening night. It caught me by surprise at the time, and I had a hard time putting words to the “why” for those who went with me, our current YAVs, Will, Alexis, Emily, Alyson, Linda, and one of their buddies, MinKyeom. I took some time and wrote this to post after most of my friends had seen it so they wouldn’t mind the spoilers(!). This might seem silly to many of you, so no worries if you don’t want to read the whole deal. You might not “get it” if you’re not that into Star Wars, but this is connected to why I think my work here in Korea is so important; to my calling, and I believe non-Star Wars fans and non-Christians can still resonate with recognizing what’s important to you. You could call it one of my “burning bushes.”

image

(pictured above, an early birthday of mine, with Vader cake my mom made, well-played-with Millenium Falcon, capeless Vader looking on, etc.)

I grew up loving the Star Wars movies when I was a kid… I mean loved them, almost to a religious degree. I was born the year Empire Strikes Back was released, and was four and ready to watch big movies when Return of the Jedi was released. I’ll just note that I enjoyed the Ewoks an appropriate amount for my age. Beyond that, I WANTED TO BE A JEDI. I wanted a lightsaber, to ride speeder bikes, to feel the world around me with a deeper understanding. I vividly remember sitting on my bed for hours trying to move a cup on my desk with the force.Luke Saber Grab

Eventually I stopped trying to use the force on objects (as often), and my thoughts settled on other aspects of my life. As I got into middle school the force also gave me a way to explain what I understood about God. I remember session members at my church asking questions for confirmation, “What is God for you?” “God is like this divine energy that is present all around us. Beyond our understanding, but also very close connecting us all together…. kinda like the force?” (maybe I said that last part in my head) The session member responded, “Well, I want you to think of God as like a friend, like Jesus is your friend.” “Sure, that’s cool too…. but more than that as well.”

Going into high school I then began to wonder what my purpose in life was. Was I meant for something? I actually began considering a call to ministry the summer after I turned 15 years old. I also had a tendency to think I was meant to leave West Texas.* So, at 15 I kept wondering, “Was I meant for something more? Far far away?” The moment in the first Star Wars (Episode IV) when Luke looked off into the binary sunset deeply resonated with me at that age. I also looked at the West Texas sunsets, at the stars in the sky wondering, “Am I connected to something much bigger than I can even understand?”

So the theme music that John Williams wrote for the above scene resonated profoundly in my heart. I asked for a four CD set of the Star Wars soundtracks for Christmas in high school, and I wore out that track on my CD because it became the soundtrack for me wondering whether God was calling me to something big. Henri Nouwen writes that, “Discernment is a life of listening to a deeper sound and marching to a different beat, a life in which we become ‘all ears’.” That melody, that part of the soundtrack connected me to that deeper sound and it grounded my ears to the wonder of God’s potential all around me. So I followed that call, became a campus minister, and then came to Korea with Hyeyoung to site coordinate for the Young Adult Volunteer Program; and perhaps I began to get comfortable with the idea that: this is the “something more”. Well done everyone. I’ll have hot chocolate now, and then take a nap.

However, I was suddenly given this opportunity to join the work of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) and their Reconciliation and Unification Department (HwaTongBu) a year and a half ago. The first many months have been mostly translating statements and news articles and learning about histories of division and unification efforts, but this next year something bigger is coming up. The HwaTongBu is planning on turning their ongoing signature campaign for a Korean peace treaty to focus especially on US Americans and the US government this next year. It will involve bringing delegates from nine different denominations around the world to introduce them to the movement for peaceful reconciliation in Korea, and then it looks like I will go with NCCK to the US for an advocacy tour at the end of July to mark the culmination of a US specific signature campaign. I will be sharing much more about this in the coming months.

Now a big part of the stories to which we introduce our YAVs throughout the year involve Korean division and the actions of the US when they occupied Korea at the end of World War II in 1945. I haven’t been expecting them to magically become champions of Korean reunification or experts at dismantling the forces that perpetuate conflict, but I often wonder if the seeds we plant will have any use at all, or whether we’re doing it wrong and it could all be for naught.

So I feel this daunting weight imagining our NCCK group going before audiences who may be Korean war veterans to suggest there may be more to the story than what we and they were taught regarding the US role in conflict and division (If you are interested in hearing more about what I’ve learned, I’d be happy to share stories… just ask). Perhaps they won’t call on me specifically to speak, but we might also try to present our case in Washington D.C. in front of a representative of the US administration. We will suggest that the implications of the US’s actions in 1945 require that the US transform its current policy in North East Asia. When that prospect comes to mind, I become very aware of my limitations and times I’ve soured relations and messed up delicate situations. Sometimes, I’m not sure I’m the right one to do this work.

*spoilers*

So there I am sitting in the dark theater with our YAVs as The Force Awakens. I went into the movie wondering if I was going to shed any tears. They didn’t come when [that one character] died. When Rey (my new favorite character ever!) embraced Leia I let them well up, and I suppose they greased the wheel; however, I didn’t see it coming. Right at the very end, when Rey took the Falcon out to find Luke, who had failed in the creation of a new Jedi school, screwed up trying to teach Leia and Han’s son, and exiled himself to uncharted stars….. when Rey pulled Luke’s old lightsaber out of her bag, and THAT melody blossomed up again out of nowhere [buh duuh duuh dahdahdaaaaaah duuuuh!]rey saber luke, and something in my heart just burst open the gates. I began sobbing so uncontrollably hard that I shook in my seat. I’m not sure Will, who was sitting next to me, actually noticed me shaking, but I tried to lean to the empty seat on the other side so I didn’t bump him.

That melody came back, calling to me, as the lightsaber called to Rey in Maz Kanata’s, as it was calling to Luke to bring him out from the margins: it’s time to pick it up. So I’m getting ready. Time to shake loose the demons of my imperfections. It doesn’t even matter if not all our YAVs are ready to become champion advocates for the Korean peaceful reconciliation movement. If anything, we at least are breaking the spell of half-truths and possibly “planting seeds that one day may grow.” (prayer for Romero) Even if our NCCK signature campaign doesn’t prompt a response from the Obama administration again, we are still breaking the spell for all those who heard these hidden stories. This is probably the biggest reason why I believe our work in Korea is so important.

This story just happens to be one of the ways I try to connect to that deeper sound through music, movies, and soundtracks. You may have very different things that can light the fire within you when you’re running low on lamp oil; be it music, or scripture, or long late-night conversations with close friends. These days I don’t think everyone is called to “leave Texas”* or come to Korea or take up international policy advocacy. Henri Nouwen also wrote, “We are not called to save the world, solve all problems, and help all people. But we each have our own unique call, in our families, in our work, in our world. We have to keep asking God to help us see clearly what our call is and to give us the strength to live out that call with trust. Then we will discover that our faithfulness to a small task is the most healing response to the illnesses of our time.” Your call might just be sitting next to a friend who is dealing with a deep wound, or reaching out to someone new to create a friendship, or faithfully completing your tasks as an actuary while computing supposed “boring numbers.” I’m not a big fan of Hallmark Cards that suggest, “your calling is where your deepest passion meets the world’s deepest need.” Because you know what, the world needs accountants, and sanitation workers**, and key grips, and software writers, and barkeeps, and taxi cabs, and poets, and parents, and post office workers, and phone operators, and etc. Maybe your call is to volunteer part of the week at an NGO. That deeper sound is humming through the entire life of each and every one of us. Just let it in.

* (My understanding of God’s presence and potential that included the possibility of ministry in Texas eventually matured.)

**

Resistance? Yes, uh, I'm with the resistance. This is what we look like... some of us. I'M WITH THE RESISTANCE.

Resistance? Yes, uh, I’m with the resistance. This is what we look like… some of us. I’M WITH THE RESISTANCE.

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Advent and God’s Presence

Every Advent I spend my time thinking about the hope of peace in the Korean context. I think about my work with the National Council of Churches and their Reconciliation and Unification Committee. The end of the year 2015 will mean the end of the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan and at the same time the beginning of a conflict and division between two systems. As am I writing this, that committee is currently visiting the Korean Christian Federation in the North along with our PC(USA) North East Asia regional liaison, Rev. Choon Lim, as well as members of the World Council of Churches [they have returned]. I hope to receive some hopeful news of potential ways deeper relationships may be forged across the border. [we also received a frustrating response from the South Korean government]

Part of the crew that ran the 6.15k for Reunification

Alyson ran alongside our family and Linda welcomed us at the finish line.

On October 24th, my family along with our YAVs participated in a Reunification Marathon 6.15k run which honors the anniversary of the June 15th Agreement (6/15th) between North and South Korea that took place in the year 2000. We even took Sahn along with us for the run pushing him in a tricycle/stroller. Some of the YAVs sped on ahead of us hoping to achieve greater conditioning, and some of the YAVs needed to walk it because of recent leg injuries. One YAV, Alyson, ran alongside us and helped share the load of pushing Sahn.

Alyson has had an interesting life the past few years. I actually knew her as a student at the University of Illinois in Chicago where I was a campus minister for Agape House Christian Ministry just before taking this job as a mission co-worker. At that time even, I encouraged her to sign up for the YAV program. She was interested so long as she didn’t have to go to Korea where I would eventually be site coordinator! After several years of trying various jobs, working five jobs at one time to pay bills and student loans, she discerned that her initial interest to find work in her field of studies, industrial design, no longer fit her interests. She later applied to the YAV program and also found that the Korea site now did fit her interests. For the first time I now have a YAV whom I personally worked to recruit come to my site.

After being here a while, in conversation, we found that Alyson has gone through some pretty dark times along with her family members these last couple of years. Up to that point, she had believed that everything happened for a purpose, and one could be sure of God’s presence in our lives as we understood this purpose. As events transpired it no longer made sense to continue believing that God has a reason for everything that happened. Now she finds it harder to pinpoint the presence of God in her life when she sees no purpose for some things that happen. This, I think, is a common question for many of you as well. Where is God in the tragedy of the world? Where is God as the nights grow longer and the daylight gets shorter?

This statue at the 4/3 Peace Memorial is of a mother and child shot and left in a snow bank by SK soldiers while feeling their village.

This statue at the 4/3 Peace Memorial is of a mother and child shot and left in a snow bank by SK soldiers while feeling their village.

I also struggle to apply the hope of Advent, God coming to be present with us in the form of a human child in the flesh, to the tragedy of Korean division and conflict. I do not believe that God willed for Korea to be colonized by Japan, even though some missionaries in the past from our church suggested this to be the case. I do not believe that God wanted the Soviet Union and the US to turn Korea into a stage for its international conflict. I do not believe that God purposefully had an estimated 30,000 Jeju islanders massacred and/or disappeared in the southern zone two years before the Korean War even broke out. However, I do believe that God was still present there, suffering alongside them. God has been working for healing amidst the wounded, giving them the strength to claim their humanity in the face of those trying to take it away. God is present in the friend who simply says, “I am here with you.”

Jesus’ birth did not mean Herod stopped murdering children, but it did bring the hope that thousands of people around the world have used to transform the world, to transform the church from supporting slavery to supporting its abolition, from supporting segregation to supporting Civil Rights, from perpetuating colonialism to challenging imperialism and to continue this work even when we haven’t realized full success. This is the same hope that I turn to living in a divided Korea. One day we will transform a state of war into a peace treaty. We are still a people walking in the night, but I believe we have seen a ray of sunshine and I will do what I can to hold on to it. (Isaiah 9:2)

Through your support we are able to continue this work of transformation, and I thank you. Your financial gifts and your prayers help us share this transformation with you, with our YAVs, and with our Korean partners. For those of you considering supporting us, it is definitely a struggle to apply the hope of Advent to persistent conflict and division, but I believe it is worth it. I hope you join us.

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