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.

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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.


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.

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Peace Network for Korea in PC(USA)

You are invited to the PC(USA) Peace Network for Korea (PNK)!

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. It will also work on resources for educating US Americans about the context of the Korean conflict in hopes of finding better resolutions.

Fill out a membership for here:


You can email it to PeaceNetworkforKorea {at}


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US Trip Schedule – so far


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.

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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!

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YAVs and Political Participation

“I learned more about the U.S.A. than I did about Korea while I was a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV),” has been a recurring theme during the four years we have seen participants come through the Korea site. In his self-reflective blog post, Simon Doong has arrived at a similar realization. Simon was with us last November when we walked past Gwangwamum Square in downtown Seoul the night 2 million people gathered with candles to demand a full investigation into then president Park Geun Hye’s alleged corruption and bribery. Simon and our four other YAVs noted that while living in the U.S. they had never participated in a public political demonstration. This began a conversation among them about their own political participation as U.S. citizens.

simon march 1

Hyeyoung, Lauren, Simon and other YAVs attend a March 1st Korean independence celebration and demonstration for “Comfort Women” survivors of WWII sexual slavery

While living in Korea, our YAVs have seen a president impeached and removed from office as Korea’s constitutional court upheld the National Assembly’s impeachment on March 10. Participating in a buddy and cultural exchange program through Hannam University (our main site partner) has given Simon and his fellow YAVs opportunities to engage in conversations with Korean young adults about how they are reacting to the news about their president. In a blog post earlier this year, Simon recounted how one of his “buddies” was feeling about the Korea situation and considered its implications. “I could sense his disappointment, frustration, and embarrassment at the whole ordeal. It made me wonder, what does this mean for our society? Even developed countries experience political issues. Maybe modern society hasn’t progressed as far as we like to believe.”

I believe this is part of what makes the YAV program so special. We do not focus on how young U.S. adults are helping poor and needy Koreans with their resources or intelligence. The Korea YAV site is also not simply a fun tourist encounter through which one gets to experience Korean art and food and have “something different” before going back to life in the U.S. to continue living as before. YAVs come to Korea to learn about and understand the world outside the U.S. better, to see what life is like for Koreans who are struggling against poverty, for justice in the system, and for reconciliation amidst a persistent conflict. YAVs take that new understanding back with them to the U.S. to share with their communities, families, and friends. They are not only better equipped to address similar issues in their home country, but they come to understand how our U.S. foreign policy affects countries like Korea. We hope that this better understanding leads to a healthier relationship between the U.S. and the Korean peninsula as well as other nations around the globe.

simon jeju talk

Hyeyoung interprets for Peace Village activists on Jeju Island with Simon and other YAVs

Simon added another reflection to his post: “Further, maybe I have been blind to the plight of fellow Americans in other parts of the country. As a YAV, I live in a house with four other American volunteers. Though we are from different parts of the country, we all are college-educated and committed to our work in Korea. We also share similar political views. Yet even in our small community we have communication issues. Sometimes people feel misunderstood or misinterpreted. This can cause them to feel alone. And we must work out those issues through dialogue and clear communication. It’s not easy. We don’t always succeed. Maybe these communication issues occur in our larger society as well.”

Simon’s story with the YAV program will not end when he finishes in Korea in July. He has accepted a placement at the New York national YAV site, where he hopes to work at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. It will be exciting for us to see Simon take all that he has learned about international relationships around the Korean peninsula and apply it to an international cooperation organization such as the UN. The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations explains that it “helps Presbyterians witness for justice and peace, in the name of Jesus Christ, within the United Nations community based on the policies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly.” Simon has experienced aid work at the city administration level in Korea working in ground level programs at the Seonglak Welfare Community Center and says he is interested in seeing what it is like to advocate for justice at the top international policy-making level. All of our YAVs have determined to be much more active in their participation in the U.S. democratic process after their experience this year.

*Since this was posted on the site, South Korea has held special elections and have elected a new president, Moon Jae In of the opposition Minjudang party. For his first few weeks he has been reversing many of his predecessor’s policies and is enjoying an approval rating of over 80%. We hope his efforts lead to a flourishing of democracy in the wake of its recent erosion.*

We are excited about the future possibilities for Simon and his fellow YAVs as they complete the rest of their year in Korea. We also hope that you will help us pray for them and for the Spirit’s inspiration in their continued discernment.

We thank all of you so much for continuing to support our work in Korea. Your prayers, support, and financial donations help to make sure we can provide this transformative work with a new group of young adults every year. You are helping us plant seeds that will one day bear glorious fruit for our entire global community. Please consider continuing your donation this year, or if you have never supported us before, we’d love to have you on board! May God’s garden continue to grow.

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Taking Time to Blossom (Waiting)

Greetings to you in the name of our hope, Jesus the Christ. As the days grow darker and the colder weather kicks in now is the time we look to our hope in the form of a child born with promise. There was a time of waiting for the child to be born. Then, even after that moment of birth, there was more waiting. The lives of everyone all over the world did not dramatically flip upside down immediately! This is also the reality for our community working to counteract the forces of poverty and the forces of conflict around the world. Sometimes the relationships we cultivate take time to blossom, and we may not see someone escape poverty right away. The change in them, and in us, may be just a seed that does not sprout until many years later.

alyson-jejuThis is especially true for the Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) who come to live next to us in Daejeon, Korea working with children and families amid the struggle with poverty. Alyson, a YAV from last year recently reflected on her year and wrote a story about one of the most meaningful aspects of her work. You can find the entire blog story here. She wrote:

“With a door shut in my face, kids laughing and yelling in Korean on the other side, the Korean volunteer who came with me that day looked at me hesitantly and said, ‘He said, ‘go home.’ He was very rude.’ One of the 12 students at the center, this small seven-year-old boy had not spoken to me much until this point. I could see the distrust in his eyes whenever I spoke to him. This was weeks into my time at Gospel Happy Home School Children’s Center, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this student. He was rough and didn’t get along well with the other children. The older boys would bully him, but he also frequently tried intimidation tactics with kids he felt he could get away with.  It was tempting to just say he was going to be a problem child and leave it at that. But my teachers assured me that it took time for him to warm up to people. He was very shy, and the things we did to show we cared were not lost on him. It would just take time.”

alyson-good-newsWe always encourage the YAVs to avoid perpetuating the power dynamic of being the wealthy/powerful/intelligent ones coming from the West to fill the needs of poor/needy/uneducated Asians. We encourage them that even when they are leading activities that teach English language, they make this a tool toward building a relationship with their children so that everybody gets to know each other better. This cultivating a relationship is the purpose toward which all activities should lead. Alyson also tried a variety of activities, jokes, even sleight of hand tricks to build bridges her young boy. Alyson writes about having to hold on to even the faintest notion of cultivating a connection: “Eventually he spoke to me more – calling me ‘Ddong-lyson’ (which is like Poop-lyson instead of Alyson). I decided to take this name calling as optimistically as possible – after all he was talking to me. I kept at it, trying to include him in games whether he played or not.”

Little by little, working against poverty and against systems that perpetuate it, we must find ways to appreciate even the slightest hint of change. In the meantime, we simply continue to push toward a growing relationship as best we can. We often need to remind ourselves that, when truly working a Critical Global Issue like addressing the root causes of poverty, learning about those root causes and the people affected by them might not give us immediate gratitude or feel-good moments. Through this relationship, both the YAV and the children are transformed. This transformation eventually comes not in feeling good about “having done good works,” but in the expanded understanding of how our lives are connected all the way across the globe. We also find it in the expanded understanding of how decisions we make in the USA, for example for whom we voted, can have significant impact on the lives of Koreans depending on which policies our elected leaders enact.

Alyson eventually found her moment of a relationship breakthrough, as sleight as it was, just before she finished her year:

“By mid-year, this small boy, who slammed doors in my face and told me to go home was coming to me to play tag. Though he never stopped calling me ‘Ddonglyson,’ I can still hear him yelling, ‘Can you? Can you?’ his way of asking ‘Can you catch me?’ so I could run after him – always calling ‘Time!’ right before I caught him. It didn’t matter to me that he always “won.” I was delighted that we were playing.

“When the new school year started, he stopped coming to the center. I asked the teachers about him, and they said he wasn’t doing well academically and would be back later. I wasn’t sure I would see him again, and I wondered what was going on in his life. Sure enough though, months later as summer break started for the kids and a few weeks before my work at the center ended, I was relieved to see him show up again – spunky as ever and calling me ‘Ddonglyson’ again. I told him I missed him and he asked me to catch him again.”

We thank all of you for your continued support of our work with YAVs like Alyson and the new group that arrived last September. With your donations, prayers, and care packages we are even more encouraged to hold on to that sliver of hope as we continue to work and to wait for the transformation in the Christ Child to one day be fulfilled for all the earth. Let us continue to wait, pray, and work together.


light in the darkness

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NCCK Peace Treaty US Tour Report

Dr. John Merrill addresses the NCCK delegation.

Dr. John Merrill addresses the NCCK delegation.

“There is a hidden history of Korea that most US Americans know nothing about. Even I learn something knew all the time although I stopped working for the State Department a long time ago,” remarked Dr. John Merrill of the US-Korea Institute of SAIS. “Because this context is lacking [in the US], it is harder to reduce tensions in Korea.” He spoke this to our delegation sitting around a table as we met to share with him our hope for Korean peace at the end of a week-long campaign for peace across the US. This comment encapsulates will the complicated task on which we set out to labor.

In late July the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) sent me along with a delegation of 21 pastors, professors, and staff to tour the US on behalf of the Reconciliation and Unification Committee petition campaign for a Korean Peace Treaty. Our crew traversed the USA from Los Angeles to Washington, DC in 4 mini vans driving over 3,083.8 miles in 12 days to share our need for a peace treaty on the Korean peninsula. We responded to God’s call by meeting with Korean church leaders, US denominational staff, and government officials bearing witness to the need for an end to the Korean War.

We began after landing in Los Angeles with a dinner hosted by Korean church leaders of the L.A. community and a press conference for our campaign. Members of the NCCK and the US partners shared passionate conversation over dinner and articulated the dire need to an end to military conflict. We bore witness to the hope that securing peace through dialogue, rather than new weapons like the THAAD missile defense, will bring greater security to all nations in East Asia.

Father HyeonHo Kim on Trail Ridge Road lookout.

Father HyeonHo Kim on Trail Ridge Road lookout.

From LA, we made the long drive over several days to our next event in Chicago, Illinois. Along the way, we broke up the many kilometers with a few stops at national parks such as Trail Ridge Road in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where our crew stepped out to take in the view at 3,659 meters above sea level. We took in the fresh air and beauty and then continued on our way to eventually reach Chicagoland.

There our delegation met church leaders from the Korean immigrant community again for dinner and presentations. That Sunday morning our group split up to worship and preach at three different congregations around Chicagoland, including Holy Covenant United Methodist Church within the city of Chicago.

Rev. Moon Sook Lee gives a sermon encouraging us to become magpies.

Rev. Moon Sook Lee gives a sermon encouraging us to become magpies.

Rev. Moon Sook Lee gave a sermon there urging us to reclaim a Korean bird and symbol of reconciliation, the magpie, which had been overshadowed by the dove through Western and Abrahamic culture and spirituality. As we reclaim the magpie, we reclaim the hidden stories of struggle against militarism and violence and we remove obstacles to building bridges across intractable conflicts as in Korea, she asserted.

Our next stop took us to Indianapolis, Indiana where we met with staff of Global Ministries, a joint ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ denominations. There we celebrated that the Disciples denomination had just passed a resolution at their assembly supporting the NCCK peace campaign, similar to Overture 12-13 passed by our PC(USA) General Assembly.

Our delegation finished its journey with several days in Washington, DC hosted by the National Council of Christian Churches in the USA (NCCCUSA). We met with a Colorado senator’s office and a House subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.


NCCK General Secretary Kim hands Ambassador King a gift with laughs.

NCCK General Secretary Kim hands Ambassador King a gift with laughs.

We presented our petition and signatures to date to Ambassador Robert King, ambassador for North Korean Human Rights and to White House staff on July 27th, the anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953, which failed to end the war. During the meeting with the White House staff, a group of us took signs and songs outside to call for peace in Korea in front of the same building.

That afternoon, Dr. John Merrill of the US-Korea Institute at SAIS also hosted our delegation for the conversation mentioned above. We discussed the urgent need to decrease tensions in Korea immediately.

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

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

On the final day, the NCCCUSA hosted a consultation with other ecumenical partners involved in the Korean conflict and reconciliation, and then a press conference broadcast on the internet, which included participation from Rev. J. Herbert Nelson new Stated Clerk of PC(USA) and former director of our DC Office of Public Witness. The press conference announced a Washington Appeal adopted by the consultation that called upon the US and other governments to make immediate moves toward dialogue and negotiation on a peace treaty in Korea. We still have a lot of work to do in order to fill the gap in knowledge of Korea’s hidden histories and context.

The NCCK has asked me to continue working alongside them as they continue this peace treaty campaign for at least another two years with a visit to partners in Europe in 2017 and a possible trip to partners in East Asia in 2018. Your prayers and financial contributions help make it possible for me to draw up itineraries and driving directions, etc. for actions such as this. We thank you for your generosity during our first three years of service, but we still have not raised the full cost of working in Korea yet. Would you consider lifting us closer to that goal? We cherish all gifts large and small, new and increased. Thank you for your continued support.

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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:


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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