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.”


(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.


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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Did I Discern Correctly?

YAV Arrival

YAVs arrive at Incheon airport where Kurt speaks only Korean until arrival at Daejeon

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus the Christ. Fall weather has come upon us here in Korean, which means the rainy season, changma, is over. This year was unfortunately more dry than usual so farmers in both South and North Korea took a hit to their crops. They could use your thoughts and prayers as the harvest time will come without as much produce as hoped.

As for our Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) site, this change in seasons also means the arrival of a new set of YAVs. This year we have received more than we had hoped, and it is the first time the Korea YAV site has ever worked with five YAVs. This means we have added two brand new volunteer placements as we have created relationships with two new children’s centers. Will, Linda, Alexis, Alyson, and Emily have finished their two-week on-site orientation with us, and they are now into their regular schedule of Korean language class in the morning and volunteering in the afternoon. Please pray for them as they continue trying to adapt to life in a new land with a new language.

One concern that seems to be a theme for this group of YAVs in particular revolves around discernment. They all participated in the week that we call the Discernment Event back in April where prospective YAVs interview several YAV sites, then rank them, then the site coordinators rank the YAVs, and we sort out placements with the rankings. We always emphasize that even though they probably received a placement at the end of the week, their work of discerning God’s will for them would continue. Some of them, when receiving Korea as their placement, were not sure it was want God truly wanted and considered asking for a different site. Eventually they signed their placement letters and prepared to move to Korea. Their discerning continued.

Buddy Dinner

Hannam Buddies introduce YAVs to the City of Daejeon, including former exchange YAV, Seongeun Choi

They all five arrived in Korea, and we read from the Book of Genesis together: “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you….’” (Gen 12:1). Then the questions came, “What if we misunderstood God? Is this REALLY where I am meant to be?” They lamented that Abram seemed to have received an easily discernable voice telling him to do this specific thing so that there was little room for debate. For us, however, this tends to be where the rubber meets the road in terms of discerning what we believe to be God’s call. We have done all this work to try to have a sense of what we think God is calling us to do, or perhaps more properly, who God is calling us to be as members of our global community, but what if in the end we are still betrayed by our human imperfection and have discerned incorrectly?

We try to bring them some comfort in what might seem like an uncomfortable truth, that most likely as humans, we will likely never be able to discern God’s will with 100% accuracy, especially with decisions where there are several good options to discern between! I am reminded of a quote from Susan B. Anthony when she was persuading a group of women not to repudiate an unorthodox book of theology, “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do to their fellows, because it always coincides with their own desires.” If I am honest, when I look back on my YAV year, I am not 100% sure that I chose the best option when I went to the Time for God program in England. When I let my mind wander too far I often wonder if there may have been a better choice. However, at this point as my life has brought me this far, that distinction matters very little. Perhaps I would not have come down the road that brought me to Korea had I gone to a different YAV site!

We encourage our YAVs to be open to re-assessment of decisions they have made, courses they have taken, and things they believe about God’s will. This is especially because, if we end up discerning incorrectly and others are harmed by our interpretation, we do no one any service, especially God, by sticking to the faith that we were 100% correct even when the fruits of our decision suggest otherwise. We also encourage them to be confident enough in our community discernment process that whatever level of certainty they feel about the decision that brought them to Korea, they are now committed to figuring out what God’s presence is here, what God is doing here, and what Koreans are doing to help God cultivate God’s Commonwealth.

Sunglak Director

YAVs meet Ms. Kyung Hwa Lee, director of Sunglak Welfare Community Center where Will volunteers

Throughout their year we help them to discern where the Spirit is present in the children’s centers, how Christ meets them in the eyes of guests at the Saenaru meals ministry, and who God is calling them to become in light of these new relationships.

You, as Presbyterians in the US, are also a part of these relationships for us. Your financial support, your prayers, and your messages of care keep us going and connecting these US young adults to the presence of God in Korea. If you are also interested in joining our journey and learning about what Koreans are doing to fight poverty and build relationships of reconciliation in the midst of conflict, please contact us and donate whatever you are able. Together we can better discern God’s will for us in this global community.

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2015 Joint North-South Prayer and Worship Liturgy (8.15 Anniversary)

ncck peace campaignThis coming August 15th, 2015 will mark 70 years since Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial control as well as Korea’s division into two zones based on the decision of US and Soviet Union officials (with Koreans conspicuously absent). Thus began a cycle of conflict and violence that Korea has yet to escape. Christians in South Korea first learned that Christians still lived in the open North despite severe restrictions on the practice of their faith. South and North Christians met face to face for the first time in 1988, despite it being illegal with participants risking arrest upon return to the South. Since then, South Koreans and Christians of the world helped convince the North to give Christians some breathing room to worship and practice in public, although full freedom to practice is still restricted. Since 1988, the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK – South) and the Korean Christian Federation (KCF – North) have co-written prayers for and end to the war, replacing the Armistice Treaty with a Peace Treaty, and an environment more conducive to humane dialogue and cooperation. They encourage their churches to pray this prayer together the Sunday before August 15th each year since 1988. The NCCK would like to ask all churches around the world to join their prayers, their strength, and their support to the push for an end to the “military conflict solution” and an embracing of true reconciliation. Please consider using all or part of this prayer and liturgy in your worship service on August 9th this year. The prayer was written by North and South Koreans, translated by our NCCK Reconciliation Unification Dept. team. The worship liturgy was written by Rev. Catherine Christie (United Church of Canada Ecumenical Worker) and Kurt.

If you agree to do so, you will join Christians in North and South Korea hoping for true peacemaking amidst growing tension between forces of the “West” and forces of “Asia”. Also, the NCCK would like to get a sense at how much others used these materials in worship and in what way. Please send a note to me at this blog or to Catherine at the address listed on the worship liturgy.

Letter from the NCCK General Secretary about the Joint Prayer and Worship Liturgy

Joint South/North – North/South Prayer (prayer text only)

Joint Worship Liturgy with Prayer

Here is the 2015 prayer in its entirety:

Joint Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula

Lord who oversees our history!
This year, we face the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan. On the day when we passed beyond the bitter persecution of the Japanese colonial era, our people sang a song of liberation. The song from our deep hearts flowed down like a stream of tears from everywhere South/North, North/South, Pyongyang/Seoul and Seoul/Pyongyang. Today, the roar of that day echoes through our hearts, however, we have been living with as much hatred as in the Japanese colonial era with our hostile divided state. Oh Lord, have mercy on us!

Lord of Comfort!
It’s been 70 years since we were divided. Although the Jews, who were taken captive to Babylon, returned to their home freely as prophesied; we are living without embracing the hope of Reunification that we had expected would come soon. Now all land routes, railroads and seaways are blocked despite having traveled them more freely under Japanese colonial era. We live in nothing but an unfree situation in which bugs, animals, seeds, and the fruit of trees also are confined in South and North / North and South. Oh Lord, let the liberation of that day live in our hearts again. Let us prepare our song in a chorus of reunification from all over the world.

Lord of Peace!
Like the unchanging sky and land, strong nations surrounding this land have been continually pressuring us, the same as it had ever been, for 70 years. We, sometimes, expected them to come in the role of a mediator of peace, however, militarily and economically they have considered their own advantage first. Recently a military alliance between the US and Japan has been strengthened, and an alliance between China and Russia has stabilized. They fan the flame of crisis by perpetually competing in an arms race by promoting exclusive military cooperation agreements. The way that our people can survive by ourselves is to hold exchanges, to communicate with each other, and to be reconciled, cooperating together; however, we are foolishly reinforcing our dividing wall even more. Oh Lord, change our minds and help us to repent of our sin.

Lord of Mercy!
Waiting for 70 years, we hope the complete peace of the Lord will be manifest in this world. We eagerly wish that our history of conflict and fighting which has been recurring for 70 years will soon be over. Brother and sister shared one same blood; our people, who traditionally wore the white garments, expect to recover our high dignity through beautiful union and peaceful reunification in East Asia and the world. We are dreaming that news of reconciliation will ripple through the East Sea and South Sea all around us, and that the news of peace be a great wind gusting out to Eurasia passing over Mt. Baekdu and to the Pacific Ocean passing over Jeju Island. Oh Lord, please fulfill our hopes without fail.

Lord who makes one!
At This moment when South and North / North and South are praying for reunification with one heart, make us into apostles of peace. Just like Jesus’ disciples, who became messengers of reconciliation after overcoming all fear, let all of us who were called as Christians be able to fulfill the duties of “the ministry of reconciliation”.

We pray in Jesus name, the one who achieved victory over death on the Cross, was resurrected, and gave us eternal life.  Amen.

August 15, 2015

National Council of Churches in Korea

Korean Christian Federation Central Committee

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Connections Letter: Women Cross DMZ

Hello friends across the world. We bring you greetings of shalom in the name of Jesus the Prince of Peace. Summer has come to set up in Korea, and the humidity is beginning to take hold. Every now and then an actual rain comes through to cool it off a bit and release the blanket. One of those hot days, our family went to take stroll in the heat along with a couple hundred other people up near the border with the North. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Our US Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) are now reaching the end of their year here in Korea. We have already had our Discernment Event where we placed the YAVs who will come live with us next year in their stead (there will be five YAVs in Korea next year, by the way). We are also getting ready to send another four Korean students to be Exchange YAVs in the US next year. Meanwhile, Jordan and Kalyn are trying to figure out how to wrap up their year, and they are beginning reflections on what their year has meant to them.

This is no easy task. When I was a YAV back in the day, it took me almost two years after that year volunteering in England to be able to answer questions like, “How did your YAV year change you?” It took me another ten years to fully grasp how that change might affect my life and the life of my family. That’s why we are encouraging Kalyn and Jordan to start thinking about those questions early. They have spent a year working a playing alongside children in neighborhoods that struggle with poverty; learning about how to deal with our privilege as US citizens in a respectful and helpful way; and trying to learn the Korean language. Another piece they learn about is the history of conflict and division here on the Korean peninsula. We talk about this from the perspective of one of the three Critical Global Issues that Presbyterian World Mission has taken up as our calling: “We will engage in reconciliation amidst cultures of violence, including our own.” This is a complicated engagement on a peninsula divided by outside forces, that division lasting 70 years, and currently under a technical “state of war” even though open conflict ended over 60 years ago. Our YAVs are considering what might be our role as US Presbyterians when the largest collection of US military outside of the US is stationed in and around this peninsula.

Hyeyoung and our son dancing at the Sunday welcoming event

Hyeyoung and our son dancing at the Sunday welcoming event

This past May, a group of women peacemakers held an event in Korea called Women Cross the DMZ. Hyeyoung, our son, Sahn, and I participated in a short 3K walk demonstration and celebration that welcomed them to the South after they had visited the North. This event was created by women who have been working for peace around the world including Gloria Steinem from the US, Leymah Gbowee, a Nobel Peace Laureate from Liberia, Mairead Maguire, a Nobel Peace Laureate from Northern Ireland and various women from almost 20 other countries as well as Korea. They began with a visit to North Korea to meet women leaders there and then moved southward to meet us on the South Korean side beyond the DMZ. It was a powerful message of women taking a courageous step to cultivate reconciliation through humane relationship building. So we brought our YAVs up to Seoul to participate in the symposium lectures given by the women participants on the Monday after they crossed to the South on Sunday.

2015-05-25 14.57.14

Participants at the Symposium singing a song of reunification to end the event

The YAVs came up on a train Monday morning to meet us and head up to the lecture center. Many of the women had brought prepared presentations about the work they had been doing in their home countries to build peace and cut off the cycle of violence. The amount of experience among the women of living through violence against their own communities was profound. However, the two most powerful presentations came from the two women who went off-script and talked about their feelings having met North Koreans, their hope for peace, and some compassionate words for those of us in South Korean and the US. They specifically connected their experiences of violent stalemates in Liberia and Northern Ireland respectively to the conflict here in Korea. Leymah Gbowee remarked that if you go in immediately asking for stories of a community’s human rights crimes, they will not trust you. But if you build that trust first and then come back many times, “Oh the stories you will hear!” Mairead Maguire asked us all to consider fully the very real fear of annihilation on the part of our enemies. She testified that this kind of fear will forever mire talks of peace as it had in Northern Ireland. Our YAVs heard some challenging words.

Kalyn received the most inspiration from Liza Maza, a Filipina who told of the immense difficulty of working for peace while such a large part of your country is filled by a foreign military. The pain of war and occupation by various empires leaves complicated wounds the do not heal easily, not unlike the situation of Korea. This event helped her to reflect more on the role of the US in the current situation in Korea. Jordan told me that the example of these women doing such a brave and misunderstood action made a significant impression on him. He said, “I was inspired by seeing all of the women together for the common goal of bringing peace to such a non-peaceful situation.”

Jordan and Kalyn with our family at the Symposium

Jordan and Kalyn with our family at the Symposium

We hope to keep challenging US young adults to consider their role as US Christians called to the ministry of reconciliation throughout the world and especially where our country has such a large military presence. We want to thank you for your prayers and financial support. Your gifts ensure that we can continue providing this kind of experience to our young adults and sharing the stories with Presbyterians all over the US. This is a steep mountain to climb, but we believe there is hope in a future of reconciliation so long as we all join together and continue bringing the truth of our past to light. Amen.

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World Mission Budget Need

Some of you in the PC(USA) world have heard the news of the budget shortfall from 2014 that is going to affect our employing department, Presbyterian World Mission. You may have seen an article in the Outlook. You may have also read and signed in support of the letter written by past moderators of the denomination. If you have not, the basic gist of the situation is that if financial support for mission co-workers does not drastically change in the next two years, we will have to drastically change the way Presbyterian World Mission looks.Ten-Year-History-PMPF-1024x791

Many of you are strong supporters of us already. We cannot thank you enough for all that you have given to keep us going in this position. We have received prayer shawls from you, care packages with coffee, cards from Sunday School classes, and also financial contributions. Many of you already know that Presbyterian World Mission has quite a history of amazing feats. We are also trying to redeem some mistakes of the past and transform into a more aware participant in the globe that is truly helpful to our global partners.

Our Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) Program continues to bring in young adults from around the US and send them to sites all over the world including here in Korea. More than merely providing helpful “services”, these YAVs learn about the experiences, suffering, and hope of communities around the world. They go back to the US with a better understanding of how we in the US sometimes increase the suffering of others without being fully aware. They go back to the US with a better understanding of how to transform that relationship so that our government’s foreign policy and our community relations reverses our mistakes and instead build an environment for peace, shalom, and life in abundance for all. Next year Hyeyoung will also connect them to the Glocal Multi-Cultural Leadership Program of Hannam University so that they better understand the needs and hopes of the immigrant and migrant community in Korea.

My job with the NCCK is building bridges across the division of conflict in Korea. For the most part they have been focusing on reconciliation between North and South Koreans, but they hope to include US Americans in more of their efforts as well. The North still considers the US as its number 1 enemy. The US responds with derision and dehumanization throughout our media such as movies like The Interview. Most US Americans have not heard the history of the Korean Christian Federation, and thus assume they are “not true Christians” based on how much they lack resemblance to our limited understanding of Christian identity. I hope to build more bridges alongside the NCCK, and I hope to bring many of you with us to raise awareness of how this conflict came about, our role in it, and hope for re-humanization of each other and reconciliation. If anything, at least we can push together for a peace treaty to replace the armistice agreement. Read an overview of that work on this NCCK post, past activities, and also a current program here.

If this is the kind of work that you believe is important in this world, then I challenge you to affirm that significance with a financial contribution to make sure we can continue here, learn even more, and share that will all of you for years to come. If you have been supporting us already, thank you again! I also challenge you to consider whether you can increase that amount this year and to consider how to make it a recurring gift throughout our assignment. You may click on the donate button to the side or follow this Donate Link. The church as we know it is going to look very different in the coming years, but if we can put our energy and resources together in new ways, we can continue accomplishing amazing feats.

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NCCK Young Adults Peace March

gangwondo barbed wire

This coming July, my partner, the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) is inviting Korean young adults residing around the world to participate in a Peace March week long program on Korea’s division, war, and hope for reconciliation. They are especially interested in Korean Americans (and Korean Canadians/Germans/Japanese/etc.) participating, and they have asked me to send a special invite to Korean Americans in the PC(USA). They hope this will be a significant time, the 70th anniversary of Korea’s division, for Korean residents in other countries to encourage their communities to join the movement for reconciliation on the Korean peninsula. It is VERY SHORT notice, I am afraid, so if you have this week free in July, please jump on this. Details below!

2015 DMZ Walkathon for Peace and Reunification on the Korean Peninsula

Christian Young Adults,
Harvesting Peace from the Site of Division

Dates: July 20(Mon.) – 25(Sat.), 2015
*The actual program will depart from Seoul around 7-8am Monday the 20th. Traveling from the US you should arrive in Seoul by Sunday the 19th. NCCK cannot provide accommodations the evening of the 19th, but we can suggest affordable options. The program will end upon return to Seoul around 10pm Friday the 25th.

Participants: Korean immigrant young adults aged 18-40 around the world including Germany, US, Japan, Canada, etc. Denominational affiliation is not necessary. (Korean citizens will be considered as potential volunteer staff)

Cost: $400 USD participation fee (negotiable) – airfare and flight reservations are on your own.

Registration: Please fill out this Peace March Application and email it to Rev. Kurt Esslinger at elfslinger [at] gmail [dot] com. Also direct any questions to me at that email.

Theme and Bible Text

Theme: Christian Young Adults, Harvesting Peace from the Site of Division

Bible Text: Ephesians 2:14-16 (NIV)

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

Program Aims:

1) To enable the young generation to reflect on the reality of the division through visiting the Demilitarized Zone area, “the symbolic place of the division”;
2) To provide an educational opportunity in which they can learn about the division system;
3) To empower the young generation to articulate on the vision and mission for peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula;
4) To encourage the young generation to seek ways to bring about their commitment to peace-building in Korea and beyond;
5) To build a global youth network for peace and reunification in Korea and beyond

Walkathon course: Cheorwon-gun ~ Inje-gun~Gosoung-gun, along the DMZ in Kangwon province. The total length of travel for six days will be approximately 112miles and in six days’ walkathon program, the participants will walk about 29miles. Activities will likely include worship, lectures, peace and reconciliation workshops, visits to DMZ unification observatories, significant sites of Korean War history, peace museums, Seoraksan mountain walking, etc. The program will be carried out bilingually in English and Korean.

* DMZ is the border between the northern side of South Korea and the southern side of North Korea. It bears much history about the division. It would be a very meaningful journey to travel along the DMZ line in Kangwon province as this province carries a painful division history. The total length of the DMZ is approximately 155 miles.


In 1945 Korea was liberated from Japanese occupation. However, immediately after the liberation Korea was divided into the communist North and the capitalist South. Five years later this division became the major cause of the Korean War (1950 to 1953) in which more than six million people were killed and the entire country was completely destroyed. The consequence of the three years’ war was the solidification of the division system. Today Korea’s division is the only remaining case of the Cold War. The 70 years’ division has caused confrontation and antagonism between the two Koreas, bringing unbearable han[1] to minjung (grassroots people) in the two Koreas. There are still more than 120,000 separated families in the South Korea and their number is increasing as saetemin (North Korean defectors) are gradually on the rise. Pain and suffering among the North Koreans have been aggravated by the decades-long sanctions against the North from the international community. Moreover, the military confrontation between North and South Korea (and the US) is escalating as the daily reality of the Cold War rhetoric between two Koreas continues. Consequently the Korean peninsula can be a flashpoint at any time, threatening peace and security in the entire region and beyond.

God’s Shalom is not possible without a true reconciliation with our sisters and brothers. God requests us to reconcile with them first before we come to God for worship. (Mt. 5:23-24). Reconciliation with people is a prerequisite to reconciliation with God. True faith requires sincere commitment to the healing and reconciliation of the broken relationship among people. Reconciliation is a long process of true repentance, justice, forgiveness, and healing. It also requires us to accept otherness and respect the values of others.

The people of the two Koreas have committed sin against each other during the 70 years’ division, hating each other and even killing each other. For Korean Christians, therefore, the “mission for reconciliation and peace” is not an option but an urgent necessity.

One of the significant roles of the church today is to enable our young generation to experience the division and to encourage our young adults to be more attentive to the mission for reconciliation and peaceful reunification in Korea.

It is in this light that the Reunification Committee of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), in cooperation with partner churches in the U.S.A, Germany, and Japan[2], proposes a walkathon program, “DMZ Peace March for Peace and Reunification on the Korean Peninsula.” This program will provide a platform in which the young generation of Korea and overseas meet each other, reflect on the reality of the division and work together to find out ways to bring their commitment to peace-building in Korea and beyond.

[1] Han, a Korean word, is a deep feeling that rises out of all those unjust experiences of sufferings.

[2] The program is co-organized with the ecumenical partners of the NCCK which include: Ecumenical Youth Council in Korea (EYCK), Korean Reunification Committee of the United Methodist Church, Korean Church Association in Germany and Korean Christian Council in Japan. Kurt is participating as support staff on behalf of PC(USA).

Registration: Please fill out this Peace March Application and email it to Rev. Kurt Esslinger at elfslinger [at] gmail [dot] com. Also direct any questions to me at that email.

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