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Korean partner churches continue prayers, action

At Annual Meeting in April, Ed Evans of the PNC/NW Regional Disciples Global Ministries Committee shared a video of Kurt Essinger, Presbyterian mission co-worker assigned to the Reconciliation and Reunification Department of the National Council of Churches of Korea (NCCK), noting that NCCK proposals were included in the North-South Korea conversations with the goal of going from the armistice to a peace treaty.

“North and South are no longer at war, so we need to concretize it in a peace treaty,” Kurt said, noting that the goals include transforming the DMZ to a peace zone and ceasing hostile military actions. 

Kurt said there are more parties than North and South Korea, because the war was a proxy war, leaving the U.S. military the ultimate authority over the South Korean army.

“It’s a Korean-led process,” he said.  “It’s time for the U.S. follow and let Korea decide.”

The issue is to overcome years of suspicion and mistrust.

Kim Jung Un bringing Naengmyeon cold noodle soup may seem insignificant, but Kurt said it was a step in a greater process of reconciliation that said “we are one” and eat the same food.

When Kim invited Moon Jae-in at the Panmunjom peace village conference building to “come North,” and Moon stepped across the line that runs through the building, Kurt said it raised hope among Koreans.

What’s next is uncertain. Ed said one issue is a peace treaty, which the U.S. has to sign.  The peace treaty language includes reunifying families.

He told of 10 Korean delegates in 2013, visiting Normandy Park UCC, and discussing reunification—with some wanted it, some did not and some told of wanting to see family in the North.

The PNC has been a partner since 1993 with the East Seoul Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea. The presbytery also has a partnership now with a church in France. The next delegation will come to the PNC in 2019.

Ed also shared a letter from Korea’s National Council of Churches about the peace summit between Kim Jong-Un and President Donald Trump.

They wrote: “Since the national division in 1945 and the Korean War of 1950 to 1953, we in North and South have sinned against one another, hating and even killing each other. For more than 70 years the division has brought us unbearable pain and suffering.”

The NCCK fear another war on the Korean peninsula would be “a flash point for a clash of the world super powers.” Fear of a nuclear war was heightened last year, but the Pyeongchang Olympic Games were an opportunity for North and South to cultivate a peace momentum and recognition that a military confrontation would be a catastrophe for Korean people and neighboring countries. The peace momentum led to inter-Korean summit meetings on April 27 and May 26, in which the leaders agreed to end the Korean War and work on a permanent peace and “comprehensive denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

 Those meetings led to arranging the June 12 U.S.-North Korea summit, with the hopes it would lead to denuclearization of North Korea and normalization of diplomatic relations.

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

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

This NCCK statement was shared by the national UCC-Disciples Global Ministries.

Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the U.S. National Council of Churches, also shared reflections, expressing hope that despite “the mistrust on both sides and paranoid personalities in control of each nation, we may nevertheless witness a future in which good relations develop, war games cease, troops return home, nuclear weapons are dismantled and a peace treaty is signed.”

He called for intense prayer and hard work, continuing years in which churches around the world have prayed, been in dialogue and studied, while staying in contact with North Korean Christians.

He told of plans to meet with North Korean Christians in June, aware of the benefits of those relationships for peace, and as a “backdrop for the media expressions of doubt, alarm and confusion in the quest for a winner and loser.”

Jim recognizes that some “experts” believe that the U.S. did not extract enough concessions and conferred legitimacy on Kim Jong Un.  He also cited Trump’s comments that he could “be wrong,” leaving open a potential retreat to the Cold War mentality—given the power “of the military-industrial complex.”

Because “the odds are against success and peace,” Jim said that’s “where we Christians and other people of good will come in” because “we know God is at work. We cannot waver now.  We cannot assume all will be well.

“Much needs to be done to heal the scars of battle, the false separation of the peninsula into two nations and the enmity that has developed,” he said. “For more than 100 years, Korea has known colonialism, war, massacres, dictatorship, famine and privation.  While South Korea is generally prosperous, it has come at a high cost.”

Jim is aware that forces of hatred and war can still dash hopes of peace, that skeptics and warmongers may plan to sabotage negotiations, and that the leaders will be under “enormous pressure” to fall back into old patterns of name calling and blame.

So he calls for continued prayers for peace, for contacting the White House and elected representatives to “say we believe this is an important step forward, we’re behind them, and we a new era of peace, both North Korea and the U.S. to denuclearize, unification of the Korean Peninsula and swords beaten into plowshares.”

On June 18 during celebrations of the World Council of Churches’ 70th anniversary at its Central Committee meeting in Geneva, Christians from North and South Korea liinked arms and sang the 600-year-old folk song, “Arirang,” the unofficial anthem of Korea before the civil war in the 1950s.  The WCC has been active in promoting dialogue and peace between the North and South.

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Pacific Northwest United Church News © Summer 2018


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