July 2010: Tenacious Hope
“I will not let you go until you bless me.” (Gen. 32:26)
Every Wednesday at noon, Mrs. E is there. She sits in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, Korea with her friends to ask the Japanese government to apologize for its past treatment of Korean women as sex slaves during the Asia Pacific War. Mrs. E is elderly, as are her friends. Many of the so-called “comfort women” have passed away. Mrs. E hopes that justice will be done before she meets her grave. She is surrounded by a crowd of civilians who support her struggle. Over the loud speaker a statement is read, a song is sung, a prayer is given. The window blinds of the Japanese embassy are shut. Stone faced guards and secret police make sure there is no outright confrontation. This peaceful sit-in has continued for seventeen years.
In December 2009, religious leaders from around the world, gathered for the Second Conference on Article Nine and Peace in Asia. There were various Buddhist, Christian and Muslim denominations represented. There was great meaning when we gathered in Seoul, because we were all made aware of the realities of the Cold War which still divide the Korean peninsula. East Asia has not been able to move beyond the dualisms of the Cold War era. What we witnessed was a wall; a remnant from the Cold War. The wall is invisible, but no less as real as the wall being built in Israel.
Part of our program was to join the sit-in, and pray alongside these women who were victimized by war. We were all moved by the experience. I was reminded of the story of Jacob who wrestled all night with the angel of God. Jacob refused to let the angel go until he received a blessing. Mrs. E is one of those Jacobs of our time. I see in her a faith that refuses to let go, trusting that God is a God of love and blessing for all.
Let us pray for the tenacity of Mrs. E and others that their belief in the possibility of justice becomes our call for the enactment of justice.
Jeffrey Mensendiek serves as a Global Ministries missionary with the Council on Cooperative Mission, and as director of the Gakusei (Student) Center in Sendai Japan.