Written by John Ahn and Jess Kim
World Council of Churches
National Council of Churches in Korea
Ecumenical Youth Council in Korea
A Word of Thanks
We would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank NAPAD (North American Pacific/Asian Disciples) and its Executive Pastor, Rev. Chung Seong Kim. This trip has really catalyzed a deeper understanding of justice, peace, and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula. This was not only informative practically for our theologies but also enlightening in our own self discovery of what it means to sit with our tragic and painful history.
We would like to thank Global Ministries and Rev. Derek Duncan for this opportunity to engage in an ecumenical setting with others from around the world. We are extremely humbled to share this journey with people from different cultural backgrounds and explore topics like peace and justice with so many diverse views and perspectives. This trip has been truly instrumental in allowing us to make lasting relationships and has given us the ability to see and actively participate in the work the church is doing globally.
Gwangju – National Cemetery
“I am afraid of death, but if I compromise for my own sake now, I will become forever dead in the eyes of history and the people. But if I die now, I will be alive forever in history and with the people. I will always believe in the history and the people.” - Gwangju Massacre Victim
The May 18 National Cemetery in Gwangju, which was built by the South Korean government in 1997, is the burial grounds for those who died and participated in the Gwangju Uprising, a democratic movement protesting the military rule of then President Chun Doo-hwan in 1980. The Uprising triggered a national movement for democracy in South Korea, which had been ruled by a series of military dictatorships following the end of the Korean War in 1953. Walking through the cemetery and learning about the hundreds of people who were killed, I realized that so many people fought and died for our freedom. I think that the best way to honor their legacy is to continue to fight for peace and reconciliation in Korea and stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Hong Kong, Palestine, the US, Kashmir, and elsewhere.
Nogeun-ri - Peace Park
During the trip, we visited Nogeun-ri Peace Park. We stayed the night and explored the area of the Nogeun-ri massacre during the Korean War. To summarize the events of the massacre, the U.S. Army was given orders to fire live artillery on approaching citizens because of reports that North Korean spies were hiding among refugee groups. In 2001, President Bill Clinton offered a very lackluster apology in which he addressed the cover up by the U.S. government for its unprecedented mass murder of Korean refugees. Upon learning about these events and visiting the area where Korean refugees were gunned down, we also learned that communism was being associated as anti-Christian. There was a national sense among the South Koreans that those from the North were spawns of Satan. Not everyone shared this notion, however, there was a big divide between the Korean people. It is not a surprising revelation with how the U.S. was heavily involved in South Korea due to Christian values and obvious anti-communist views. It was disheartening to hear our mother country being heavily involved with the justification of a religious war. It was deeply saddening as it was a war that was calling fellow country people to hate and harm their fellow brothers and sisters. It is important to understand the division of North and South Korea as a fission caused by political borders and policies, which have also been pushed and reinforced by hate speech and fear. To this day, you can still see where the artillery shells struck the bridge as U.S. forces opened fire on unarmed Korean refugees and there are still some shells still stuck in the bridge by the river.
Comfort Women Lecture
We also attended multiple lectures throughout the week. One in particular that spoke to us was the lecture on Comfort Women. During the Japanese occupation of Korea, the Japanese army forced Korean, Chinese, Filipino, and other Pan Asian women to become comfort women. The role of these comfort women was sexual labor. Many women and young adolescent girls died during their captivity or in an attempt to escape. The typical age range was 12-30. Imperial Japan’s reach was wide across Asia and the country has not fully given a formal apology. There is a movement among the grandmothers of Korea for justice and reparations as survivors of their time as Comfort Women. To this day, there is still political and social tension between Korea and Japan because Korea is hoping for peace and closure for these elderly women before they die, while Japan has remained adamantly opposed about issuing a formal apology with reparations. Below is a memorial to the Comfort Women that was at the DMZ, which is at the border of North and South Korea.
There is still much work to be done in the Korean Peninsula in regards to justice and peace, but most of all there is a need for forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness for our fellow brothers and sisters, reconciliation of our countries, and also acceptance of our past and history. While it is important to remember our history, it is also necessary to not let it define and dictate how we live in communion with each other. In the same way that Christ welcomed his betrayers to his table, I believe we are called to do the same with those who have perpetuated pain and suffering on our ancestors. In the manner that Christ asked us to break bread in remembrance of him, I believe this is not simply a memorial of who Jesus was, but a reminder of his life and his work, and the very same welcoming presence he exemplified at the table.
John Ahn and Jessica Kim represented Global Ministries as short term volunteers. John is a seminary student at Vanderbilt and Jess is a seminary student at the Claremont School of Theology.