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A letter from Kurt Esslinger in South Korea

Late Fall 2013

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus the Christ! The seasons are progressing here in Daejeon, Korea, as trees are changing color and the mountains surrounding our city are calling us to come and walk their paths. We are now also preparing our hearts and minds for the Advent season, although you will probably read this after Advent has begun.

YAV group in front of the WCC Assembly building.

We recently took a break with our Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) from our usual work of cultivating relationships with our partners in Daejeon and volunteering in children’s centers. We all took a trip down to Busan, South Korea, to attend and observe the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC). [WCC Group photo]

Opening worship was particularly powerful. Prayers were given in various languages from different regions of the world. Each prayer lifted up cries of lamentation while also celebrating hope of God working in their midst. These prayers lamented the rape of women, continuing conflict and war, responsibility for colonization and imperialism, and environmental destruction among other issues for today’s church in the world. Yet hope in the Spirit that brings Christians from all over the world to worship together was also affirmed. That Spirit is also bringing us together in peacemaking all over the world, as so many at the WCC assembly hope. The sermon was given by His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians. We read the English translation of the Armenian sermon as he spoke. He powerfully and humbly expressed the need for unity among Christians of all nations and denominations to work for the healing of the world. We also had the pleasure of hearing traditional Korean melodies and instrumentation throughout the worship. Although many Korean Christians continue to prohibit their use in worship today in line with many Western missionaries throughout the past 100 years, they communicated the experience of God through Korean culture to Christians from all over the world that day. 

A woman's agency performs Korean traditional drumming at the Madang exhibit hall.

A common thread for this WCC assembly has been working for peace in the midst of conflict. With this assembly held in Korea, the delegates focused much attention on the continuing Korean War and absence of a peace treaty. Although open conflict has ceased through an armistice signed by a U.S. general on behalf of the United Nations and by North Korea, no peace treaty has actually ended the war. This Advent season I ask you to consider the waiting and hoping for peace in the hearts of Koreans throughout the peninsula. Consider their groans as resources are diverted away from development of the peninsula toward defending from the threat of open conflict beginning again. As the story of Jesus’ birth gives hope to Christians everywhere, Koreans also look for the light of hope and peace. They find hope in the story of Germany’s reunification in the midst of the Cold War.

We heard a presentation at the WCC by an East German woman about some of the steps that led up to a reunification agreement. She noted that the boldness of networks continuing to communicate secretly across the border, sharing hope for peace and sharing aid, particularly helped to pave the way for reunification talks. We also heard of daring South Koreans willing to cross the border despite the threat of imprisonment by their own South Korean government, such as the Rev. Moon Ik Hwan. He traveled to North Korea in 1989 on an unauthorized visit to hold conversations on reunification with then leader Kim Il Sung. He was arrested when he returned to the South. When the government released Rev. Moon on parole, he spoke to fellow Christians and activists about his experience reaching across divisions of demonization despite the threat of re-imprisonment. He expressed his feelings of deep connection with North Koreans whom he still considered family literally and figuratively, sharing the desire for Korean independence. His courage and subsequent imprisonment inspire continued visits by denominations such as the Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK) and the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK). These trips connect with the Korean Christian Federation of North Korea and focus on providing desperately needed food and medical aid. These trips continue today, along with trips led by the PC(USA) and other ecumenical partners concerned with Korean peace. They often involve worship with North Korean Christians and sharing hope for reunification.

Tisha and the YAVs hear about the need for a peace treaty on the Korean peninsula.

We also heard numerous presenters reiterate the need for the United States, as the most powerful player in this region, to lead the way for a peace treaty. How might you be able to encourage our government to take up a foreign policy that leads to a peace treaty and finally dispenses with the military option for peace in Northeast Asia? How might we honor the promise of life and peace of the birth of Jesus in the Korean context? One step you can take is to sign and mail in a petition urging the U.S. government to sign a peace treaty:

We dearly thank all those who support us and our Korean partners’ work toward building peace on this peninsula. Our Young Adult Volunteers have particularly appreciated the prayers and packages from our partners in the U.S. If you would like to join us in this work of peacemaking, to learn with us about the Korean context and Korean hopes for peace, donate now! We are also looking for congregations to visit when we return to the U.S. for a month in March and April. We would be happy to tell our story in your congregation. Send us a note if you would like to invite us.

Peace in Christ,
Kurt Esslinger and Hyeyoung Lee

2013 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, South Korea, pp. 204, 206
Read more about Kurt Esslinger and Heyoung Lee's ministry

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