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Presbyterian pastor in Korea longs for peace and prays for reunification

The desire for peace springs from the memory of a 2002 tragedy

by the Rev. Hiheon Kim, Hyanglin Presbyterian Church | Special to Presbyterian News Service

A shoe from one of the victims of the 2002 tragedy. (Contributed photo)

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice, which means that Korean society has been living in a state of war for 70 years.

In the face of this historical tragedy, Korean Christians are repenting for the past of confrontation and conflict, hoping and praying that a peace agreement will be signed and that there will be reconciliation and reunification on the Korean Peninsula.

The aftermath of the Korean War and the pain of the division of the Peninsula manifests itself in many ways, one of which is the tragedy caused by the presence of foreign troops and war exercises. On 13 June 2002, two middle-school girls on their way to a friend’s birthday party were crushed to death by a 56-ton United States Forces Korea tracked vehicle during a military exercise. The tragedy occurred when the tracked vehicle, caught up in the training schedule of the U.S. 2nd Division in South Korea, recklessly attempted to cross the road with a U.S. Army Bradley fighting vehicle coming from the opposite direction. The girls’ dreams of becoming a designer and a painter were also crushed, and only the shoes they were wearing were left at the site.

The Status of Forces Agreement provides that the U.S. military has primary jurisdiction over crimes committed by U.S. personnel in the course of their official duties, but if the South Korean government requests that jurisdiction be transferred, “favorable consideration shall be given” (Article 22, paragraph 3). For the first time ever, the South Korean Ministry of Justice requested that the U.S. waive jurisdiction, but the U.S. ultimately refused to do so, calling it “unprecedented.” Ultimately, a U.S. court-martial acquitted the communicator and driver of the vehicle and sent them home to the United States.

Soon, outraged South Koreans held up candles, chanting, “Detain even the tanks!” It was the beginning of the candlelight vigils that have since become a symbol of South Korea’s democracy movement. The bereaved families and a National Task Force on the U.S. Army Armored Vehicle Killings collected more than one million signatures, and on 14 December that year 100,000 people gathered in the Seoul City Hall Square to surround the U.S. Embassy in the first protest in South Korean history. At the same time, candlelight vigils were held in dozens of cities around the world, led by overseas Koreans.

Years passed, and South Korean citizens have voluntarily raised money to build a peace park commemorating the two girls at the site of the tragedy in 2020. On 13 June this year, we plan to hold a 21st anniversary memorial event at that park. Rather than being outraged by the crime, we long for peace and pray for the reunification of the Korean Peninsula. Now, we are also planning to build an archive building in the Peace Park, in the hope that young people will remember the tragedies of this history and grow up to be peacemakers. It will be a space of solidarity for those who desire peace over the world.

We are grateful to our brothers and sisters in the PC(USA) who have been praying for peace on the divided Korean Peninsula. We ask for your concern in the construction of the archives.

The Rev. Hiheon Kim is senior pastor of Hyanglin Presbyterian Church, serving as chairperson of the Peace and Unification Committee of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea, president of the Hyo-sun Mi-seon Peace Park Project Committee, and president of the Society of Korean Minjung Theology.  


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