Abundant Love and Fragile Peace in Korea

CCS student Keith Hall is in Winnipeg this month, along with 16 other students, for the Social Ministry Year spring learning circle.  Keith had to leave early from the fall learning circle last October in order to be part of a delegation to Korea.  Here are Keith’s reflections on that trip…

Willa Kernen
Willa Kernen

The late Willa Kernen, a diaconal minister (and a 1953 graduate of the United Church Training School), served in South Korea as overseas mission personnel for The United Church of Canada from 1954 to 1995. Excluding time on furlough, she spent 35 years helping a nation battered by war and militarism get back on its feet. But her witness to the power of Christian partnership did not end when she returned to her home in Saskatoon; when Incheon Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK) wrote to ask Saskatoon’s River Bend Presbytery if it would consider entering into an inter-presbytery partnership, it was the connection through Willa that made the idea feel so natural.

On June 2, 2014 a delegation of 13 visitors from Incheon Presbytery arrived in Saskatoon for a 10-day introduction. They visited cultural centres, historic sites, and rural and urban churches. They stayed in church members’ homes and shared many conversations and experiences with their hosts over meals and in various planned visits. The relationships created in those 10 days were deep and full of spiritual power. An invitation was also extended to River Bend Presbytery to plan a return visit.

The goals of this exchange were:

  • To learn about one another
  • To accomplish a mutual introduction and understanding of the work of both presbyteries
  • To explore the possibility of a formal partnership to include:
    • regular exchanges of youth
    • continuing education programs for church leaders
    • regular exchange of information so as to be able to support and pray for one another.

Planning began in earnest in early 2015 and through an application and selection process which was open to everyone and strongly directed at youth and young adults. 15 people were selected to participate in this exchange visit which took place in November 2015.  Five of those people – 2 adults, 2 youth and myself – were from the pastoral charge where I serve, St. Martin’s United.

The River Bend Presbytery delegation being welcomed in Korea.
The River Bend Presbytery delegation being welcomed in Korea.

This exchange was an amazing opportunity to build on the United Church’s commitment to interculturalism and ecumenism.

Michael Blair who is part of the General Council staff for mission and justice was recently quoted in the UCC’s Gathering Magazine. “Interculturalism is the engagement of difference, it is not just about skin colour, race, ethnicity, language and culture. Rather, interculturalism is the recognition of and willingness to work with all the differences encountered…seeing the differences as part of the rich fabric of any community.”

Our itinerary was full…visiting many of the churches in the PROK but also other denominations, meeting church members and clergy, visiting historic sites, educational institutions and mission projects. We stayed in the homes of church members, experienced the culture first hand and engaged the differences. We had the opportunity to build relationships with global partners who are now friends so that we might learn together what it means to be church.

friends Korea

Intercultural connections change ones perspective and inform one’s spirit. While in Korea I was struck by the strength of personal faith exhibited by our hosts.  The regularity of worship, the priority given to relationship-building and community social events, the mission work, the ecumenical work, the prayer, hope and effort pledged to re-unification efforts, the excitement about the potential for future exchanges, the commitment to youth to explore and connect across continents, the dedication to daily prayer … all of it moved me to tears on more than one occasions. It was only after our visit to the demilitarized zone and participating in a mass singing of the Unification Song with our hosts that I fully came to understand why.

The border between North and South Korea
The border between North and South Korea

The fragility of the peace that exists between the two Koreas and the threat that our new friends have lived under every day for years, which once again has been in the news lately, is ever-present.  Yet there exists abundant love, hope, joy and peacemaking.

Their intentionality and passionate living out of the teachings of Jesus every day was and is an inspiration to me and an example that I will continue to seek to emulate in my ministry.

2 Replies to “Abundant Love and Fragile Peace in Korea”

  1. Thank you for being a witness to the intercultural and ecumenical movement between the two denominations. Just one thing to be corrected: it’s Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea not the People’s Republic of Korea.

    1. Thanks, Min-Goo. That was my mistake. I was trying to fill in the acronym, and I guessed wrong. I’ve made the correction.

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