“There is a hidden history of Korea that most US Americans know nothing about. Even I learn something knew all the time although I stopped working for the State Department a long time ago,” remarked Dr. John Merrill of the US-Korea Institute of SAIS. “Because this context is lacking [in the US], it is harder to reduce tensions in Korea.” He spoke this to our delegation sitting around a table as we met to share with him our hope for Korean peace at the end of a weeklong campaign for peace across the US. This comment encapsulates will the complicated task on which we set out to labor.
In late July the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) sent me along with a delegation of 21 pastors, professors, and staff to tour the US on behalf of the Reconciliation and Unification Committee petition campaign for a Korean Peace Treaty. Our crew traversed the USA from Los Angeles to Washington, DC in 4 mini vans driving over 3,083.8 miles in 12 days to share our need for a peace treaty on the Korean peninsula. We responded to God’s call by meeting with Korean church leaders, US denominational staff, and government officials bearing witness to the need for an end to the Korean War.
We began after landing in Los Angeles with a dinner hosted by Korean church leaders of the LA community and a press conference for our campaign. Members of the NCCK and the US partners shared passionate conversation over dinner and articulated the dire need to an end to military conflict. We bore witness to the hope that securing peace through dialogue, rather than new weapons like the THAAD missile defence, will bring greater security to all nations in East Asia.
From LA, we made the long drive over several days to our next event in Chicago, Illinois. Along the way, we broke up the many kilometers with a few stops at national parks such as Trail Ridge Road in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where our crew stepped out to take in the view at 3,659 meters above sea level. We took in the fresh air and beauty and then continued on our way to eventually reach Chicagoland.
There our delegation met church leaders from the Korean immigrant community again for dinner and presentations. That Sunday morning our group split up to worship and preach at three different congregations around Chicagoland, including Holy Covenant United Methodist Church within the city of Chicago.
Rev. Moon Sook Lee gave a sermon there urging us to reclaim a Korean bird and symbol of reconciliation, the magpie, which had been overshadowed by the dove through Western and Abrahamic culture and spirituality. As we reclaim the magpie, we reclaim the hidden stories of struggle against militarism and violence and we remove obstacles to building bridges across intractable conflicts as in Korea, she asserted.
Our next stop took us to Indianapolis, Indiana where we met with staff of Global Ministries, a joint ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ denominations. Our delegation again shared the need for dialogue in building peace, and Global Ministries confirmed its continued commitment to the Korean church’s movement for peaceful reconciliation. Then the Disciples’ staff shared a resolution their denomination adopted at their last assembly which pledged support of the NCCK campaign for a peace treaty in Korea. It states:
“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Assembly calls upon our church to dedicate itself to accompany our Korean partners… the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) in South Korea, and the Korean Christian Federation of North Korea (KCF), in their efforts to seek the reconciliation and restoration of families and communities long divided by conflict and hostility, so that social, spiritual and psychological healing can occur between the people of Korea….” – Resolution GA-1522
Our delegation finished its journey with several days in Washington, DC hosted by the National Council of Christian Churches in the USA (NCCCUSA). We met with a Colorado senator’s office and a House subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. We presented our petition and signatures to date to Ambassador Robert King, ambassador for North Korean Human Rights and to White House staff on July 27th, the anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953, which failed to end the war. During the meeting with the White House staff, a group of us took signs and songs outside to call for peace in Korea in front of the same building.
That afternoon, Dr. John Merrill of the US-Korea Institute at SAIS also hosted our delegation for the conversation mentioned above. We discussed the urgent need to decrease tensions in Korea immediately. On the final day, the NCCCUSA hosted a consultation with other ecumenical partners involved in the Korean conflict and reconciliation, and then a press conference broadcast on the internet, which included participation from Rev. J. Herbert Nelson new Stated Clerk of PC(USA) and former director of our DC Office of Public Witness. The press conference announced a Washington Appeal adopted by the consultation that called upon the US and other governments to make immediate moves toward dialogue and negotiation on a peace treaty in Korea. We still have a lot of work to do in order to fill the gap in knowledge of Korea’s hidden histories and context.
We are grateful for all the support so many of you showed while we were on the road. We affirm that we will continue to push dialogue and respectful, peaceful reconciliation even though this may be a gigantic mountain to overcome. It will probably take more than one year of a campaign, and the NCCK is committed to see it through. We are preparing a trip to connect to partners in Europe for this next summer, so look out for announcements regarding that in the coming months. And please continue sharing our signature petition and sending letters to appropriate policy makers!