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Pray for peace for Korea, say bishops

 
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6:00 P.M. EST December 7, 2010

A North Korean guard looks south in this August 2007 file photograph by US Army Photographer Edward N. Johnson.
A North Korean guard looks south in this August 2007 file photograph by U.S. Army Photographer Edward N. Johnson.
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The United Methodist Church’s two Korean-American bishops are urging prayers for peace and reconciliation in the wake of the North Korean military’s recent deadly attack on a South Korean island.

Chicago Area Bishop Hee-Soo Jung and New York Area Bishop Jeremiah Park each released letters condemning the loss of life. They also each asked church members to use this Advent season to embrace the message of the Prince of Peace, citing Isaiah’s image of a time when “Nation will not take up sword against nation.”

The bishops, both natives of Korea, are among Christian leaders around the globe — including the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches of Korea— that have decried the deaths and destruction on Yeonpyeong Island and called for hostilities to ease in the Korean Peninsula.

United Methodist Bishop Jeremiah J. Park. A UMNS photo by the Rev. David Kwangki Kim.
United Methodist Bishop Jeremiah J. Park. A UMNS file photo by the Rev. David Kwangki Kim.
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On Nov. 23, the North Korean military initiated an artillery barrage of the small island, resulting in the deaths of two South Korean marines and two civilians. Eighteen more people were injured and a number of homes were destroyed on the island, which is seven miles from the North Korean border. The incident occurred eight months after the sinking of the South Korean warship, Choenan.

“The most recent conflict in the Korean Peninsula is extremely serious with sufficient volatility that could lead to another war,” Park said in his statement. “As you may know, the Korean War waged between1950 and 1953 resulted in millions of deaths and injuries. …Another war must never be repeated.”

Torn emotions

Since 1988, The United Methodist Church has called for the “peace and the reunification of Korea” in its Book of Resolutions.

However, the current strife presents a difficult situation for many of the roughly 50,000 Korean-American United Methodists in the United States.

Many have provided aid to North Koreans, who have long suffered from famine under the government’s economic mismanagement. For the past 15 years, more than 100 Korean-American United Methodist congregations have given some $2 million to the Five Loaves and Two Fish Mission in North Korea, said the Rev. Kevin Ryoo, secretary of the denomination’s Korean-American caucus.

U.S. soldiers alongside their South Korean Army counterparts, participate in a exercise in South Korea in this file April 2010 photo. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.
U.S. soldiers alongside their South Korean Army counterparts, participate in an exercise in South Korea in this file April 2010 photo. A UMNS photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.
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But most Korean-American United Methodists trace their roots back to South Korea, and many still have family and friends in the country, he said. They worry for the safety of their loved ones and do not want to enable North Korean aggression.

“Any time tension between the North and South occurs, we ask the question: Should we continue to help North Korea?” said Ryoo, who is the pastor of Rapid City Korean Church, a United Methodist congregation in South Dakota.

Ryoo believes such aid needs to continue. Food assistance, he said, helps keep open lines of communication between the North Korean people ‑ including the country’s nascent Christian churches ‑ and Christians in the United States and could help lead to reunification.

Like Jung and Park, Ryoo plans to spend the Advent season praying for peace.

“What other options do we have?” he asked. “We have to continue on our journey, continue to pray, continue to support and continue on the road to reconciliation.”

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
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Reason for sympathy

Thomas Kemper, the top executive at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, agrees. The United Methodist Church has long cooperated with the autonomous Methodist Church in South Korea on mission projects, including a joint mission in Cambodia.

“This is our Christian conviction that we should give aid, independent of religious or political belief, where there is need,” Kemper said. “At the same time, we need to work toward a peace treaty that will replace the (1953) armistice.”

In his statement, Jung wrote that United Methodists have reason to have sympathy for people on both sides of the peninsula’s demilitarized zone.

“My prayers are for the people of the North, suffering in a desperate economic climate, cut off by embargo, living in want and fear,” he said. “My prayers are for the people of the South, flourishing economically but living as if on a thin sheet of ice that may crack under their feet at any moment.”

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