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War vets share experience at Methodist service at DMZ

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Keihwan Ryoo

Owen Armbuster (from left), Pete W. Taylor, the Rev. Seung Soon Yang and Bishop Robert E. Fannin release balloons.
July 27, 2006

By Keihwan Ryoo *

SEOUL, South Korea (UMNS) — Three Korean War veterans and a United Methodist bishop stationed in Korea in the 1950s worshipped together during a World Methodist Conference service at Imjingak, in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.

The Rev. Seung Soon Yang, a retired Korean Methodist clergyman who served for three years during the Korean War, was one of a few survivors from the Mt. Paikma battle, where he was injured.

He traveled by bus to the July 23 worship service with United Methodist Bishop Robert E. Fannin, who was in the DMZ from 1958 to 1960. The pair talked about their churches, families, basic training, parts of Korea such as the DMZ, Seoul, Munsan and the Imjin River, and their faith in difficult times.

"The cease-fire had been signed 53 years ago, yet the war never stopped in my heart," Yang said. "I still remembered my friends who did not make it from the battleground."

At the service, they joined two Korean War veterans from the United States.

Lt. Col. Owen Armbuster from Abilene, Texas, was an Air Force pilot who flew a B-26 Bomber on 38 combat missions in Korea from May through August 1953. He retired from the Air Force in 1979, after 28 years of service.

This was his first trip back to Korea since 1953. "Four years ago, I knew the World Methodist Conference would meet in Seoul for the first time. I said to myself, ?If I live for four more years, I will go back.’ I will see what I fought for."

Armbuster said he was surprised by the growth of downtown Seoul and impressed that "God has blessed this country with so many Christians." South Korea has about 1.5 million Methodists and 12 million other Christians.

Pete W. Taylor Jr., a lay leader from the United Methodist Church’s California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference, fought the battles close to what is now the DMZ from 1952 to 1953.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Keihwan Ryoo

The Rev. Seung Soon Yang (left) and Bishop Robert E. Fannin bow their heads in prayer.

"I always wanted to come back," he said. "It was all rumbles and ashes from the bombing and battles everywhere. (With the) tall buildings and big churches in Seoul, I just could not recognize where I was before.

"I am very proud of the Korean people who rebuilt the city from nothing," Taylor continued. "Yet there is still the wired fence between North and South. The wall of separation is still strong and mighty. I will continue to pray for peace and the reunification of Korea."

After the prayer gathering at Mangbaedan, Taylor noted that the issue is not really about politics or governments but “about families who were not able to see each other for more than 50 years. They want to know whether their loved ones are alive or not. They need to meet and communicate with each other."

Armbuster agreed. "Family comes always first. We need to pray for those divided families."

Just three years ago, the North and South Korean governments finally agreed to register and research the more than 10 million divided families in order to reconnect family ties. North Korea opened a special meeting place in Mt. Kumkang where divided families were allowed to meet, but many of them are still waiting for their turns. The recent missile tests by the North have temporarily derailed the family meetings.

On the way back from the DMZ, Fannin told Yang that during the service "a sudden sadness arose from my heart. I did not know what to do. With prayers and God’s words, I felt the grace of God and found the glimpse of hope from the sadness. Our God is great.”

The bishop said he was encouraged by the attitude of Christians in Korea. "You overcame pain, hurt, hate and anger from the war. You have genuine love and passion for reconciliation with North. You truly love your enemies."

Yang responded that he still sees hope, despite recent tensions with the North. "I know that the guns cannot win the hearts of people," he said. "Only the gospel of Christ can win people’s hearts. We cannot reconcile with gun or sword, yet we would reconcile with the cross of Jesus Christ and his sacrificial love."

*Ryoo is editor of United Methodists in Service (the Korean Program Journal of the United Methodist Church) and for United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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