August 15, 1945, was a blessing and a curse to Koreans. The Korean Peninsula was liberated from Japanese occupation, but at the same time the nation was divided in two.
The year 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War on June 25, 1950. The war caused the death of about 50,000 Americans and allies, 1 million South Koreans, 2 million North Koreans, and 500,000 Chinese.
Though a ceasefire was issued in July 1953, the war is technically still not over: It remains under the Armistice Agreement signed that same year since a formal peace treaty was never approved.
Churches and Christians throughout the world are using various programs and events to take action to find peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula and finally end the Korean War.
One such effort is a 70-day-prayer campaign, called “We Pray, Peace Now, End the War!,” which runs March 1-Aug. 15. It is jointly led by a number of Christian organizations, including the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches in Korea, the National Council of Churches in the USA, The United Methodist Church, the Korean Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The Rev. Jin Yang Kim, a United Methodist missionary to the World Council of Churches in Geneva, works for the peace ministry. He explained to UM News the significance of the number 70.
“The 70 days of prayer correspond with a commemoration of 70 years since the Korean War. The number 70 is a symbol of the year of separation and division. The 70 years are too long and too big a number. It is the whole life of a person and almost three generations,” Kim said.
At its 68th general assembly last November, the National Council of Churches in Korea declared 2020 as the “Year of Jubilee in Korea” to commemorate the anniversary. The organization affirmed its commitment to replace the Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty and work for reunification.
Likewise, participants of the Dec. 2-3 meeting of the Ecumenical Forum for Peace, Reunification and Development Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula promised to have a prayer campaign.
The Rev. Hong-Jung Lee, top executive of the National Council of Churches in Korea, called the campaign the 2020 Jubilee Peace movement on the Korean Peninsula.
“The ongoing 1945 division and the unfinished 1950 Korean War have become a socio-geopolitical ‘original sin’ against the Korean people’s life security,” Lee said. “In our daily lives, we concretely experience the division and war as a sin against God, humanity and nature.”
The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, top executive of the World Council of Churches, expressed his sympathy toward the Koreans at the live-streamed preliminary prayer campaign held on Feb. 6: “This year, 2020, marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. Seventy years! Koreans in the North and South have lived in pain and hatred for a long time.”
There are other events and programs to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula.
On June 23, the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches in Korea and the National Council of Churches in the USA will have special meetings in Washington to have a peace conference and a special worship service for healing and reconciliation for No Gun Ri, where a number of Korean civilian refugees were executed by the U.S. Army during the Korean War. There will also be a peace treaty campaign in Washington on June 24, the eve of the war’s anniversary.
The Rev. Chongho Kim of First United Methodist Church in Flushing, New York, said, “My father was from North Korea, and had prayed to meet his parents and siblings, but he never had a chance to see them.”
He said the most urgent matter pending for the Korean Peninsula is to replace the Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty along the lines of the resolution “Korea: Peace, Justice, and Reunification,” adopted by the 2016 General Conference. The United Methodist Church has adopted a resolution about Korean Peace at every General Conference since 1988.
“The Korean Peninsula is a significant place to test the world community as to whether the peace ministry of Christ is relevant in this dividing and polarizing world,” said the Rev. We Hyun Chang, the peace committee chair.
“America is the most important actor to change the international political environment from confrontation to talks (and from) tension to reconciling practically, and American Christians need to raise voices to lift sanctions against North Korea and to allow civilian exchanges for medical and humanitarian aid.”
There will be programs held in South Korea as well. Two programs are the Announcing People’s Peace Treaty to be held in Seoul and at the Demilitarized Zone of Korea, and the Roundtable for Peace on the Korean Peninsula, which will be held by The United Methodist Church, the World Methodist Council and the Korean Methodist Church.
United Methodist Bishop Hee-soo Jung, Wisconsin Area, shared a prayer for the Global Jubilee Campaign: “We thanked the Lord to see the leaders of South and the North Korea stopping the cold war and talking. We were thrilled to see the Lord grant this initial step toward the peace to the Korean Peninsula after seeing the leaders of North Korea and the United States meet and share a dream of reconciliation.”
Erich Weingartner, who has worked with the World Council of Churches and other organizations on Korean matters, said he sees Korean peace as “a kind of litmus test for all of humanity.”
At the preliminary prayer campaign meeting, Weingartner said, “If we cannot find a way to end the insanity of a 70-year-old war on the Korean Peninsula, how do we expect to solve the most urgent problems threatening the survival of our entire planet?”
The Rev. Chongho Kim urged others to pray for peace on the Korean Peninsula.
“At least one thing we Korean Americans can do is to pray ceaselessly,” he said. “Do not give up on prayer. Peace on the Korean Peninsula is already accomplished history in faith. Do not see the peace and reunification of two Koreas only as a task but also as a reflection of divine salvation of the cross of Jesus already established here on earth.”
A global joint prayer worship for peace on the Korean Peninsula will be held Aug. 9 and the Global Jubilee Campaign will conclude Aug. 15.
Kim is director of Korean and Asian news of United Methodist News in Nashville. Contact him at 615-742-5470 or [email protected] To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.