A Peninsula Divided

A theology student from Montreal visits the Korean DMZ with students from the Asian Pacific region to call for peace.

This blog post was first published on the United Church of Canada’s Website by People in Partnership on November 14, 2018.

In 2009, at the age of 19, my mother passed away from breast cancer.

I think, when we’re faced with profound injustice that we can’t comprehend fully, we are often brought back to experiences of our own where the piercing sensation of unfairness has touched us. That’s what I was thinking as I stood in Imjingak, Paju, Korea looking at the remembrance wall where South Korean families bring messages for their loved ones on the other side of the DMZ, the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

The boundary that separates my mom from me is not some manufactured liminal space. It is concrete. It cannot be crossed or reversed. Standing there and looking at the messages left by families, and the messages of peace and reunification, I couldn’t help but think of the legacy of sadness this place represented. I had met numerous people that week, in Seoul, who told me about family (immediate and extended) who they couldn’t see, or know, because of the 1945 division of the Korean Peninsula by Russia and the United States. I kept thinking how much my heart would ache if I knew my mom was just there—out of reach.

A group of students hold a banner calling for peace at the Korean DMZ.
Delegates from the conference outside the Mariest Education Center, Seoul, Korea.

I was in South Korea this past August as a member of a delegation with the World Student Christian Federation for the “The Prophetic Calling for Peace: Ecumenical Students and Youth for Sustainable Peace in Korean Peninsula” peace conference. I was the only North American among members from Asia Pacific. We were invited to come to the peninsula to learn about peacemaking from Korean students, theologians, church leaders, and the profoundly inspiring women’s movement. The Korean Student Christian Federation hosted us for a week, teaching us about the history and possibilities for the future of the peninsula. Part of this included our trip to the DMZ in Paju.

For that week I learned about how the U.S. military industrial complex still maintains incredible power in the peninsula, contravening the Korean Armistice Agreement signed in 1953. I learned how soldiers of not just Japan, but the U.S., used and abused the “comfort women” of South Korea, and these “grandmothers’” continued struggle for recognition and a formal apology. I learned how the South Korean military, controlled by a U.S. army general, shapes the formative years of every able-bodied young man through mandatory conscription. I learned that denuclearization of the North makes little sense when no peace treaty has been signed, and other global powers use their own nuclear weapons as a constant threat—whole world denuclearization is the only reasonable option.

During a visit to the Korean DMZ, students gathered before a large colourful sign made up of the letters, "DMZ".
Delegates at the DMZ’s “fourth tunnel”, Paju, Korea.

I was also deeply inspired by the other young people I met, from across Korea and Asia Pacific, who cared fiercely about justice and peace issues. Together, we formed a circle of global prophetic voices calling for peace everywhere, not just on the Korean Peninsula. In our communiqué for WSCF Global we wrote that peacemaking “calls on the life-giving power of truth, love, and unity in diversity. It resists the destructive powers of anxiety, fear, control and greed. Peacebuilding comes from a place of ‘inner peace’, which for us, as Christians and ecumenical partners, is derived from a life of faith and the inspiring story of the radical Jesus Christ.” Noting that we each were taking a seed of peace, gifted to us by our Korean siblings, we returned back to our own homes emboldened to work together for peace.

Selina Mullin is a student at the United Theological College and participated as a Pilgrim in Mission in A Prophetic Calling for Peace: Ecumenical Students and Youth for Sustainable Peace in Korean Peninsula, hosted by Mission & Service partner the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) in August 2018.

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