How Long O Lord? Lamenting 70 Years of Korea’s Division

korean war
Korean War refugees, sister and brother, in Haengju, Korea, in front of a U.S. tank. June 9, 1951. National Archives and Records Administration.

Having grown up in South Korea and served 2014 to 2019 on both sides of the Korea divide with the Mennonite Central Committee, I am familiar with the obstacles in the South, North, and US to a peaceful future. But more importantly, even as they face the longest unresolved separation of a people in modern history, I have tasted the longing of the Korean people for reunion.

korean war memorial
Korean War Veterans Memorial, near the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

June 25 was the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War and seven decades of unresolved trauma and division. The war is unforgettable for its pain and continuing consequences for Korean people and diaspora across the world. But here’s the thing: In spite of the 1.7 million American troops who fought on Korean soil (32,000 were killed), in spite of the national memorial at the heart of the Washington DC mall, in spite of the role US power and presence has played on the peninsula for over 100 years (including American missionaries), the war and its vast devastation is forgotten to most Americans. This is a problem of our blinders of privilege.

korean war dialogue
Participants in June 11, 2020 dialogue on Korean War

So it was significant in June to help organize a small group of Christian leaders of Korean descent, mostly Korean American, who met online to wrestle with the significance of the 70th anniversary and the Christian call to pursue reconciliation. Several weeks later, a statement was drafted by these nine Korean American faith leaders who participated in the dialogue:

Peter Cha, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Eugene Cho, Bread for the World
Grace Choi, Re’Generation Movement
Hyun Hur, ReconciliAsian
Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Earlham School of Religion
Jongdae Kim, Re’Generation Movement
Sue Park-Hur, Mennonite Church USA
Soong-Chan Rah, North Park Theological Seminary
Stephen Yoon, Ignis Community

Their statement is titled “Longing for Reconciliation: Lamenting Over 70 years of Division Between North Korea and South Korea.” One striking aspect is the focus on a theological starting point of reconciliation versus the politics of reunification. As they write in one section: “We believe our deepest motivation to engage the Korean divide as followers of Christ is not political or economic, but as peacemakers and agents of reconciliation, following Jesus’ costly way of the cross – of discipleship, forgiveness, and justice which restores broken relationships.”

More than 200 individuals and faith leaders, led by 100 Korean Americans, have signed the statement, which urges churches and communities of faith in the U.S. and throughout the world to lament this pain and separation, and commit to the search for reconciliation in the name of Christ.

Please consider adding your support – see the statement, signers, and sign on form.

 Chris Rice is director of the Mennonite Central Committee United Nations Office in New York City. He is co-author of Reconciling All Things and was founding co-director of the Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation. 

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