Delegation visits Korean peninsula, calls for more international response to crisis

November 26, 2003

An ecumenical delegation, sponsored by the National Council of Churches (NCC) and Church World Service (CWS), visited North and South Korea in mid-November, returning to the United States and calling for a broadened response to the political and humanitarian crisis on the peninsula.

“Once again the churches in the U.S. are joining with overseas partner churches to press for a just solution to one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints,” said the Rev. Brian Grieves, director of the Episcopal Church’s office of Peace and Justice Ministries, one of seven members of the delegation. The Rev. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the NCC, and the Rev. John McCullough, executive director of CWS, led the visit that marks the culmination of a year-long initiative.

The Korean Christian Federation (KCF), a long-standing ecumenical partner based in Pyongyang, hosted the delegation in North Korea. Participants also attended a specially convened assembly of the National Council of Churches in Korea in Seoul, South Korea, and attended an international Interfaith Peace Conference.

A joint statement issued at the end of the visit called for:

* member churches of the NCC to encourage congregations to consider how the Gospel’s call to be peacemakers applies to the Korean situation, be advocates for peaceful reunification and urge the President to continue negotiations with North Korea;

* the ecumenical community to nurture ties with the Christians on the Korean peninsula and renew cooperation in common advocacy, information sharing, and regular visits, particularly to the isolated Christian community in the North;

* encourage the international community to participate in developing ways to find a sustainable peace for the Koreans based on the conviction that diplomacy and negotiations are the best approach in the search for durable solutions;

* a clear statement from the U.S. in favor of a peaceful resolution to the tensions and a pledge not to preemptively attack North Korea but to conclude a non-aggression pact that would move all parties toward a comprehensive peace, formally ending the “state of war” that has existed since 1953;

* a generous response from the international community to the United Nations appeal for $200 million for humanitarian assistance for North Korea, urging the Bush Administration to continue the American tradition of generosity and compassion by raising its contribution substantially.

The delegation itself participated in humanitarian efforts by monitoring the distribution of 132,000 pounds of refined wheat flour donated by CWS in North Korea. The shipment filled seven railway cars with enough flour to make 132,000 loaves of bread. Since the outbreak of the food crisis in 1996, CWS has provided food aid in North Korea valued at $4.5 million. Aid officials expressed deep concern about the decline in international assistance.

A chance for healing and reconciliation

A sobering visit to the Demilitarized Zone at Panmumjon brought home the tragedy of the division of Korea which has affected an estimated 10 million family members. Soldiers stand eye-to-eye in what has been described as the most dangerous border in the world. “Equally sobering to us was the North Korean understanding of the role that the U.S. played in creating and perpetuating the division,” said CWS senior advisor Victor Hsu, a member of the delegation.

Delegation members agree that the highlight of the visit to the Protestant Chigul Church of Pyongyang and a North Korean house church where they prayed and sang hymns with Korean Christians, offering words of encouragement and pledging a common commitment to peace and the reunification of Korea.

Grieves said that the encounter provoked thoughts of “these faithful remnant proclaiming the faith in a tortured land, and of their separation from brothers and sisters in the South. And I thought of Korean Americans who are not able to travel to the North. Ending this pain of division is what our journey and witness was all about. The Korean people have known occupation and division for nearly a century now and they deserve a chance for healing and reconciliation and reunification,” he said. “Our government needs to move from confrontation to channels of cooperation while the North and South work out their destiny.”

The delegation met with South Korean President Roh Moon-Hyeon and the minister of reunification, as well as with the National Council of Churches in Korea. In response to an invitation from the US Department of State, the delegation will brief Assistant Secretary James Kelly. The briefing follows talks last June by American and South Korean ecumenical leaders with high-level officials at the Department of State and the National Security Council about the serious political and humanitarian situation on the peninsula.