Workers build peace in South Korea, piece by piece

At Christmas and year-round, ‘peace on Earth’ is at the center of ministry

Dec 18, 2017 by and

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As tensions between nations rise and world leaders threaten war, peacemakers all over the world work to make peace on Earth a reality. Jae Young Lee and Karen Spicher, Mennonite Mission Network mission associates in Nam­yang­ju, South Korea, are two of those peacemakers.

“Peace on Earth” is a term often spoken of during the Christmas season, and Lee sees it as a central tenet of their community and work.

“Peace on Earth does not end with Jesus’ birth and death,” he said. “It’s the ministry of reconciliation and of peace that should be at the center for the followers of Jesus Christ.”

Jae Young Lee leads a restorative discipline class at an elementary school in Seoul. Students directly involved in bullying sit in the middle circle. Other classmates sit in the outside circle. — Korea Peacebuilding Institute

Jae Young Lee leads a restorative discipline class at an elementary school in Seoul. Students directly involved in bullying sit in the middle circle. Other classmates sit in the outside circle. — Korea Peacebuilding Institute

In South Korea, the differences between the secular and Christian Christmas celebrations are distinct. Spicher said secular Christmas is thought of as a romantic holiday. For many Koreans, Christmas is a day to go out for an expensive meal, attend a concert or try out ice skating.

“It’s just one day, a very secular party,” Lee said. Family gatherings are reserved for other holidays, such as Chuseok (Thanksgiving) and Seollal (Lunar New Year).

For Christians in South Korea, Christmas is celebrated with special church services. Large meals or gifts aren’t the focus.

“We don’t give gifts in our family,” Spicher explained. “It’s felt freeing and life-giving to be outside of that expectation.”

Instead, the couple and their three daughters share skits, songs and poems with the other members of Grace and Peace Mennonite Church, a house church based at Peace Building.

More than a church

Located in Namyangju, Peace Building is home to an intentional community, coffee shop, English language school and four peacebuilding organizations: Korea Peacebuilding Institute, or KOPI, which Lee directs; Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute; Korea Association for Restorative Justice; and Peacebuilding Publishing.

KOPI specializes in teaching restorative justice through lectures and workshops for communities, schools, workplaces and government organizations. Restorative justice is a paradigm of peace that emphasizes the restoration of victims, acceptance of active responsibility by the offender and healing broken relationships within the affected community.

Before he knew about Anabaptist theology, Lee said, he thought God’s peace was internal — a peace that God gives an individual to overcome life’s challenges. Anabaptist theology expanded his definition of peace beyond a state of mind to a way of life.

He said more young Christians are realizing a life centered around peacebuilding is “how we make this broken world become [a place] where the justice and peace of God can be proclaimed.”

While the intentional community that Lee, Spicher and their family are a part of is still relatively young — Peace Building was constructed in 2015 — they’re excited for the future.

“Peacebuilding is the main work for us,” Lee said. “Some people still wonder how you can make a living by doing peacebuilding, but we do it.”


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