In January of this year, I traveled to South Korea as an Ambassador for Peace, and I came away with a feeling that peace is possible in a country that has been split for many years.
During my month's stay in Korea in January 2003, I came to understand the people and the culture more than on any previous trips. At a time when such nations as Korea have been in the world's attention, pastors and lay ministers from around America volunteered for grassroots "peace through service" projects.
For the first two weeks of my time in Korea, the Family Church international (founded by the Rev. Sung Myung Moon and his wife) gathered several hundred pastors and lay leaders from the United States, Japan and Korea and Europe. During this time, out in the Korean countryside 30 miles from the demilitarized zone, we prayed a great deal, studied and discussed peace and a resolution of conflicts around the world.
It was a very powerful experience to be with so many people from all corners of the world.
Then we began our work in the Korean communities - promoting service projects and supporting local peace rallies.
It was at this point that we discovered a great appreciation of the Korean people for the Americans. So many remember the Korean War and are so grateful for the life and lives given by the American people.
In fact, another Ambassador for Peace who worked with me
in Korea from Billings, Paul DiLorenzo, recalled how his father was stationed in Korea during the Korean War.
The elder Koreans especially remember the time and show a great outpouring of gratitude to all the Ambassadors for Peace from America.
Part of our work was putting on or helping to put on peace rallies. These rallies were held in hotels, governmental offices, restaurants, town halls and other such public locations. The theme of the rallies was leadership of the community for the unification of Korea.
During these rallies, the keynote speaker was a Korean religious leader and a community leader who:
Encouraged people to have hope that unification of North and South will, in fact, occur.
Urged that this unification of North and South Korea will happen peacefully.
Talked of the necessary to prevent communism from winning the vote in the elections by advocating democracy.
Urged them to be willing at some point to care for the poor people of the North with compassion and material goods if necessary (to be a compassionate victor).
As Ambassadors for Peace, we had a chance to do some community-service projects. We called them service for peace projects.
In one area, we cleaned the main street of a farming town called Miwon. Several of the local children joined us over an afternoon to clean the streets of trash, which genuinely inspired the local community.
On another project, we visited a local elementary school. The principal and vice principal were quite inspired to meet Americans and Japanese volunteers working in the community. We volunteered and sang to four groups of children over the two hours that we were there. It was a great chance for the youths to meet some Americans and interact with us.
The presence of so many Americans reminded more than one of the Korean conflict, when thousands of Americans came to Korea to defend its land.
Yet, this was not with the power of a pistol but the power of prayer. It was an opportunity for pastors to promote peace through education and dialogue.
In all of our travels from the city of Cheong-gu and Chung-gu to the small villages of Miwon, the people expressed on every occasion a hospitality commonly expressed by our parents' and grandparents' generations.
We could not visit one home, one community center, even one mayor or public official without being placed before me a cup of coffee, a cup of tea, a plate of fruit or, on two occasions, an entire meal. This is a rich tradition of hospitality of the Korean people.
As mentioned before, we as Americans were welcomed graciously with open arms.
In fact, both sides want peace and prosperity. They want unity for it is their families that are split and divided and they want to come back together.
There is still a long way to go for total and peaceful unification. Yet, the feeling is that it will come soon. And it will be one of dialogue with prayer and the churches promoting peaceful solutions such as voting and loving the enemy.
We see it will not be an easy adjustment for the people.
Yet, it appeared to me that the separation of families and friends that occurred almost 50 years ago will soon be mended. This will be a great day for the Korean people and for the world.
The Rev. Michael Yakawich is pastor of The Family Church in Billings. To be featured The Faith & Values column appears regularly in the Saturday Life section of The Billings Gazette. Pastors, ethicists, educators or other experts who would like to write a column about faith, ethics or values for the section, should contact: Susan Olp, Billings Gazette, 401 N. Broadway, Billings, Mont. 59101. Or call her at 657-1281, fax to 657-1208; or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.