Friday, September 29, 2017

This past summer, a group of Duke Divinity School students, faculty, and staff attended the Christian Forum for Reconciliation in Northeast Asia, part of the Northeast Asia Reconciliation Initiative, a Center for Reconciliation project. Participants spent five days on Jeju Island, South Korea, where they explored the theology of reconciliation in Northeast Asia and gained insights on how to further reconciliation in the U.S.  Representatives from the Divinity School included Seyun Hwang, M.Div. '18; Peace Lee, a Th.D. student; Kilpy Singer, M.Div. '18; Dean Elaine Heath; Sujin Pak, assistant professor of the history of Christianity; Xi Lian, professor of world Christianity; and Dan Struble, associate dean for external relations and interim director of the Center for Reconciliation. They were joined by about 70 scholars, practitioners, and church leaders from mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and the U.S.

The forum is an intensive program of worship, seminars, and relationship-building based on the model of the African Great Lakes Initiative and the Duke Summer Institute for Reconciliation. It was first conceived at Duke Divinity School, where the Center for Reconciliation brought together Christian church leaders, practitioners, and educators to reflect on the challenge of nourishing a Christian vision of justice, peace, and reconciliation in Northeast Asia. The meeting led to the development in 2012 of the Northeast Asia Reconciliation Initiative. 

The 2017 site at Jeju Island gave Divinity School students, faculty, and staff a special perspective on the island, which despite being a major tourist hub carries a history of international and national conflicts.

Hwang said he was particularly affected by learning about the massacre of tens of thousands who supported a reunified Korean government after the split of North Korea and South Korea. 

“Although more than six million people land in Jeju International Airport each year, most of them do not know that some of those killed in the incident remain missing under the landing strips of the airport,” he said. “Without attentive efforts to learn about and remember others, it is not possible to participate in their suffering.”  Hwang again encountered the theme of remembrance when he saw a statue at Jeju honoring victims of rape and massacre by the Korean military during the Vietnam War.  “Despite the fact that Korean women were the victims of Japan’s sexual slavery during World War II, postcolonial Korea committed similar offenses against other Asians,” he said.

According to the students, the forum’s diverse group of participants, who came from nations historically and currently embroiled in conflict with each other, also served as a powerful testament to the Christian mission of reconciliation.  Said Lee, “If you know anything about the tumultuous histories of this region … you will perhaps agree that it was a miracle that at the forum you found not just silence and worship and the breaking of bread, but also the blossoming of genuine friendship across so many lines of divisions.” 

"We were bound to one another in the flesh of Christ, finding our differences to be a part of our unity," said Singer, "and it is only that which made reconciliation possible.”

As the students reflected on reconciliation in Northeast Asia, they said they were also better able to understand U.S. efforts towards reconciliation. Lee said the Forum made her realize the importance of “taking the time to listen and face the truth of those who have and are still being oppressed and marginalized.” Despite the brutality of America’s own shameful history, she said, “It doesn't mean that we give up or abandon this project because it is a journey that we are all called to.”

The three Divinity School students will share their experiences over a lunch presentation on Oct. 3.

Students interested in attending the 2018 forum can request a copy of the application form from the CFR. Applications are due by Oct.16, 2017 at 9 a.m.