For the last five months I have been working in Cheorwon, a border town on the Korean peninsula that was the site of many battles in the Korean War.
About four kilometers northeast of town, through rice paddies which have been brown all winter, stands Soie Mountain, named for a silk factory that operated there many years ago. Soie Mountain—more like a very steep hill, with switchback curves going to the top—is the source of our strength and inspiration.
I come to Soie Mountain each day to meditate for peace and the reunification of the Korean peninsula. It is part of the Seeds of Peace program, founded by Jiseok Jung, a Presbyterian minister and activist. We park our vehicle at the bottom of the hill and begin the 20 minute climb in silence, in a walking meditation. My mantra is often “patience and trust.” At other times I say, “Open our eyes to see, our ears to listen, our mind to change, and our hearts to love those who disagree with us.” When we reach the top, we sit on benches in silent meditation. Several times I have visualized Michelangelo’ s painting of the Sistine Chapel, where God gives the spark of life to Adam. It is an image that helps me think of the two Koreas connecting in peace. Other times I say silently to the people of North Korea, “We are praying for you. I hope you can hear us and that you desire peace and reunification as much as we do.”
There is a great paradox about Soie Mountain, though. While the members of our group meditate about peace and reunification for North Korea, we hear military target practice surrounding us with a constant rat-a-tat of gunshots. Some days we hear bombs going off and see huge convoys of military tanks, lorries, and jeeps on the road. Once, I counted over 50 vehicles driving in convoy in front of the center where I teach.
On March 1, a bright sunny day, we drove to Minister Choi’s church, Guz Methodist, in a small village among the rice paddies. March 1 is a significant date in Korean history; thousands of people were massacred as they protested the brutal occupation of the Japanese in a bid for independence. On the way to our memorial service in the church, we passed a dozen tanks, trucks, and jeeps on the road or parked next to fields. We held our service—a silent meeting for worship in the Quaker tradition—and then had lunch. When I saw three soldiers also eating lunch, I found out that the military had already requisitioned the use of Guz Methodist since it is tall enough for a helicopter to land on it. I was appalled. How could the military requisition a house of worship for its maneuvers? Instead of feeling accustomed to the military presence, I felt that I was living in a police state.
Yet spring still came to Cheorwon and Soie Mountain. The magnolias, forsythias, and azaleas were in bloom. And although the opposition party lost in the last elections, spring brought hope to this area, hope for peace and reunification. The warm sun and flowers bring hope that the military, who have control of Soie Mountain, will let us buy a piece of land to build our Border Peace School, which we plan to open in the spring of next year.