Interwoven Korean Connections

Cover Photo: CPA Host Suyeon Kang visits with Consul Jihoon Koh from the Embassy of the Republic of Korea. The CPA exhibit attracted more than 400 visitors during its two months, including many people who had previous work or volunteer connections to Korea.

Sometimes at Grebel, an underlying theme for the year emerges so clearly that it is difficult to believe that it was not prearranged. As September approached this year, several College department plans and activities serendipitously focused on Korea—a divided land of dramatic landscapes and political tensions.

The Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement (CPA) worked with Mennonite Central Committee for many months, navigating visa and government hurdles, to offer a two-month exhibit of hope and reconciliation in the Grebel Gallery. “A New Era of Peace and a Peaceful Land” featured rarely seen works by American, Chinese, North and South Korean artists. 

Curator Heng-Gil Han, director of the Korea Art Forum based in New York City, explained how through this exhibit, he envisioned a future in which the confrontational structure among the four countries is disrupted, and the political and ideological obstacles are removed for people to freely meet and work together. 

The exhibit reflected Han’s vision, and aimed to support the emerging peace process on the Korean peninsula. “The pursuit of dialogue and the normalization of diplomatic relations is certainly more effective than the aggressive rhetoric that the two leaders exchanged before their summit in Singapore last June,” Han noted. The collection of art addressed critical issues of the Korean division, including the division of the land and its people, and the different economic and governance systems. 

How fortunate, then, that the CPA’s request to host an MCC International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) participant to work with them for the year was fulfilled by a young woman named Suyeon Kang from South Korea. Working as the CPA host, Suyeon’s job is to build community among the CPA participants and contribute to activities such as Grebel Gallery exhibits. “I was glad to introduce the Korean art exhibit to people in terms of peace through art—I have a responsibility to make peace in my way as a citizen,” she stated. “Whenever I explained the piece about the Candlelight Revolution in Gwanghwamoon plaza, I was proud to say that I was a part of it. Last year, South Korea citizens elected the new president and government, thanks to the Candlelight Revolution. This incident began a new era of peace in Korea peninsula.”

After studying media communications and social welfare, Korean and global society issues, the history of Korea and Christianity, and the Bible, Suyeon is pleased to be at Grebel. She wants to learn more about Mennonites and restorative justice, as well as experience life in community and in a different culture. She added, “I was wondering how God works around the world and works with me.”

KyungJung KimThis summer, South Korean student KyongJung Kim (MTS 2018) graduated from the Master of Theological Studies program. He described his time at Grebel as “a blessing and precious experience for me to interact with people from different denominational backgrounds, engaging various topics to discover more about God’s Kingdom and the way of Jesus Christ together.” The new graduate will soon travel back to Korean soon, pursuing an involvement with the Korea Peacebuilding Institute. The Institute is one of the most influential leading organizations in South Korea, focused on peace and justice, especially restorative justice. KyongJung is coordinating a learning tour for the group in January 2019, and hopes to meet with the participants in the CPA, students in the Master of Peace and Conflict Studies program, and organizations in the wider community for mutual learning and to discuss common interests.

Demonstrating his active interest in the church in both Canada and Korea, while he was a student KyongJung helped to boost the collection of Korean books in the Milton Good Library at Grebel. Korea Anabaptist Press has been translating well-known Anabaptist writings, as well as peace documents such as The Little Books of Justice and Peacebuilding series. Many of these books were translated by BockKi Kim and several translated by KyongJung. With original authors who include Walter Klaassen, Lisa Schirch (BA 1990), and Palmer Becker, these translations fit the Library’s mission to provide a comprehensive collection of published materials related to Anabaptist-Mennonite studies. The Library now has 36 Korea Anabaptist Press and Daejanggan Publisher translations, with plans to acquire all the books in the series, totaling around 80.

These interwoven strings illustrate how Grebel provides a rich context for global connections.