Training for peace entails more than cessation of hostilities, train traveler finds
BUSAN, South Korea - It was a Peace Train that rode from formerly divided Berlin past the the doorstep of North Korea.
As the World Council of Churches was preparing to vote on a proposal to "embark on a universal campaign for a Peace Treaty" for the Korean peninsula, one of the people who boarded the train said the journey was a preparation to inspire delegates.
Rev. Sandy Yule from Australia's Uniting Church was one of 120 people from 19 nations who took The Peace Train pilgrimage to highlight the need for peace.
The Peace Train from Berlin, Germany to Busan, South Korea had hopes of just "knocking on the door" of North Korea.
The train crossed massive Russia and traversed China from Berlin to the doorstep of North Korea, where it was unable to enter, before heading to Busan in the southern part of Korea where the WCC has holding its October 30 to November 8 assembly, a once every seven years meeting.
Yule says, "The peace train itself was successful. We may not have visited North Korea.... but we knocked on the door and we raised the issues of re-unification, of the nuclear threat and the pain of separated families."
The Peace train could not overcome the intransigent politics of the two Koreas and it was not allowed into the communist north. But as the WCC was to vote on a number of actions regarding the division of the Korean peninsula into two nations and that included pushing for an actual peace treaty.
Yule said he made the 10,500 kilometer (6,525 miles), 20 day journey as a statement of faith.
Reflecting on the trip, he said it not only provided the opportunity to get to know people from the 16 countries who took part, but there was plenty of time to be addressed by the changing landscape and think about the content of peace.
He noted the "structural and political obstacles" to peace movement, naming the fact that three times there were long waits while carriages were lifted off one set of wheels and put onto another to account for the change of gauge (width) of the rails.
This happened at the border of a number of countries.
"Historically, it was to prevent armies from neighbouring countries using the railway as a way of moving troops for invasion. And there is still so much suspicion that they don't want to change it even now," said Yule.
The political complexity of the overlay of the peace and reunification issue for Koreans was highlighted for him by some South Korean Christian's objecting to the train actually stopping at the Siberian city of Irkutsk.
"It was the place where the North Korean Communist party was founded and so the fact that we stopped for a meeting with the churches there, raised suspicions for them that this was a pro- Communist move, like the WCC itself," said Yule.
"Of course it wasn't but that what we are dealing with, and it is reality," he said.
That political, nationalist reality was reinforced in a number of other ways for him: the fact that North Korea would not let them in, that the WCC would not officially endorse the Peace Train.
He also noted the number of war memorials with their "understandable remembrance of those who died, but which entrenched nationalism."
"We felt something of the pain of separation for those who were kept from their families, when we were not permitted to cross the border," he said.
Yule understands why the WCC could not endorse this activity, because of the need to respect the state-sanctioned churches of China and North Korea and their relationship with their governments.
He said it was important, too not to offend churches in South Korea which could interpret this in a negative way.
But he is thankful that the Korean Conference of Churches went ahead and organised the train trip to address this reality and "to affirm what God can do as well as be a sign of hope in a very difficult situation."
Furthermore, the war memorials, including the U.N. memorial in Busan, reveals for him, certain tensions when it comes to peace.
He said, the "memorials represent the loss of many people but this can be used politically to reinforce nationalism that holds division in place."
It makes it possible to "honor our own martyred dead and blame others [the enemy] and maybe that is why some Christians in South Korea equate the WCC with communism."
Yule says this reminds him that true peace is more than the cessation of war.
"We need to find ways to peace building and all the issues that involves.
"This is a spiritual issue and we have to be sensitive to people (in their loss), that is why it requires the activity of the Holy Spirit, outside of ourselves, to come in and make the difference and enable a full peace to come."