A delegation of NextGen youth from the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania have visited the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea as the peninsula commemorates the 68th anniversary of the Korean War.
On 25 June 1950, the North Korean army entered into South Korean territory, marking the start of the world’s longest ongoing conflict.
Despite significant recent progress in peace talks between North and South Korea, the DMZ remains one of Earth’s most heavily fortified places.
NextGen member Kezia Gitareja, who was visiting Korea for the first time, said the DMZ presented a different side of Korea to the one she was familiar with.
“I’ve only been focused on the bright and happy side of Korea when I’m at home so I wasn’t really focusing on the political conflicts,” she said.
“Because we went to the DMZ as our first destination it was kind of intense and a lot to take in.
“Entering the DMZ required really serious procedures – and there was a sense of fear that something might happen to you if you do something wrong.”
During the DMZ tour, the NextGen youth entered into the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom – the only part of the demilitarised zone where North and South Korean soldiers stand face-to-face.
The JSA is also the venue where North Korea President Kim Jong-Un and South Korea President Moon Jae-in shook hands in April for the historic inter-Korean summit.
Visitors can only enter the DMZ via a pre-booked tour and JSA soldiers check their passports at three security checkpoints.
They also need to disembark from their tour bus and board a military bus that is driven by JSA soldiers.
Inside, the JSA all visitors must walk in rows of two until they reach the MAC (Military Armistice Commission) conference room.
There is a strict photography ban for the majority of the DMZ tour and there are only two photographic opportunities – inside the MAC room and on the steps facing the North Korean side of the JSA.
Visitors were given strict instructions not to communicate with any North Korean soldiers in any way as any gestures or pointing can be interpreted as a sign of provocation.
On this occasion, there were no North Korean soldiers visible on the North Korean side of the JSA.
One of the JSA soldiers explained that recent developments between the US and North Korean regime meant that JSA and North Korean soldiers have maintained an unspoken truce.
During the visit, the NextGen youth had the opportunity to step across the border onto North Korean soil by crossing the invisible military demarcation line that divides North and South Korea.
Anna Harrison, another NextGen youth who joined the trip, described the DMZ visit as both ‘beautiful’ and ‘bizarre’.
“You’re driving through this countryside and suddenly they’re telling you stories about the intense military history and the whole schism between the two parts of Korea,” Anna said.
Korean Church of Melbourne member Grace Jung has visited South Korean numerous times and believes that many Koreans have normalised the tension on the peninsula.
“Compared to how the media portrays how dangerous Korea is, people were just fine,” she said.
“People are just used to the tension. They are immune to it, which I find really sad.”
NextGen prayers for peace
From Grace Jung:
Loving and gracious Lord,
Thank you for leading the South Korean nation to the path of salvation. Although the nation is divided into two, and people are still enduring the pain of separation. Lord, who knows our pains, we trust in you Lord that you will recover this nation.
Lord, you will know the Korean’s June the twenty-fifth. I pray that all the pains and sorrow be comforted by your warm touch.
Many of your children, Lord, they are crying out to you. I believe you are listening to us. Lord I trust that you will comfort your children who are still in the sufferings and pain of the division of Korea.
From Anna Harrison:
Father, we thank you for creating us in all our diversity; you are the God of many peoples, languages, histories, and cultures. But sometimes Lord our differences divide us, and we are sorry when we fail to love one another.
Even though we are so diverse, through Jesus we are one. In your there is no more Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, North or South, East or West. Help us, Lord, to be reconciled to each other in you; to be your love, your light, your hands, and your feet in the World.
From Kezia Gitareja:
Lord, Our Saviour full of mercy, we thank You for the peace that continuously thrive in this world, we thank you for the guidance you have given the leaders of North and South Korea into the path of togetherness, unity and love.
Lord today, as we remember the traumatic Korean War, we want to pray for our human family, specifically our brothers and sisters of the Korean Peninsula, who have been painfully separated from one another, who are still yearning to be united once again, reunification. Lord we hope that the process of reunification of the people of Korea will run smoothly, and quickly. Help them Lord to go through this long and painful tension with faith and believe. Please, oh Lord, fulfil their wishes and dreams.