Twenty-one World COuncil of Churches (WCC) Assembly participants have visited Jeju Island in an act of solidarity with those protesting about the building of a naval base on the south of the island - write Peter Cruchley-Jones and Christina Biere.
Five participants were chosen to visit the Rev Gang-ho Song in prison. He has been held for five months in solitary confinement without explanation of the charges against him.
He spoke of his determination to continue the protest against the Gangjeong Naval Base, telling the group „You don't build peace by building naval bases!“
The group also met the peace committee from Gangjeong Village and heard about their nonviolent protests. Dong-kyun Kang, mayor of Gangjeong Village said, „The naval base is jeopardising the spirit of peace in Jeju: peace cannot exist without the protection of God's creation, and it cannot be imposed by power, and everything done in a community needs the acceptance and the trust of the local people."
There is great pressure to accept the base, protestors are accused of endangering national security. The mayor insisted this is not the case and criticised the antidemocratic methods of the state.
"It is written in our Korean Constitution, that all power comes from the people, but since the construction of the naval base is not respecting the will of the local people, it is against the constitution."
The protestors pose issues that take us to the heart of the WCC Assembly theme, 'God of life, lead us to justice and peace', and spoke painfully of the division the base has already caused.
"They are calling Korea and all of us to high ideals“, Father Mun told us, "You can't love while you hold a weapon in your hand. I am not from Gangjeong, but after my struggle with the people here I will never be able to leave this place. I want to die here while holding the flag of a culture of life."
Jung-rae Jo, the Rev Song’s wife said, "The construction of the base is not for the protection of peace but for the preparation of war. Allowing bases is allowing war."
And Young-hee Jeong appealed for solidarity: "We are very weak people. We don't know about the interests of powers and the processes. But we hope that you listen to our stories and pray for our struggle and that the churches in the world as they gather in Busan would strengthen our voices."
During later visits in local congregations, participants recognised that this campaign is very controversial among locals. Quiet a number of Islanders are convinced that such a naval base will give Korea greater security.
"Jeju’s struggle calls out for a just peace: Peace in the Community, Peace with the Earth, Peace in the Marketplace and Peace among the Peoples, as the WCC Peace Convocation in Jamaica 2011 phrased it“, one participant stated.
After their experience, the participants of this pilgrimage are together in requesting the WCC to offer its solidarity to the peace protestors as they struggle towards a culture of life with justice and peace.
The pilgrimage of the WCC in the coming years could be inspired by peace ministries like we witnessed in Jeju Island.
* Official website of the WCC 10th Assembly: http://wcc2013.info/en
* More from Ekklesia on the WCC and its 10th Assembly: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/wcc