How do Koreans think of Nepalese
"With my God I jump over walls"
Over the years we have developed a life together, we put down roots and got to know a lot of people. What is happening in the northern part of the country, like the recent train accident, always affects us very much. We know we live in a divided country. Historically, there are no two parts of Korea; it has been a country for centuries. The division in North and South Korea is a result of the Cold War, which had assumed terrible and unbearable proportions during the Korean War. 20 km north of where we live in Seoul, you stand in front of barbed wire that nobody can get through. There are only a few places in the south from which one has a view of North Korea, because between the two states there is a strip of strictly guarded no man's land. You don't see much, but you can trust the people on the other side to God. But the people of Korea want more. I keep thinking of the psalm that says, “With my God I will jump over walls”. I would love to get over this wall right now.
A few weeks ago I visited an 85-year-old man in the hospital. He is a writer and used to work as a journalist. He grew up in the northern part of the country and before the Korean War was confronted with the fact that his poems were politically undesirable. So he decided to put everything on one card and flee south. He left his young wife, mother and brother, who was a Catholic priest, behind. This happened in 1949. He couldn't imagine never seeing her again. Only his wife was able to escape a short time later, and he never heard from his mother or brother again. His brother died in all likelihood after 1950.
We are waiting with the Korean people for the gates to open one day. For more than 50 years the people have knocked on the dividing gates, which are meanwhile unparalleled in the world. We care a lot about that. Two brothers were able to visit the north from Taizé on behalf of the community. We are denied this here. All we can do is trust the people there to God and wait for new opportunities to open up. The churches do what they can for the people of the north. Many people toy with the idea of escaping, but it is not a solution. It is very difficult to find your way in the completely different, confusing society in the south and to start a new life.
Wait for the doors to open
In addition to North Korea, China also plays a major role in our lives. Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is surrounded by mountains. A very beautiful landscape, but when the wind blows the sand from China, everything disappears. The ecological situation in China is a real disaster; in the north of the country the desert areas are getting bigger every year. At the end of winter, the wind brings the sand deep south. Even in Seattle and Vancouver, and even in the United States, it happens that dust from China darkens the sky. He brings China to mind. Hosts of tourists come to Korea from China every day. In this relationship too, we live with great expectation. It is not yet possible to get in touch with the Church in China as we would like. Chinese people who have money can travel without any problems, but talking to Christians in China is still not easy and no one knows how long this will go on. In prayer we think of North Korea, just as we think of the Church in China.
It is seldom realized that South Korea is an "island": nothing penetrates the border that divides the country. From Seoul to the southern tip of the country it is about as far as from Paris to Taizé, 400 km. Beijing is from Seoul in the northwest: as far as from London to Taizé, an hour and a half by flight. To the south-west lies Shanghai: a huge city, very modern and dynamic. Then there is Taiwan. On the other hand is Japan, which once caused so much suffering in Korea and China. Sometimes - not often - visitors from Japan come in search of reconciliation. The question about the wounds of the past comes up again and again: we will never know how to heal these wounds and we wait together with people for doors to open and we can walk through the walls. In a sense, our life in Korea is a life of expectation that we lead in prayer.
"Life is beautiful and this world is good"
One of the people I visit from time to time is a poet's widow. He had been in Taizé five years ago. Her parents worked in Japan, in Hiroshima, in 1945. Early in the morning on August 6th, someone from each family had to come to a large gathering downtown; her father went there. At 8:06 a.m., the bomb exploded over the square where the meeting took place. There is not a family in Hiroshima that has not lost someone to the atomic bomb.
That woman had lost her father that day. A short time later she went back to Korea and only two years ago she went back to Hiroshima for the first time to visit the place where her father died. She is a Buddhist. The slightest accusation against whomever never came out of her mouth. She has cared for her husband, the poet with poor health, all her life: she dedicated her life to this man whom she had already met as a child. As a youth, he was arrested and tortured for no reason. In 1967, acquaintances tried to contact him through the North Korean embassy in East Berlin. He was then imprisoned and tortured almost to death.
In 1970 he was already very seriously ill and in the face of death wrote a poem that many Koreans still know by heart and that sounds like preparation for death. After all the suffering, the torture, the physical breakdown, he writes these lines at the end of the poem:
The day I'll leave this beautiful world
I return to heaven and there I will say:
'Life is good, the world is good'.
A person who had been through so much was capable of such a vision. In the 16th century, John of the Cross said: "It is only love that counts". This man's life shone out of love for his friends and children - he loved children. The ability to overcome the walls of hatred and bitterness is characteristic of the people of Korea: to discover that life is beautiful in spite of everything, and that it is worth saying it again. For me this is a grace.
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