I had the opportunity this month to spend some time in South Korea, in the capital Seoul but also in Busan, Suwon and Semiwon. Specifically the trip was to visit the Anglican Sharing Houses which I heard about last September when a group from Korea came to CMS Oxford.
Korea has a very tumultuous recent history. In 1910 the indigenous Dynastic Monarchies finally fell to the might of the Japanese and Korea was became a part of that empire. Of course this only lasted until the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, followed by the partition of Korea along the same lines as we experienced in Europe with East and West Germany – with the Soviets in control of the North and the US in the South. I guess in the West we assume that that led to a totalitarian North and a democratic South, and of course eventually it did. in the 1950′s the Country suffered in what has become known as the forgotten war, when the North invaded the South and a very bloody and catastrophic war ensued. The Korean war affected everyone, people were displaced, millions killed and the land ravaged. Eventually the Northern Army was pushed back to the 38th parallel and peace was restored, though of course the North and South are technically still in a state of War. Democracy did not follow immediately on from the War for the South, in fact after a coup in 1961 it was under a Military Government until the 1980′s and the ordinary people of South Korea suffered many abuses of their freedom and human rights.
In this context of turmoil a new thinking emerged, which became known as Minjung – meaning “Mass” or “The People” – A student movement began to grow from the “Han” of the people. - “Han”, as Minjung poet, Chi-Ha Kim wrote is, “…the Minjung’s anger and sad sentiment turned inward, hardened and stuck to their hearts. “Han” is caused as one’s outgoingness is blocked and pressed for an extended period of time by external oppression and exploitation.” A. Sung Park writes in an article on Minjung and Process Hermeneutics,
The Minjung are the down-trodden whose unmistakable sign is Han-brooding. Han is the compressed feeling of suffering caused by injustice and oppression, a complex feeling of resentment and helplessness, anger and lamentation. Han is potential energy, an active volcano of indignation and agony. Depending on how it is unraveled, Han may turn out to be creative energy for revolution or may explode destructively to seek revenge and killing. The Minjung Han of women is more intense than any other because of the double bind of women in patriarchal and hierarchical culture. Traditional folk songs and folk tales are full of the Minjung Han of women.
This student movement was led, amongst others by many Seminary students, Priests in training. They believed that the “Han” of the people should not result in hate and destruction but that a positive transforming “Dan” needed to be born – “Dan” has two dimensions; at the personal level, “Dan” means self-denial; at the social level it means to cut off the vicious circle of Minjung’s Han and revenge. – The emerging Minjung Theologians believed that instead of hate arising from oppression and injustice rather the experience should birth a new way of life which grew from sharing and love. They believed that you cannot defeat power and abuse with more power and abuse rather you must kill hate by self-denying love.
For the poet Kim, the dialectic unification of Han and Dan means to undergo the four stages of revolution. The first stage is “inviting God in the heart” (Shi-Chun-Ju), the second stage is “letting God grow in the body” (Yan-Chun-Ju), the third stage is “practising the struggle for embodying God” (Haeng-Chun-Ju), the fourth stage is “living as humble! and resurrected champions of the Minjung beyond death” (Sang-Chun-Ju), For Kim, revolution for social justice and revolution for individual spirituality are one. This dialectic unification of Han and Dan liberates the Minjung from self-destruction by transforming their Han into creative revolution.
It was from this Minjung Theology that the Sharing Houses grew. The Mission of the Sharing Houses is described by founder Rev. Kim, Hong-Il as,
“to reach ‘new persons’ and ‘new communities’ founded on the gospel through living with the poor… supporting the poor to help themselves solve their own problems… supporting them to discover and experiment ways of living in cooperation, solidarity and love in their real life… restoring the image of God inscribed in the poor people, bridging the gaps between the gospel and the world, beliefs and life and embodying the world of sharing and cooperation… [they] provide the ground and driving forces for these values to be realised in real life. Activities of the Sharing House are purposed to contribute to the dissemination of [the] gospel to the poor and serve them according to the guide of Jesus Christ who is the foundation of our Church”
Rev. Ambo from the Suwon Sharing House and Homeless centre with Clement a CMS Korea worker based in Seoul – the sign above the door reads “In the Darkest night the Star shines brightest”
There are now around 70 Sharing Houses in South Korea, working with Children, abused women, orphans, migrant workers, the homeless etc. etc. They teach languages and skills, start social enterprises to provide work, provide counselling, shelter and most of all love. Each Sharing House is led by an Anglican Priest and each leads worship for the people of the community around them. Rev Kim says,
We are concerned with healing and releasing the poor from the instability of unemployment and irregular employment… We joined with the people who protests against forced displacement and work to build low-rent public apartments, and helped them to achieve community autonomy. We fought poverty with them… We participated in education through day-care centres and literacy classes and practised wholistic care for the sick… Korean society is multi-religious. Therefore we pursue for our own version of a church community of living together to fit into our local conditions. Christianity is inseparable from community. Jesus movement was directed for the community. That’s why his movement began from looking for and calling up his disciples.
What is being explored in South Korea is a theology and a mission which begins with the heart, the passion (the Han) of the people (the Minjung) but rooting the mission not in reactionary zeal but in an attempt to live God’s love (as the Dan). 20+ years on from the beginning of the Sharing House movement there are some issues which need to be worked through, some of which which will be helpful questions for us here in the UK (and for Global mission), questions of leadership, of spirituality and the challenges of working with secular government agencies and money. But, I found the trip very exciting and extremely helpful for our thinking in Telford and I think there are treasures here for the wave of new missional communities in Europe in our current cultural and economic context. It raises questions for me about how we let go of power and anger, how we let go of reactions against the way we (Christians) feel treated by our culture, our government and our media, how we seek not to do mission to people but with people and how we shape mission for freedom and love and for transformation of culture itself for the sake of others not for the sake of “the Church”! A. Sung Park writes,
Minjung theology is not primarily concerned about the Korean Christians in particular, but the oppressed Korean Minjung in general. This theology specifically discavers the· deep-seated feeling of Han in the Minjung and endeavors ￼to transform it through Dan… to cut off ‘the vicious circle’ of the Minjung’s Han by exorcizing the evil spirit of revenge against the oppressive rulers from the Han-ridden hearts of the Minjung and by trans- forming the Han into the power of revolution for establishing a God’s nation.
Oh, and it’s worth saying that the Minjung based movement in the 1980′s (in the form of the June Democracy movement) resulted on December 16 1987 in the first truly democratic presidential elections since the coup held in South Korea!
Mark Berry and Phil Simpson from CMS meeting the clergy in the first ever Sharing House – Seoul – Rev (Ambrose) Kim Hong-Il is seated top left next to Phil. Bottom left (on the phone) is Simon Na from CMS Korea.