Heartbreak for Jeju

This Wednesday the Korea YAV house returned from Jeju Island, the southern island vacation destination for Koreans to go to, and the island that has been labelled the “Island of World Peacein response to past decimation of the island’s people. It is an island of great beauty and great heartbreak – both historically and in present-day. The outing that really set the tone for the trip was a visit to GangJeong Village, which is a small village of 2,000 people on the southern shore of Jeju. This tiny village houses a newly opened Korean naval base.

This naval base has been touted as a way for the village to gain new jobs and new tourism. They have said that the port will be a civilian and military usage harbor. Cruises will come into the area and Korea will be protected from foreign forces like North Korea. But what we saw of this base was not celebration of its opening but continued protest of its existence and the destruction is has wreaked on it’s own people.

We personally witnessed people from the community, Priests and international activists come together to protest this base. Catholic priests that were blocking the entrance to construction to the site were literally picked up in their chairs and moved. The protest count has reached over 3000 days and counting.

Catholic priest being lifted and moved from the driveway
The number marks the amount of days they have been protesting when we arrived

So why has there been such strong backlash for something that is supposedly so good for the community? Other sites on Jeju were passed up because of political pressure despite being better harbor positions. Because of the past failures to get approval using democratic means, the vote for a naval base in GangJeong was called a discussion on the base, and special invitations were sent to people in favor of the base. A vote was held where they counted votes by applause instead of ballots. When the villagers found out and held their own vote in response (largely against the naval base) the government only recognized the vote by applause. Aside from an underhanded beginning, the destruction rendered on land and sea has been immense.

The Ocean

On the left is the largest fresh water stream entering the ocean. On the right is Tiger Island (Beom Seom)
Our guide, Sung Hee, explains the tragedy of the situation. On the left is Tiger Island (Beom Seom) and on the right is the Naval Base.

40% of Jeju is designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve because of it’s unique and sensitive environment. Just off the coast of GangJeong Village is a tiny island called Beom Seom, or Tiger Island, which is surrounded by soft coral which only grows in clean, nutrient rich water. It’s one of the largest areas of soft coral in the world, and though it is such a tiny percentage of the ocean, a large portion of ocean life especially around Jeju relies on it to survive. This is here partially because the largest fresh water stream on Jeju flows into the ocean in GangJeong village.

Jeju is also home to the very unique Haenyeo culture, or women divers. We had the privilege of visiting a museum dedicated to those women who still dive for a living today. Most of the people’s livelihoods on Jeju is tied to the ocean and the seafood fished from that water. Despite it being a UNESCO site the naval base currently is so close to these that the naval ships courses must pass through this protected area. On top of pollution rising because of construction and the presence of large ships and submarines, ocean life will likely not thrive in these conditions.

Good harbor locations are places where the water is calm and the wind is soft so that it is easy to dock ships. The area along the coast of GangJeong village is the opposite of that, and because of that the naval base has had to build in extra breakers to make the space viable at all. They have already lost very large caisson to the storms in the area during construction.

The Land

Tied to the land as well, the largest fresh water source in Jeju meant that it was also one of the best places to farm on the volcanic island which is covered in difficult to work with volcanic rock. It was the only place in Jeju that grew rice, which requires freshwater in order to grow. Jeju is also famous for its citrus fruits that are only grown on the island. Many of those farms were destroyed to make room for the base.

Not only that, but the heart of the community was a large rock called Gureombi Rock. This was a large area of land that consisted of one rock. It had it’s own unique environment and was a place where the community gathered. A particular kind of tree only grew on this rock. 30% of the rock was blasted away to make room for the naval base which sits on top of it. Because of public outcry they did not destroy the entire rock and instead covered it with cement.

Gureombi Rock
As Gureombi Rock goes, precious nature dies with it

The naval base just opened its doors last Friday and soon will be home to 4,000 soldiers and their families, totaling around 7,000 people total that will enter this village of about 2,000 people. This naval base will literally swallow this community whole.

So why is there a naval base here?

There is strategic value in having a base in Jeju. It has been argued that it is to protect against North Korea, but its location brings easy access to most of East Asia – China and Japan in particular.


There are plans in place to build THAAD on the base as well which is short for “Terminal High Altitude Arial Defense.” That is a US Military missile defense system. The US Military is closely tied with the Korean military and though this is a Korean base, there would be nothing stopping the US from using the base as well. A move which is making much of the region very nervous including China, North Korea and Russia.


There is still great irony in this unfolding on the Island of World Peace. And while there may be many things about international politics and war that I don’t understand, I really can’t understand why they didn’t just move the base over to another location down the coast that wasn’t quite as sensitive or valuable, and that would have been a better choice as a harbor.

The community is still struggling with this new reality that the base has been built and is now open. The people here have witnessed the heart of their village blasted and covered in cement and their livelihoods and culture destroyed. They have been given no choice from powers much larger than them. It is difficult to watch this injustice unfold and do nothing.

To keep up to date on this issue and see how you can be a part of it visit http://savejejunow.org/


Jeju Weekly http://www.jejuweekly.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=1437

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeju_Uprising

UNESCO http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1264

NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/world/asia/hardy-divers-in-korea-strait-sea-women-are-dwindling.html?_r=0

Counter Punch http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/23/why-oliver-stone-came-to-jeju-korea/

CNN http://travel.cnn.com/seoul/life/photo-inspires-fury-over-jeju-island-837678/

The Hankyoreh http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/522591.html

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terminal_High_Altitude_Area_Defense

BBC http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35739110

Save Jeju Now http://savejejunow.org/

The Philippines

It felt like rolling the dice on our travel fate waiting at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. It was a Saturday afternoon and we had just missed our connecting flight from Manila to Incheon to go back to Korea, and it was past time for lunch. As a group we were all just waiting for word. Half of us were sitting in the office where Kurt and Hyeyoung bargained with the lady at the desk for options to get home. Three year old Sahn was sleeping on one of the soft couches in the office oblivious of the people pouring in to loiter like the rest of us. Apparently the emperor of Japan was traveling and that meant several runways were closed and many flights were cancelled.


The first time we had been at this airport we had arrived at one in the morning and waited for a shuttle that never seemed to come. Cabbies had come to try to win our business and convince us that theirs was the better option. It seemed a far cry from Incheon airport which seemed to run like a well oiled machine full of restaurants and shops to peruse while you waited. Unlike the first night though, I had friends from America and China arriving in Seoul as we waited. The time I had with them was precious and short.

“We won’t be able to leave until Monday” I bargained for them to send me back alone. Our group was too big to accommodate for earlier flights. But I wasn’t allowed to go alone. “Send half the group,” I pressed. No dice. That was it. Two more days in the Philippines.

Despite my feelings towards the airport and what seemed like endless waiting every time we stepped foot there, the Philippines had been nothing short of amazing. Every morning we were awakened by roosters crowing and beautiful sunshine. It was the perfect break from Korean dry winter air. Every afternoon was filled with talks and an afternoon swim in the pool. Every night was dinner on the beach, waves lapping behind us and good conversation with people from all over Asia doing inspiring work.


This trip had been designed, not really for us YAVs, but for the people who have given their lives to their work in their various countries. The people who are deeply involved in people’s lives and live their lives next to them – sharing meals and experiences. I had the privilege to talk with most of the people working in the Asia region for PC(USA) helping refugees resettle, educating young women who would otherwise not have the opportunity, working towards stopping human trafficking, or working on community development. This was meant as a break for them from their lives which may rarely have moments of luxury amidst the simple living they work within. It was a great opportunity for me to do some vocational discernment and talk with some very interesting people.

But aside from the people we met there, the Philippines was its own experience as a country. Even touching down in the plane the economic discrepancy is very clear. From the plane window you could see houses that were small with thatched roofs and chickens in the yard next to sections of housing with two stories and a fountain. There is an extreme amount of poverty next to resorts like where we were staying. It is easy to characterize the Philippines as a poor country, and perhaps one more dangerous than Korea. The Philippines also has a tumultuous history with many conquering forces including the Spanish, America, and Japan.

While we were there though we were introduced to Silliman University which Dessa (who I interviewed with for the Philippines site) has connections with and some exchange students in Hannam we’ve made good friends with attend. We heard talks and got a tour of campus, and near the end of our trip we had the chance to see some performances by the very talented young people in the area.



Coming from UIC  it felt like a throwback to college. They were performing dances like the college students I knew and loved. When I attended UIC, Filipinos in Alliance (FIA) was the largest Asian American organization on campus with the greatest presence. Every year they would do a dance competition called Battle of the Bamboo where they would compete with other universities in traditional Filipino dances, but they were also some of the best modern dancers I’ve ever seen with their dance group FIA modern.

These students had a similar spirit and talent in their dances. It felt so familiar to me, yet the context felt so different. I cringe at the thought of possibly being a “wealthy” foreigner at a resort watching this performance for us rather than a cheering audience member in the crowd at the Battle of the Bamboo. But I was grateful to be there to see their performances including really fun interpretations the Filipino creation story, and many traditional dances from some of the many different cultures within the Philippines.


Battle of the Bamboo, UIC – 2010

Our time together with the people at the conference was wonderful and wrapped up nicely as an experience in Dumeguete. Our delay in Manila was unexpected, but an opportunity to see the Philippines on our own. I could see it first hand after many years of hearing about it from my friends. I had Jollibee for the first time (though I hear rumors of one opening near Chicago) after hearing I needed to try it for the past few years.




We were able to see some more of the Philippines’ rich history and beautiful architecture that we otherwise wouldn’t have seen. We went to the Mall of Asia, and got to shop at local markets. We were at a Catholic church on a Sunday in the Philippines! It was hardly to say we got to know the Philippines in our short time there, but we got to see a glimpse of what Manila was like. I know I won’t get those days back with my friends in Seoul and waiting at the airport was one of the most frustrating experiences for me, but that time wasn’t lost in our waiting. And we eventually did get to fly out of Manila after one last trip to Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

No Peace Without Justice

Dr. Martin Luther King: “There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice.”

We returned from our first YAV retreat December 3rd, and it was an eye opening trip. One consistent theme of what we’ve been learning has been about massacres and various human rights violations. I’ve mentioned them a few times already in my blog posts, and I’ve been told it is something that will continue throughout the year. The U.S. killing Koreans, the Japanese killing Koreans, Koreans killing Koreans, and the list goes on. If it’s not killing it’s the systematic rape of women from conquered countries as comfort women that continues even today in different forms, or free agency taken from those who should be free. These are not fun or easy topics to deal with.

Take the case of the comfort women – women who were taken from their homes or offered jobs as nurses or entertainers were used as sex slaves for the Japanese army. These were women from Korea, China, Vietnam, and many more countries who were displaced, systematically raped, and when the war ended were left behind in whatever country they had been taken to. Japan does not acknowledge that this occurred despite numerous live victims, records, and accounts. When confronted with this (as the Japanese embassy in Korea has every single Wednesday since 1992 by protests held by the surviving comfort women) they claim that those protesting are anti-Japanese.

It’s easy to be angry. In fact, it is probably a healthy response to such an atrocity. But I think it’s important to distinguish between a few things in that anger. One being that the Japanese are not evil. Whenever a blanket statement is used to vilify an entire people the response will not be compassionate or just. That then becomes a reason to retaliate in ways that would be regrettable in a similar fashion to sex slavery, or massacres. This is not a way to peace.

That being said, the actions were atrocious and the Japanese government should still be held accountable for their actions. For them not to be held accountable would be a crime against the women who experienced this injustice.

(It is also important to distinguish between a government and a people, and direct that anger justly. How frightening it would be to be held personally accountable to all that the US government has done!)

The roles in the paragraphs above can be swapped out for just about any government or incident. The US did atrocious things to Korea too, and really many other countries too. In fact as a response to WWII the US put Japanese Americans into internment camps regardless of their involvement with the war irreparably damaging lives. Anti-Japanese sentiments in the US led to the death of Vincent Chin (who, by the way, was not Japanese) a notorious hate crime in the Asian American community. What I’m realizing as I learn more about peace through this experience is that we can’t stop more from happening without recognizing the humanity of everyone involved.

It is easy to see in hindsight how these things were wrong, but I would argue that we are dealing with similar sentiments in the US currently. Anti-Muslim hate crimes are on the rise which is contributing to refusing refugees who are fleeing from the same terrorists that the US so deeply hates. Making decisions based on fear of the other keeps the other as caricatures of who they are, and very importantly keeps them inhuman. It would be very Christ-like, but also very human to do the difficult work to undo this hatred so we can make steps towards peace.

To care for those who are hurt and recognize the humanity of all is important, but that still leaves situations like the comfort women with extreme injustice. The job of a peace maker is not to just sweep the pain of victims under the rug, and it is not to be passive. Without reparations for the crimes committed there will be no justice for the comfort women. To leave it at that does not create peace either even if there is an illusion of peace. Without admission of guilt similar crimes continue unchallenged, and the turmoil for the comfort women for many have been taken to their graves. So I encourage you to walk the line of keeping your heart open to see each other as human, but also recognize the need for accountability in the face of injustice because there is no peace without justice.


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The Book of Daniel

Two Sundays ago, after a weekend trip to NoGunRi Peace Park, I was in charge of leading devotions for our weekly YAV meeting. I’ve never come up with my own devotion so I decided to reread my childhood favorite in search of a scripture I could use for a devotion: The book of Daniel. I ended up rereading the whole book (all 12 chapters) and taking a nap before deciding on some verses, but rereading Daniel was a valuable experience for me. So far removed am I from when I was in junior high reading the Bible for the first time.

Part of the reason I think I liked Daniel when I was young was because he does no wrong. He’s smart, handsome, and has a connection with God who allows him to interpret dreams. He has adventure as well, like his friends being thrown in a furnace, or that time he gets thrown in a lions’ den. There’s lots of politics and also a kooky King who is kind of arrogant and does some crazy stuff. What’s not to like?

The verses I selected were from the first dream that is revealed to him from God. He asks for it to be revealed to him so King Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t execute all the wise men in the land for not being able to tell him his own dream and interpret it.

Daniel 2:17-23

17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
    wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
    he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what lies in darkness,
    and light dwells with him.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
    You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
    you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

It is praise worthy to praise God when he reveals great things to us. What was interesting to me, however, was how his reaction to the revelations change throughout the Book of Daniel. The dreams he interprets reveal terrible fates and difficult futures.

Daniel 4:19

19 Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.”

Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!

It continues to escalate until the end of the book where Daniel is then having Revelations-esque dreams that are being interpreted to him by Angels. At that point he knows the dreams and they have been interpreted to him, but they still don’t make sense. (I may have joked that he reached Ph.D. levels of prophecy. All jokes aside, I recommend giving it a read!)

This to me closely parallels our experiences in Korea, and in light of the current circumstances around the world in Paris, Lebanon, Syria, and places I do not know. God has revealed to us many things. To bring us to a program like the YAV program, you generally need to have love for others. In Korea we’ve had the joy and honor of getting to know the people here. Our classmates, buddies, kids at our sites – people from church. I rejoice in that just as Daniel rejoiced in God answering his prayer. But we continue in that journey. At JaeAmRi (제암리), we learned of a massacre committed by the Japanese in retaliation against the Koreans for killing a Japanese police officer during Japanese occupation. The day prior to my devotion we visited NoGunRi (노근리) Peace Park where the US Military massacred Korean men, women, and children for nearly no reason during the Korean war. With both of these events, they were nearly completely unknown if it wasn’t for (in both cases) one person who fought to carry the story to the rest of the world. Kurt has explained the concept of Han (한) which (I’m paraphrasing) is a feeling of deep prolonged suffering. I feel as though Han is being revealed to us.

NoGunRi – the white paint indicates evidence of artillery fire

For God to reveal things to you is a gift, but perhaps it can be a responsibility as it was to Daniel to be a prophet. To open your heart and your mind to compassion and loving of people means that you can also feel their pain. Perhaps directly for us, this is the history of the people we are getting to know and love here in Korea. And perhaps like Daniel the more that is revealed the more confusing and terrifying the world becomes. In light of the terror attacks around the world with multitudes of casualties I feel this relevance more than ever. Perhaps we are not prophets as Daniel was, but I do feel that to know is both a gift and a heavy responsibility. And perhaps also in the end we are all left to wonder what it all means.

(And also that Alyson isn’t one for cheerful devotions…)


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