6,435 Miles of Peace
By Julia Kayser
When Nazar Yatsyshyn became a young adult missionary, he had no way of knowing how far it would take him. From his home in L’Viv, Ukraine, he traveled to New York for training before being commissioned to serve at the National Council of Churches in Korea. But that was just the beginning.
His assignment was to organize a trans-continental “Peace Train” and advocate for reunification of the Korean peninsula. This initiative would bring 130 activists from 15 nations together on a pilgrimage from the Berlin wall to Busan, South Korea, for the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches. To complete its journey by land, the Peace Train would need safe passage through North Korea.
Nazar Yatsyshyn addresses 900 envelopes to overseas churches, mission societies, and organizations in preparation for the upcoming Peace Train journey. Courtesy of the National Council of Churches, Korea.
It was an unlikely idea. To rally support, Nazar had to raise awareness about the 60-year division between North and South Korea. “Politics is politics, but people are people,” he wrote in an article for the July/August 2013 issue of New World Outlook. He pointed out that people on both sides of the demilitarized zone speak the same language and celebrate the same holidays. “Many family members have been separated, deprived of the chance to see or visit one another.”
Nazar designed a Peace Train website and Facebook page to recruit participants and spread the word. Since the trans-Siberian railroad was broken in 1950, each leg of the journey required its own train ticket. “The most challenging part was visas,” Nazar admits. “I had to learn for example, how to get Schenghen Visas for Ethiopians. But with God’s help it was possible to manage.”
Peace Train participants gather in Berlin to begin their journey together. Courtesy of the Peace Train Facebook page.
The Pilgrimage Begins
On Oct. 6, Nazar finally met the other Peace Train participants in Berlin. Their journey began with a candlelight worship service at the Brandenburg Gate. Under this symbol of Germany’s division and reunification, the group shared their first communal prayers for peace. The next day, they visited the Berlin Reconciliation Church and the Berlin Wall Memorial before boarding the train.
Over the next two-and-a-half weeks, their itinerary included stops in Moscow, Irkutsk, and Beijing. Each stop featured a madang-- a gathering place where people share stories-- with each other and the local community. The group also visited sites of social and political importance. In Irkutsk, participants from Africa and India got their first experience of snow.
But most of their time was spent on the move. Rocked by the motion of wheels on track, they studied scripture, discussed social issues, worked on crafts, ate, slept, worshipped, and reflected on the journey. Outside the windows of the Peace Train, vast stretches of Europe and Asia unfurled.
Courtesy of the Peace Train Facebook page.
North Korea by Boat
On Oct. 23, before the Peace Train started the last leg of its journey, word came that passage through North Korea would be impossible. “A lot of people have been praying and longing for the official word that the train would really, physically, bind North and South Korea, Europe and Asia, communist and capitalist systems, be an opening in the walls that have separated enemies, and bring the ‘Yes’ of God to bear on human divisions,” read a post on the Peace Train’s Facebook page. “Not this time, people of vision. But the day will come…”
So the pilgrims strayed from their itinerary and traveled to Dandong, where China borders North Korea at the Yalu River. A boat ride brought them alongside the Korean shore. “We were able to see ordinary people from North Korea as close as 10 meters from us,” Nazar said. “We were waving to them and shouting greetings, and many of them were cheerfully responding, especially kids. These were sweet moments.” But that was as close as they could come.
From Dandong, the Peace Train activists rode the ferry through disputed waters and past the North Korean coastline to Incheon, South Korea. They caught a bus to Seoul, and then finally a train to Busan. On Oct. 27, they were greeted at their final stop by a crowd with flowers, signs, and multicolored stoles. They had traveled 6,435 miles.
At the 10th WCC Assembly
The Peace Train journey officially ended with a worship service Oct. 28, just two days before the WCC assembly began. Many participants stayed to spread the message of peace and reconciliation. They support proposals to open disputed waters for fishing and make the Korean coast a Peace Zone.
Nazar is staffing a Peace Train booth in the Assembly’s Madang space (presentation room). “My job is to share about the Peace Train journey,” he said, “so I do a short introduction to the project and Korean reunification in general.”
He’s also selling Peace Train merchandise to raise money for humanitarian aid in North Korea. The WCC Assembly will continue until Nov. 8. But, for Nazar, the Peace Train’s legacy will last a lifetime.
You can help support Nazar’s mission with a donation to Advance #3021499. How far could mission take you? Young adults can apply now for mission service! Learn more at www.umcmission.org/gmfellows.