The Peace Train
by Nazar Yatsyshyn
How often do you ride a train? When was the last time you boarded one?
The advent of the train was spurred by the Industrial Revolution, which exerted a great influence on our modern world. Before trains, only a few adventure seekers and explorers could afford to go to distant countries or cities. But with the invention of the train, travel became easier. People started visiting new places, meeting new people, and sharing other cultures.
There is something magical about trains. I remember the first time I saw a real train. The ground was shaking because of the train’s massive weight. Then that mighty giant came into view, rolling into the station. As a kid, I feared it might roll right over me, so I stayed as close to my parents as possible. A minute later, I realized it was not scary at all. Instead, the train trip was fun and interesting.
My name is Nazar. I’m from L’viv, Ukraine, and am currently a Mission Intern of The United Methodist Church. My mission in South Korea—working for the Unification Department of the National Council of Churches in Korea—began in September 2012. Our mission is working on ways to heal the deep scar of Korean separation, which resulted from the Cold War and the Korean War (1950-1953), when Korea became a prisoner of the superpowers. Having signed only an armistice agreement, North and South Korea are still technically at war. For 60 years we have witnessed the agony of their hostile split, which continues with mutual suspicion and sometimes with hate, threats, and local conflicts.
Politics is politics, but people are people. On both sides of the DMZ (the Demilitarized Zone on the border between South and North), people speak the same language. They celebrate the same traditional holidays, like Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) and the Lunar New Year. Many family members have been separated, deprived of the chance to see or visit one another. This separation is also being nourished by mutual negative propaganda. For that reason, the National Council of Churches in Korea decided to launch a special ministry for Korean reunification and reconciliation.
The year 2013 is a meaningful year for Korea, being the 60th anniversary of the armistice. So the World Council of Churches’ 10th General Assembly will take place in Busan, South Korea. We came up with the idea of a peace train—traveling many miles, through many countries, and finally connecting two broken nations to deliver a message of peace to all Korean people and to the world. Our idea is to invite 100 people from different countries and continents to board the train as a witness to Christian solidarity around the reunification issue.
We chose Berlin, Germany, as the starting point. Germany was divided into East and West right after World War II, becoming a Cold War battlefield. A high concrete wall brutally split the city of Berlin into two parts. And yet, the Berlin wall was destroyed, and East and West Germany were unified. In Berlin, we will mutually conduct events with local churches, learning more about Germany’s division and the role of German churches in reunification. We will have time to visit places of interest related to the issue of the Berlin Wall. We are also planning to organize a march for peace and prayers for the Korean nation.
On to Moscow and China
After Berlin, our train will depart for Russia, passing through Poland and Belarus. Moscow will be our second station stop, where we will hold a conference with the Russian Orthodox Church. As in Berlin, we will have a chance to get a glimpse of the Russian capital and local places of interest. After two days in Moscow, the train will travel for five days across Russia and stop in the city of Irkutsk, near Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake. Besides attending official events, we will have an opportunity to rest and enjoy the pristine nature of the Baikal region and to experience the unique culture of the Buryat people, an ethnic minority.
From Irkutsk, the train will turn eastward and head for China, passing through Mongolia to Beijing. The number of Christians in China is growing. Peace Train participants will have time to learn about Christianity in China and the role of Chinese churches working for peace in northeast Asia.
We hope then for an opportunity to go to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Working out this stop will be most difficult. Political realities are not easily breached, but we know that our project is unique. We do not come with ultimatums or sanctions but bring a message of peace and reconciliation.
After the Korean War, the train connection between Pyongyang and Seoul was closed, leaving the last station on the border empty and desolate. We believe that our train initiative will be a point of reconciliation, which is badly needed, especially during this tense time.
After leaving Pyongyang, we will symbolically “break” the border that divides the Korean people. The train will make its final stop in Busan, South Korea, where we will bring a message of peace from all of the countries we visited to the World Council of Churches’ 10th Assembly.
Through this initiative, I see God’s great intervention at work. We will travel in peace, remembering the words of Micah’s young Levite priest: “Go in peace. The mission you are on is under the eye of the Lord.” (Judges 18:6) The world is thirsty for peace and justice. I believe that something as simple as a train ride, if done with love, can change people and systems, breaking down walls and opening up guarded borders. I’ve got a vision and I am ready to follow it. May God receive the glory.
Nazar Yatsyshyn, from the Ukraine, is a Mission Intern with Global Ministries, initially serving with a special peace project of the National Council of Churches in Korea, based in Seoul. This article originally appeared in the July-August 2013 edition of New World Outlook magazine.
Nazar Yatsyshyn (left), a Mission Intern from the Ukraine, pauses for a photo with a young military guard of the South Korean army at the Demilitarized Zone between South Korea and North Korea. Photo: Courtesy Nazar Yatsyshyn
Peace train poster. National Council of Churches in Korea. Photo: Courtesy National Council of Churches in Korea
Nazar Yatsyshyn just happened upon a friendly group of young English-speaking Christian Koreans his very first Sunday in Korea. Photo: Courtesy Nazar Yatsyshyn
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