Mark Berry (right) enjoys Korean hospitality
(Photo: Mark Berry/CMS)
When CMS's Mark Berry met representatives from the Korean Sharing Houses movement at a CMS event last year, he was intrigued. In 2012, he got the opportunity to visit Korea for himself, and found out how the movement chose love in place of hate
Korea has a tumultuous recent history. In 1910 the kingdom fell to the Japanese empire, followed by partition after the Second World War into North and South, communist and capitalist. In the 1950s the North invaded the South and a bloody and catastrophic war ensued. People were displaced, millions killed and the land ravaged.
The two states remain officially at war. Democracy did not follow immediately for the South. In fact, after a coup in 1961 a military government ruled until the 1980s and the ordinary people of South Korea suffered many abuses of their freedom and human rights.
In this turmoil a new thinking emerged, which became known as Minjung – meaning "Mass" or "The People". Beginning as a student movement, it 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."
The Korean theologian A Sung Park writes
, "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 unravelled, 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." 1
Kill hate with love
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, 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.
It was from this Minjung theology that the Sharing Houses grew. The Mission of the Sharing Houses is described by founder the Rev Kim Hong-Il as,
"[becoming] '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."
What are Sharing Houses?
There are now around 70 Sharing Houses in South Korea, working with children, abused women, orphans, migrant workers, the homeless.
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. The 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 protest 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 holistic care for the sick… 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."
More than 20 years on from the beginning of the Sharing House movement there are some issues which need to be worked through, some of 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 I think there are treasures here for the wave of new missional communities in Europe in our current cultural and economic context.
It also raises questions for me: How we let go of power and anger? How do we let go of reactions against the way we (Christians) feel treated by our culture, our government and our media? How do we seek not to do mission to
people but with
people? And how do 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?
Becoming God's nation?
A Sung Park writes
, "Minjung theology is not primarily concerned about the Korean Christians in particular, but the oppressed Korean Minjung in general."
It's about transforming the negative Han into "the power of revolution
for establishing God's nation."2
On that note, it's worth saying that the Minjung-based movement in the 1980s (in the form of the June Democracy movement) resulted on 16 December 1987 in the first truly democratic presidential elections held in South Korea since the 1961 coup.
For more from Mark on CMS community and mission, visit the CMS community blog
1 A Sung Park, 'Minjung and Process Hermeneutics'
2 A Sung Park, 'Minjung Theology: A Korean Contextual Theology'