The following reflection from chapel at the Church of the Brethren General Offices, Elgin, Ill., was given by Global Mission and Service executive director Jay Wittmeyer. He reflects on the original meaning of Nov. 11 celebrations, and the honor due to St. Martin and modern-day peacemakers like Dr. James Kim, founder of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in North Korea, who visited with Brethren staff on Nov. 10:
“Pay to all what is due to them–taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7).
Friday is a unique day, as the calendar will sync as 11/11/11. The eleventh day of the eleventh month in the eleventh year. Nov. 11 is, of course, a special day and has been recognized as a holiday for a long time in many countries. In the US it is Veteran’s Day. As is the American tradition, on Friday a ceremony will be held at the Arlington National Cemetery, commencing precisely at 11 a.m., and a wreath will be laid at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Eleven a.m. is significant because it was exactly at this time in 1918 that the armistice was signed bringing World War I to an end. My grandparents always referred to Nov. 11 as Armistice Day, or the day of cessation of arms that ended the Great War, the war to end all wars. Nov. 11 became Veteran’s Day after World War II. In the UK and Commonwealth nations, Nov. 11 is observed as Remembrance Day. Some also refer to it as Poppy Day because of that poem “In Flanders’s Fields.” Bright red poppies are associated with the day, an appropriate symbol for the blood spilled in the war.
Nov. 11 was fittingly chosen for the cessation of WWI hostilities for it was St. Martin of Tours Day (http://stmartinoftours.org/about-us/st-martins-background). Martin (c. 316-397), a contemporary of Constantine, was an early pacifist of the Roman Empire. Martin Luther, born on Nov.10, was baptized on Nov. 11 and named after St. Martin. St. Martin is the patron saint of France.
Martin was forced to join the Roman army when he was young. One evening while on duty, he was riding in the rain when he saw a beggar lying cold along the side of the road. Martin tore his heavy officer’s cape in half to give part to the beggar. Later that night he had a dream in which he saw Jesus wearing the small cape. Jesus said, “What you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.”
Martin was baptized into the church at age 18. Just before a battle, Martin announced that his faith prohibited him from fighting. Charged with cowardice, he was jailed, and his superiors planned to put him in the front of the battle. However, the invaders sued for peace, the battle never occurred, and Martin was released from military service.
Give honor to whom honor is due. After a century of hard-fought and brutal wars, the essence of Nov. 11 has changed for us in the US–from pacifist to armistice to Veteran’s Day, where we honor those, and only those who have served in the armed forces.
But the Christian community should give the same honor and respect to those who are in an even greater service–those who dedicate their lives in service to God. I believe we should honor all to whom honor is due. This includes war correspondents and journalists, missionaries, and professionals serving around the world in organizations like Doctors Without Borders. And what about those who avert war in the first place? What about the negotiators, the diplomats, the peacemakers? What would it mean for someone to actively work to bring peace and avoid nuclear war on the Korean peninsula? What honor should be due that person?
Dr. James Kim is doing that very thing and he visits us at the General Offices tomorrow. Robert and Linda Shank have served in North Korea for the past year with Dr. Kim at the university he began, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. This is Dr. Kim’s story as told by Lord David Alton ():
The story of Dr. James Chinkyung Kim:
In 1950, at the outbreak of the Korean War, Chinkyung (James) Kim was just 15 years old. Nevertheless, he enlisted and fought against the north. Of the 800 men in his unit, only 17 survived.
One night on the battlefield, after reading the Gospel of St. John, “There and then I vowed to God to work with the Chinese and the North Koreans, then our enemies,” Dr Kim says, the very forces against whom he had been bearing arms. “If I survived the war, I promised God that I would devote my life to their service, to peace and to reconciliation.”
After the war, penniless, he travelled first to France, and then on to Switzerland, where he met Francis Shaeffer who would write the highly influential “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” In 1960, he went to Britain where he studied at Bristol’s Clifton Theological College.
Later, he returned to Seoul, Korea, and in 1976 began a series of business enterprises in Florida. But he never forgot his vow–a promise he kept hidden in his heart–and, in the 1980s, he sold his businesses and home to finance a university college in South Korea. By1992 he was ready to export his model of education to China. Yanbian University of Science of Technology, in Yanji, northeastern China, became the country’s first foreign joint-venture university. It, in turn, became the model for Pyongyang.
Before that could happen, Dr. Kim would be arrested by Kim Jong Il’s North Korean Government, accused of being an American spy, and for 40 days he would languish in jail. He was sentenced to death.
Ordered to write a will and, in keeping with his vow to give everything back to his country, he told his captors that once they had executed him they could have his body parts for medical research. In his will and testament he wrote to the US government that “I died doing things I love at my own will. Revenge will only bring more revenge and it will be an endless cycle of bitter hatred. Today, it will stop here and the hate will not see a victory. I am dying for the love of my country and my people. If you take any actions for my death then my death would truly have been for nothing and for no reason.”
In explaining what then occurred, James Kim says that “The North Korean government was moved and allowed me to return to my home in China.” He made no public complaints about what had happened and two years later “They invited me back to North Korea and asked whether I would forget our differences and build a university for them like the one I had established in China?”
Dr. Kim believes his own experience is evidence that the North Korean regime “can be touched and messages can be communicated at some level. On a much grander scale we need to deepen the experience of reconciliation.”
We give honor and respect to Dr. James Kim for his reconciling work in North Korea and to all who serve around the globe on Nov. 11, St. Martin’s Day.
— Wittmeyer closed the chapel service with a quote from the hymn, “The Church of Christ in Every Age”: “We have no mission but to serve in full obedience to our Lord, to care for all, without reserve, and spread his liberating word.” For more about the Church of the Brethren’s work in North Korea go to www.brethren.org/partners/northkorea. For more about conscientious objectors from the Historic Peace Churches (Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, and Quaker) who served in Civilian Public Service instead of going to war, go to http://civilianpublicservice.org.