A South Korean peace activist has spent nearly a year in prison for breaking into and praying at a military installation. European Mennonites, whom he met while studying in Germany, are rallying to support him.
This month, Mennonites in Switzerland and Germany were some of the more than 15,000 supporters of an online petition urging the release of Song Kang Ho from prison.
Song is the founder of The Frontiers, a Korean version of Christian Peacemaker Teams that sends peace workers to refugee camps and provides alternative service opportunities for conscientious objectors.
The 63-year-old has been in military prison since early 2020, when he cut through a naval base barbwire fence on Jeju Island, South Korea, to pray for peace on Gureombi rock, a symbol of peace for the island’s people.
The island was declared an “Island of Peace” by former President Roh Moo-Hyun on Jan. 27, 2005, but The Frontiers says the military and construction companies bullied villagers who opposed building the deceptively named Civilian-Military Complex Tourist Port.
Song and The Frontiers have supported Jeju Gangjeong villagers’ nonviolent protests against the building of a military installation since 2010. This arrest was Song’s fifth in a string of nonviolent struggles to support the village. On March 7, 2020, he was sentenced to two years in prison.
The Frontiers delivered petitions signed by 15,412 people from around the world on Jan. 26 when prosecutors presented evidence in court, 304 days after Song was arrested. Additional hearings should take place in March.
Bock Ki Kim, a Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker in South Korea, wrote in a letter to peace church members that Song is the father-in-law of Sang-min Lee, a Korean Mennonite CO who served 15 months in prison for refusing military service.
Bock and his wife, Sook Kyoung, were able to visit with Song for 10 minutes Dec. 18 and recalled the conversation.
“I am here because of you Mennonites!” said Song with a smile from behind a prison window. “I met Mennonites in Germany while I studied theology. I was challenged by the biblical pacifism of Mennonites there. Since then, I dedicated myself to the gospel of peace.”
Song got to know Mennonites in the five years he worked on a doctorate in theology at Heidelberg University in Germany, spending time living with members of Bammental Mennonite Church, where he preached.
During his degree study, Song visited Rwanda and Bosnia and was shocked to see how Christians, who should teach peace, can mislead people into carrying out genocide. The experiences pushed him to give up a life of stability as a theologian and commit to healing, working for those who are victimized by war and the military.