Jae Young Lee leads a restorative discipline class at an elementary school in Seoul. Students directly involved in bullying sit in the middle circle. Other classmates sit in the outside circle. Lee is the director of the Korea Peacebuilding Institute (KOPI), an organization that specializes in teaching restorative justice through lectures and workshops for communities, schools, workplaces, and government organizations. “Peace is not only [a practice of] your mind,” said Lee. “But also a way of life. [It is] the way the kingdom of God is rebuilt. It has a more political term, and also very practical weight.” Photo by KOPI staff
As tensions between nations rise and world leaders threaten war—even nuclear war—peacemakers all over the world continue to work to make peace on earth a reality. Jae Young Lee and Karen Spicher, Mennonite Mission Network mission associates in Namyangju, South Korea, are two of those peacemakers.
“Peace on earth” is a term often spoken of during the Christmas season, and Lee sees it as a central tenet to their community and work. “Peace on earth does not end with Jesus’ birth and death,” he says. “It’s the ministry of reconciliation and of peace that should be at the center for the followers of Jesus Christ.”
In South Korea, the differences between the secular and Christian Christmas celebrations are distinct. “[Secular Christmas] is thought of as a romantic holiday,” says Spicher. For many Koreans, she says, Christmas is a day to go out for an expensive meal, attend a concert or try out ice skating.
“It’s just one day, a very secular party,” says Lee. Family gatherings are reserved for other holidays, such as Chuseok (Thanksgiving) and Seollal (Lunar New Year).
For Christians in South Korea, Christmas is celebrated with special church services—large meals or gifts aren’t the focus of the day. “We don’t give gifts in our family,” Spicher says. “It’s felt freeing and life-giving to be outside of that expectation.”
Instead, Lee, Spicher and their three daughters share skits, songs and poems with the other members of Grace and Peace Mennonite Church, a house church based at Peace Building. Located in Namyangju, Peace Building is home to an intentional community, coffee shop, English language school (Connexus) and four peacebuilding organizations: Korea Peacebuilding Institute (KOPI), of which Lee is the director, Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute, Korea Association for Restorative Justice and Peacebuilding Publishing.
KOPI specializes in teaching restorative justice through lectures and workshops for communities, schools, workplaces and government organizations. Restorative justice is a paradigm of peace that emphasizes the restoration of victims, acceptance of active responsibility by the offender, and healing broken relationships within the affected community.
Lee says that before he knew about Anabaptist theology, his understanding of God’s peace was that it was internal, a peace that God brings an individual in order to overcome and persevere through the challenges of life. However, through studying Anabaptist theology, his definition of peace expanded to not only a state of mind but a way of life. He says more young Christians are realizing that a way of life centered around peacebuilding is “how we make this broken world become [a place] where the justice and peace of God can be proclaimed.”
While the intentional community that Lee, Spicher and their family are a part of is still relatively young (Peace Building was constructed in 2015), they’re excited for the future.
“Peacebuilding is the main work for us,” says Lee. “Some people still wonder how you can make a living by doing peacebuilding, but we do it.”