“If you’re going to be serious about peace, then you need to be serious about peacebuilding,” the congressional staffer said.
He sat across the imposing Senate conference table the day after the summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
After almost 100 years of work, we at Mennonite Central Committee do consider ourselves serious about peacebuilding. But the staffer’s tone implied he thought the exact opposite: that we were naive about what building peace on the Korean Peninsula really involves.
In the aftermath of the historic summit between the United States and North Korea, there was immediate pushback and pessimism from Democrats in Congress and mainstream media. Although the two leaders took a positive step away from the brink of military confrontation, there were abrupt criticisms of what the agreement lacked: details on how North Korea will denuclearize, proof they are freezing their weapons development program and any indication of next steps.
Our contingent of 50 people from the Korea Peace Network was on Capitol Hill to promote our joint interests in peacebuilding, human security and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula. It was a serendipitous moment to be meeting with Senate offices who were champing at the bit for analysis and perspective.
Even with the uncertainty and brevity of the agreement, we were feeling buoyed by optimism. It was never practical to expect complete denuclearization in one meeting. This was one step, the beginning of a journey.
Our team, composed of several MCC representatives and a Korean-American professor, honed our messages for Senate leaders: focus on the process and commit to sustained dialogue and engagement in pursuit of peace on the peninsula.
We implored Congress to support this nascent peace effort, to think creatively about continued diplomacy and consider how humanitarian work, like that of MCC, could be protected despite sanctions.
MCC is serious about peace and deeply committed to reconciliation, not only between the people of the U.S. and North Korea but also the two sides of the Korean divide. For decades, our approach has been through several avenues: providing humanitarian assistance to the people of North Korea who bear the load of crushing international sanctions; facilitating people-to-people exchanges and promoting engagement through education and advocacy; and supporting peace education across Northeast Asia to build up a new generation of peacebuilders.
We are in a serious moment for peace. The division on the Korean Peninsula and the enmity between the U.S. and North Korea must be resolved by peaceful means.
The shift to radical engagement between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea came unexpectedly but offers a new time of hope on the Korean Peninsula.
It is a kairos moment for peacemakers and organizations like MCC that have the experience and relationships to build peace alongside the Korean people.
Our Korean sisters and brothers are asking us to join them. We should take the call to “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11) seriously.
Charissa Zehr is a legislative associate for international affairs at the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.