“Will you pray?”
Rarely does such a request throw me.
Standing in the Memorial Tablet Shrine at the Jeju April 3 Peace Park, however, words failed to come easily.
Earlier in the day, JC Lee and I had flown to Jeju Island. Two pastors met us and we ate a wonderful pork barbecue. We went to a Presbyterian Church where I made my presentation on the role of the Church in the public arena. After photos and goodbyes, four of us, pastors all, loaded into a car to go to the Jeju April 3 Peace Park.
Several of my hosts had asked me if I knew the history of Jeju. I confessed that I had done enough research in advance to know that the island had, as do many places in the world, a troubled past. I was about to learn how troubled.
A short drive brought us to the park. We toured the Jeju April 3 Peace Memorial Hall. Aided by an English-recorded audio device, I learned much. Mostly what I learned is how much I need to learn.
A pamphlet provided at the hall gives a brief outline (slightly edited by me) of the story:
The Jeju April 3rd incident broke out during the US Military Administration [of the Republic of Korea] and lasted for seven years.
After the independence from Japan in 1945, Korea was in turmoil due to the failure of the policies of the US Military Administration and other social conflicts. Under these circumstances, it happened that the 6 residents were killed on March 1, 1947 by the police. The US Military Administration dispatched the troops of the police and youth corps called “Seochung” to Jeju Province to suppress the Jeju civilians and government workers/ general strike. The dispatched soldiers terrorized and tortured Jeju civilians. Consequently, on April 3, 1948, the armed members of the Jeju branch of the Namro Party raised disturbances to protest the troops’ brutalities.
Additionally, in the May 10 general election that established the division of the Korean peninsula, two of the three electoral districts on Jeju had invalid results due to people refusing to participate in the election.
It was on August 15, 1948, after the establishment of the Republic of Korea, that the Central Government dispatched more troops to quell the disturbance by powerful suppressing action. On November 17, martial law was proclaimed. Many local people were executed for giving assistance to the armed guerrilla band.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, some people arrested by the police and the prisoners in the mainland were executed. The Jeju April 3 Incident, caused by the shooting incident on March 1, 1947 and the uprising o April 3, 1948 lasted for 7 years until the prohibition of entering Mt. Halla was lifted. The Jeju April 3 Incident resulted in the loss of 25,000~30,000.
The Jeju April 3 Incident, which broke out in the mood of the world Cold War and the division of the Korean Peninsula, produced mass victims caused by the Central Government power. Currently, the truth of the Jeju April 3 Incident is being unveiled in the pursuit of reconciliation and mutual prosperity.
The images in the Jeju April 3 Peace Memorial Hall are haunting. The complex tale is harrowing and heartbreaking. Imprisonment. Torture. Execution. Displacement. Scorched earth. Labels of being “Reds”. Villages destroyed. The United States role through the US Military Administration. So many dimensions.
For years, the story went untold; discussion forbidden; investigation suppressed. That has changed. Activists, scholars, and the government have begun to explore the Jeju April 3 Incident, but much remains to learn.
Following our visit to the Jeju April 3 Peace Memorial Hall, we went to the Memorial Tablet Shrine. Simple black tablets bear the names of persons killed during the Jeju April 3 Incident: more than 14,000 tablets, sorted by village.
As we entered the Shrine, we lit an incense stick. Then one of the pastors asked me: “Will you pray?”
I said yes. And took a very long pause before I began. The prayer went something like this:
We pray for those who died on Jeju Island; we give thanks for their lives; we pray for comfort for those who mourn their deaths. We pray for peace. Peace for the people who live on Jeju Island. Peace for all the people of the Korean Peninsula. Peace for all the peoples of your world. We pray that the day may soon come when we live together as brothers and sisters as you intend. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
My new friends responded: “Amen.” And we entered the sacred place.
I have much to process, much to learn.
See you along the Trail.