You may remember that I had three months sabbatical last spring, which was a precious gift from the church, and I gratefully enjoyed its privilege.
For the sabbatical project, I intended to focus on the issue of ‘Reconciliation’ as a theme, with a particular interest in the issues around the Korean Peninsula, which had been the theme of my previous sabbatical project. My initial plan was to go back to Korea and walk along the DMZ (De–Militarised Zone, 155 miles), visiting the actual places of division where the scars of war and fighting can still be found even after the ceasefire almost 70 years ago.
But, as you can imagine, Covid–19 prevented me from proceeding it as was planned and I had to repeat the postponements and cancellations of my plan so many times, which was disappointing. Instead, however, I changed the plan, and Sarah and I did manage to walk along the Thames, 85 miles in six days, from Hampton Court to Canary Wharf on the North Bank and crossed the river, and walked back from Greenwich to Hampton Court on the South Bank. It was a challenge, but we so much enjoyed it and learned the beauty of the River Thames and the history of London, passing through rough areas as well as posh areas, historical sites as well as natural sites. Although this walk didn’t have much to do with my theme of reconciliation, it made me think about what it means to live together peacefully in a global, diverse city.
As the restrictions of the lockdown were eased in June, we had an opportunity of visiting Belfast which was actually part of my project, as it is the heart of division in Northern Ireland and still needs ‘reconciliation’. And, I learned a lot about the issues of Northern Ireland. It is not just about sausages and meats. It is about the division between two groups: Loyalists vs. Republicans, or Catholics vs. Protestants. And, you must be surprised that there is a separation wall literally, 15 meters high and 7.3 km long. That is the wall which divides the community in two, and separates the people in hostility. On the High Street of one side, we saw many churches: Baptist, Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, and Methodist. On the other side, of course, Catholic churches. But, I was wondering what gospel they were preaching, and which Jesus they were following.
As we know, Paul says in Ephesians 2. 14–16, “For he (Jesus) himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” I am sure that is the message we need to bear in our hearts as the followers of Jesus.
Personally, this sabbatical gave me some precious lessons, one of which is ‘We plan, but God proceeds’. However well we plan, it is all up to God. Nevertheless, the great thing is, even though it was quite different from what I planned and wished, I learned a lot and experienced many new things which wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
And, I’d like to take this as an opportunity of thanking all those who covered my absence in various ways.
Rev. SC Choi.