Mid-Michigan South Koreans hope God can help heal wounds with North Korea
MT. MORRIS, Mich. - North and South Korea will march together under a unified flag at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opening ceremony. This is the first time it's happened in more than a decade.
Political leaders hopes the Olympic Ceremonies will improve relations between the two countries. The diplomatic breakthrough comes after months of tension between the communist regime and America and its ally South Korea.
But some South Koreans in mid-Michigan worry the relationship will return to conflict after the games.
Worshippers at Unity Presbyterian Church in Mount Morris are hoping a higher power can heal those decades-old wounds. They say it bilingual Sunday service is proof it could.
Reverend Martin Han preaches on Sundays in English and Korean.
His real name is Myong Sung Han. He Americanized it after coming to the United States in 1983 for college.
"Some people say Myong, meow, all kinds of cat sounds. So I said forget it, martin" he says while laughing.
Han is originally from Seoul, home of the 1988 Summer Olympics.
"I was so proud and I recorded the broadcasting. It was broadcasted by NBC and I recorded it on the videotape" he says while smiling.
While he was watching on a VHS tape, his wife Jien Kim Han, was volunteering there. She loved it.
"I was able to see all different colors and languages" she says.
They were married in 1991 and have three children. They will both watch this year's Olympics.
"Figure skating is beautiful" Ms. Han says.
She will be rooting for her favorite athletes.
"We are so excited to watch the games" she says.
The Hans hope North Korea's participation in the Olympics will lead to togetherness, similar to what's seen at Unity Presbyterian Church. Most of the worshippers are Korean but the reverend says it's important to preach in two languages.
"I don't want to segregate ourselves" he says.
He wants everyone to feel welcome and even invites strangers to the church's Sunday lunch.
Reverend Han says Christianity is the main religion in South Korea. He says it was similar throughout the entire Korean peninsula region until the Koreas split: communism in the north and democracy in the south.
Political experts say most North Koreans are now agnostic. They say the communist country discourages religion because it requires worshippers to put God above state. Some ancient religions are tolerated but Christianity is not.
"After it became a communist country, the Christians were persecuted so they escaped North Korea to the south so south became a Christian country" Reverend Han says.
According to the US State Department, the North Korean government tortures anyone practicing religion within its borders.
"It's all rumors but there are underground house churches in north Korea but nobody knows" Reverend Han says.
That's part of the reason he has conflicting feelings about the communist regime marching with the south. A North Korean spokesperson says it's a gesture for peace, but Han isn't buying it.
"We all know that North Korea tried to use the event to escape from the trouble" he says.
He worries this could be a temporary distraction from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's military threats over the past few months.
Ms. Han on the other hand is excited to see the rival Koreas together.
"I will be crying because we are intrinsically one people. Although we have been separated for more than 70 years" she says.
Reverend Han says there are some older South Koreans who lived through the Korean War that hold onto resentment.
"They really hate north Korea" he says.
But there are other elderly South Koreans who hope a unified flag will lead to permanent reunification.
Han says many millennials don't want unification. He says because of their age, they don't have the same nostalgia for the north.
After World War 2, the Cold War, and the Korean War, the Korea's have had very different fortunes. The south was educated and rich and the north became severely impoverished. He says millennials worry if the two countries come together permanently, the prosperous south will be financially responsible for the north.
"They feel like it's simply a burden to them" he says.
The Hans says the Olympics may be a catalyst for change or maybe that is where prayer comes in. The two countries have the same language, a shard history, and shared pain.
"We are not that different. We are human beings. We are neighbors and we are friends" Ms. Han tells us.