Adventures in South Korea

8 Aug

This week, I’m traveling throughout South Korea with Corey Gordon, FTC’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer and Matt Panos, FTC’s Chief Development Officer. It has been an exciting week of travel, meeting new friends and making connections that we hope will lead to further growth of our mission at Feed The Children.

looking into NK

When I was boarding the plane in Washington DC on Sunday, the one thing my wife said to me was: “Don’t go anywhere near North Korea!” But today, I have to admit I did. Sorry, honey.

Our hosts for this trip felt that any visit to South Korea was not complete unless we visited the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)– the strip of land that runs across the Korean peninsula that serves as a divider between the countries of the north and the south along the 38th parallel. It is one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world. I never felt unsafe (rest assured).

We knew that we were approaching the DMZ and then right before our eyes we saw amusement park rides. Strange, but true. Why this border has been turned into a Disneyland want-to-be, I don’t know!

park

For the record, I want to state that you only get into problems of accidentally and illegally crossing into North Korea if you come over from the China side. For when you arrive close to the southern border, all you see is miles and miles of barbed wire fencing. And they advise you not to take pictures (though I captured this shot below).

fence

I have seen several walls like this in my life, dividing nations. In high school, I was a foreign exchange student in Germany and spent time at the Berlin Wall and in East Germany before reunification. Several years ago, my wife and I took I trip with some of her clergy colleagues to Israel and visited the concrete walls the separate Palestine from Israel and those that separate West and East Jerusalem.

DMZ

But what struck me today about visiting the DMZ was that the divide between South and North Korea was not a traditional concrete wall, but rather a fence. I told my colleague Matt, “Seeing this fence gives me hope that one day all of Korea will be united again. It’s just a fence, not a concrete wall after all.”

Matt laughed and said, “I always knew you were an optimist, but now I really know for sure!”

Yet, I truly believed what I said. A fence is a lot easier to tear down than a wall. Even in this place of so much political conflict, I saw hope.

For to go to the DMZ is to better understand the Korean narrative. It is to see how much the South Koreans long for the fences to come down. And it is to hear language such as “when” the reunification occurs, not “if.”

Being in my line of work– seeking to be a transformational and adaptive leader– I will need to remember days like this. Even in the bleakest of situations, there is always hope. Sometimes we even have to put amusement parks at sites of great pain to remind us that better times are coming. Sometimes we can rejoice that fences are not walls. Hope always springs eternal. Always.

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